An Author’s Gift

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

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

First: Writing is a gift to yourself.

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

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

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

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stories are the same. 

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

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

Sometimes, it’s terrifying. 

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

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

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

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

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

A.J.

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When We Were Kids (Free Fiction)

When We Were Kids

By A.J. Brown

“Remember when we were young and we used to walk on the stones in the stream?”

Brandon had asked that question as they walked along the very stream he spoke of. They were no longer kids and walking outside at any time during the day was more dangerous than ever before. Colby found that thought ironic, considering the state of the world before. 

“Yeah, I remember,” he said. “And when we got tired of walking on the stones, we tried to catch crawdads.”

Brandon laughed at that. It was a sound Colby hadn’t heard in a long while. He had heard screams and yells and crying from people as they died, ran, or ran then died or suffered from that thing called mourning when someone—or everyone—they loved was dead. But laughter was something that sounded foreign in these days. Colby looked at his longtime friend and couldn’t help but smile. 

“What?” Brandon asked.

“You laughed. I haven’t heard laughter since …”

“Since Micah died,” Brandon finished.

“Yeah.”

They were silent for a few minutes as they walked the stream, coming up on the wide section a short footbridge spanned across. On the other side of the bridge was a path that led through a length of trees that opened up into a park where no kids played anymore. Micah died at least a month earlier, but Colby could have never told you exactly when—time wasn’t measured in days and nights anymore, but in minute by minute. He closed his eyes, shook off the thought his friend’s death. 

Brandon stopped. Colby looked back at his friend, at the deeply tanned skin, the hair much longer than it had been when this all started and in need of washing (like the rest of his body), his clothes covered in dirt, blood and who knew what else. He looked, as Colby thought everyone who was still alive probably looked, like the homeless of before. “What’s wrong, Brandon?”

“I wish we were kids again.” He stared at the water, at the stones they had walked across in another life. 

“Yeah. Me too.”

“Life was so much easier back then.”

“Everyone was still alive back then.”

“Yeah, that too.”

More silence followed, then ended when Brandon started for the water.

“What are you doing, man?”

“We can’t be kids again,” Brandon said. His green eyes seem to shine as he looked back at Colby. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to have a little fun. Heaven knows we could use some.”

STREAMWith that said, he dropped his pack to the ground, his baseball bat landing beside it. He stepped from dry land onto one of the stones. It wobbled under his foot and Brandon shifted his weight to remain upright. His arms went out, his hands extended, making him look like a stationary airplane. His other foot went onto a flat stone that barely stuck out of the water. Brandon looked back at Colby with a smile that could have belonged to a six-year-old. “You coming?”

Though he knew it was dangerous—anything other than paying attention to one’s surroundings was these days—but Brandon was right. They needed some fun, needed something to make them feel less like the world was ending and more like they had a reason to continue living. 

Colby went to the edge of the stream, dropped his pack and the crowbar he kept in hand. The water was murky and brown and not like it was when they were kids, when you could see the bottom of the stream, the sediment, the rocks, water plants, minnows, and yes, crawdads. The water was cloudy. Though he could see the stones and the mud on them, he didn’t like that he couldn’t see much more than that. Still, he stepped on one of the rocks, pushed on it for good measure to make sure it was sturdy, then put all his weight onto it. He found another stone, this one with a touch of green moss growing along the edges that stuck out of the water. Then he was stepping from that one to another one, his arms out very much like Brandon’s.

For a few minutes, Colby and Brandon, friends since the first grade, and possibly the last two people alive in their world, were kids again. They laughed. Their feet slipped from time to time, getting submerged in the water before they could get back on the stones. For a few minutes the world was right. 

Colby turned around when he heard the startled ‘whoa,’ from Brandon. He saw his friend’s arms pinwheeling, his eyes wide, as he tipped backward, his left foot slipping out from under him. He landed in the stream with a loud crash, water splashing up and coming back down. Then Brandon laughed. 

“DId you see that?” Brandon asked, still laughing. 

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, man. Nothing like being a kid ag—“

Brandon’s laughter came to a sudden stop. His mouth opened but he didn’t scream. From out of the water came his arm. 

Colby saw the blood before he heard Brandon finally scream. His forearm was missing a chunk of flesh and blood gushed from the wound. Behind Brandon came the corpse that had been hidden by the murky water. It’s bloated head lulled on it’s shoulders. The rest of its upper torso was waterlogged and the same shade of brown as the muddy stream water. It made no noises—the dead’s vocal chords died right along with their bodies. But it bit down on Brandon’s shoulder, sinking its sharp teeth through the wet shirt and pulling it’s head back, ripping cloth and flesh away. 

“No, no, no, no!” Colby yelled and forgot all about trying to stay on the stones. He ran and splashed his way to dry ground, scrambled up the embankment to where Brandon’s pack was. He picked up the aluminum baseball bat with the dented barrel and ran back to the stream. He waded in as Brandon tried to shove the corpse away, but shock and the sudden loss of a lot of blood made him sluggish and unable to pull free. 

A second corpse appeared from the woods. It wore a long sleeve work shirt and what Colby thought was a green pair of pants and heavy workbooks that didn’t seem to fit it’s withered feet. It didn’t so much as walk as it dragged it’s feet across the ground. Somehow, it didn’t fall. 

“No,” Colby whispered to himself as he waded through the water, the bat raised above his head. He brought the barrel down on the muddy corpse. Its head split open with a sickening pop. It fell back into the water, but didn’t sink right away. Colby turned to Mr. Work Clothes, knowing if he stopped to pull Brandon from the stream, he was as good as dead as well. 

Colby met the corpse near the edge of the water. He swung the bat at its knees and Mr. Work Clothes fell onto it’s side. The bat went above Colby’s head again and came down with all the force he could muster. The skull ruptured with a similar gross crack. One eyeball shot from its socket and landed in the water with a plop. Colby swung the bat down several times, screaming as he did so.

The bat slid from his hands when he turned back to the stream to see Brandon floating in the water, his face to the sky, eyes open and blank. Tears filled his eyes and the strength left him. Colby’s legs gave way and he stumbled a few feet before he crumpled to the ground, landing on the soft grass of the embankment. 

Colby cried for several minutes, his last friend in the world now dead and soon to be one of the walking corpses that had killed everyone else. 

Then, as if a sudden realization swept over him, Colby rolled onto his knees. He grabbed the bat and stood. “I can’t let him change.” His voice was hoarse from crying and his eyes were blurry and the lids puffy from tears. He looked at the bat and shook his head. 

Colby didn’t cross the stream by hopping from stone to stone. He went to the bridge, crossed over the water and went to his pack. In the front pouch was the .22 and it was fully loaded. He dropped the bat, took the gun from the pack and took the slow and somehow very long walk (though it was only fifteen or so yards from where he stood to where Brandon floated) to the edge of the stream. 

He didn’t want to step back into the water. As he had feared, they didn’t pay attention to their surroundings and one of them ended up dead, and soon to be undead if Colby didn’t hurry. 

No other corpses came out of the water when Brandon fell in or when I splashed around.

The thought should have been reassuring, but it did little to calm his nerves or set his mind at ease as he stood on the embankment, staring. 

If you don’t hurry, he’s going to change and then you’ll really have issues, won’t you?

Issues was a nice way to put it. The freshly dead were faster, stronger and more limber than the stiffs that teetered on falling with each step they took. They were harder to put down—their skulls seemed harder, at least. No knife will do for the fresh ones. 

“Okay. I’m going.”

Colby stepped into the water, his nerves on edge, his head moving from side to side as he searched the water for anything that might move. At one point, his foot struck a submerged stick, dislodging it. It floated to the surface and Colby screamed, fired two shots at where he thought a head should be. When he saw it was a stick, he laughed nervously as his heart beat rapidly. 

“Get it together,” he said and waded through the stream. He reached into the water, grabbed the back of Brandon’s shirt and started back for dry ground. Once there, he started to slide his hands beneath Brandon’s armpits, then stopped. “All he would have to do is turn his head and then you’re as good as dead.”

Colby looked at the gun in his right hand, then down at his friend. He put the barrel to Brandon’s temple. “I’m sorry, buddy,” he said, closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. The bang sounded like an old party favor they would get as kids—a simple cork-like pop that seemed to echo in a world where noise had become almost obsolete. It was followed by the sound of something striking the water; the bullet, he thought. Brain and skull, as well.

Colby tucked the gun in the back of his belt and grabbed Brandon beneath the armpits. He pulled him to dry ground, then sat beside him.

“Hey, Brandon,” he said. “Do you remember when we dug that grave for Micah?” He nodded, knowing that Brandon didn’t remember. As a matter of fact, he didn’t remember anything at all, and he never would again. “Yeah, well, I’m going to dig another one, so, you know, don’t go anywhere. Okay?” Absentmindedly, he patted Brandon’s leg.

The crowbar was all he had to dig with. He used the claw end to loosen the ground and pulled clumps of dirt out by hand. After what felt like hours, though it had been not even forty minutes, he had a shallow grave dug out right next to the stream, a place of their childhood, one that, at least Colby hoped, Brandon had found some joy and fun at before death claimed him. He pulled his friend’s body to the hole, careful to step into it and drag him along before setting him down gently. 

Covering the hole was easier and took far less time to finish. Colby covered his friend’s body from feet up, ending with his head. He stood, took the baseball bat and drove the barrel into the dirt near where Brandon’s chest was. 

“Rest in peace, my friend. I’ll never forget you.”

Colby took one last look at the grave before grabbing both his and Brandon’s packs and his crowbar and walking away from the stream toward the town they had avoided by following the water. As day gave way to night, Colby sought out refuge in the back of a car that would have been considered old in the before. The owner was long gone, but a blanket had been left behind. Colby covered up and used the two packs as pillows. 

Colby closed his eyes, but before falling asleep he said, “Hey, Brandon, remember when we were teens and we took our girls to the old drive in movies in Monetta? Yeah, me too.”

AJB

__________

In the little town of Cayce, South Carolina, where I grew up is a small park near the police department. There is a stream that runs along the outside of it, a growth of trees separating the stream from the actual park. That is where this story takes place.

When I was a kid, me and a couple of buddies would go down to Guignard Park (not the same park, but yes, still in Cayce) and wade in the water or climb along the rocks and try to keep from falling in. It is here where we would go crawdad hunting. Me and my buddy, Clark, once caught 38 crawdad’s in there and one of them was huge and mean.

For this story, I combined the two parks–the location from one, and the catching crawdads from the other, to create the scene and events of this story. And, if you are wondering, yes, Brandon was based on my buddy, Clark.

(If you enjoyed When We Were Kids, please share this post on social media and help me spread my stories to the world. Thank you!)

A Toast To A Friend

If you’ve read my novella, Closing the Wound, then you know it is about the real events of the death of a teenage boy on Halloween night in 1995 here in South Carolina. Our friend, Chris, loved Halloween. It was his favorite day of the year. 

So, in honor of our friend, on Halloween, Cate and I will go visit his grave. We will take candy bars with us and we will toast his life and his love for Halloween, then we will eat the candy. It’s our way of paying tribute to a young man who died far too soon. It’s our way of remembering him. 

Cate and I went for coffee this evening and as we sat and drank our drinks at an awesome place in Cayce called Piecewise (it’s on State Street, down the road from B.C. High School if you want to pay them a visit), we talked about Chris and something we would like to do, or rather, something we would like you to do. At some point during the month of October, please take a couple of hours and visit the grave of a family member or a friend (or even a stranger). Take with you some candy, toast that person, talk about that person, eat your candy. 

So often when someone dies, we go to the funeral, maybe go to the burial, then … we forget about them. Life is too precious to forget someone that was a part of our lives. Instead of forgetting them, let them live on in our lives. Remember them by taking a moment, here in October, the month of Halloween, my friend’s favorite day of the year, and celebrate them. 

Yes, I am probably going to post this here and there and everywhere over the next few weeks as Halloween grows closer. Yes, you will also see more posts about Closing the Wound this month than before. I think his story is one that should be told, should be read. It was my way to cope with his death and a way for him to live on through the written word. 

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

Happy Halloween.

A.J.

He Said, “I’ve Had A Good Life.”

1/15/2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want a do over,” he said.

“Today’s been that bad?”

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

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

“I wanted to be a graphic designer.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A.J. 

Reflections On the Year Gone By Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

Dinosaur

***

I leave 2018 behind with this thought.

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

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

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

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

A.J.

Reflections On the Year Gone By Part 2

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

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

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

 

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Scream Horror Magazine reviewed Voices and said:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Part 1: Spencer from In the Shadows They Hide       

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

Part 3: Lena and Nothing from The Scarring        

Part 4: Claire from Claire, The Movie         

Part 5: Jeddy from Black Storms      

Part 6: B from Anymore    

Part 7: Dave from Crisp Sounds      

Part 8: Dane from  Numbers                

Part 9: The Angel from To Bleed     

Part 10: Brian from Not Like You  

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued …

Charlie, Will, Bob…and Jamie

It was a little café like any other around the country. It had a homey feel to it, as if when you walk through the front doors you could sit on any number of the brown or black couches and prop your feet up on a coffee table and relax. The lighting were simple bulbs shining down from the ceiling, casting shadows in their wake along the edges of the tops and bottoms of the walls. There were square tables with old comic strips sealed into the finish dotting the center of the cafe. Along one wall was the counter where people placed their orders of coffees, sodas snacks and cakes—no sandwiches or hot meals, thank you, ma’am, but plenty of delicious baked goods.

Three men sat a table for four, each one of them with the café’s black mugs in front of them, the yellow emblem of a silhouetted young lady holding a tray to her side and the words Chloe’s Café beneath it. Their hair had grayed over the years and a few more wrinkles lined their faces than the previous year. Charlie had gotten a little heavier, while Will seemed to have thinned a little. Bob was just Bob with little change in his appearance other than what Time had done to him.

“I was at work,” Charlie said. “Four hours into the day.”

The other two nodded, but said nothing. This was a ritual of sorts for the three friends.

“I was walking down the hall on the second floor. I passed one of the break rooms. It rarely had one or two people in there, but on this morning, there were a dozen or so people staring up at the television set. Several women were crying. I stopped and peeked in.

‘Everything okay?’ I asked.

One of the women, her name was Valerie, she said, ‘A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.’”

Charlie took a swallow of the black coffee in his mug, wiped his lips and continued. “I ain’t gonna lie. I had never heard of the World Trade Center then. I had no reason to really know what it was, but that didn’t stop me from stepping in the break room and nudging my way to the back of everyone. There, on the screen, were the two towers. One of them was on fire.

Then it happened, while I stood there with everyone else. It was a couple minutes after nine and that other plane—Flight 175—flew onto the screen. It wasn’t there but for a second or two and then it was gone and there was an explosion.”

Charlie shook his head as if he were still in disbelief. Perhaps he was.

“I went up to the shop and told my workers to turn on the television. We got no work done that day. The four of us stood in front of that tube watching as the smoke billowed up into the sky and then as the first tower, and then the second one, fell.”

Silence followed for several long seconds. Then Charlie lifted his mug. “To Jamie,” he said.

Bob and Will lifted their mugs, clinked them together and echoed him. They each took a swallow, set their mugs back on the table, Charlie’s went on Snoopy’s face, Will’s went just beneath Hagar the Horrible’s feet and Bpb’s ended up on top of Spaceman Spiff’s crashed ship.

Will took a deep breath and began his story. “I was on a plane from Charlotte to Toronto that morning when the first plane struck the towers. None of us on our flight knew what had happened until we started getting calls from people trying to find us. Carrie called. I could tell she was crying.

‘Where are you?’ she asked.

‘On the plane,’ I responded.

Her voice cracked when she said, ‘Oh my God.’

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘A plane hit the World Trade Center a few minutes ago and now a second one has just crashed into it.’”

He shook his head as he fought back tears that still managed to fall from his eyes. “I could hear the fear in her voice. She was terrified.

‘Will, we’re under attack.’

I didn’t know what she meant by that at first, but then our plane veered to the left and the pilot came on saying we were turning around and heading back to Charlotte.”

He shook his head and took another deep breath.

“I thought we were going to die, just like all those folks in those planes that hit those towers.”

He licked his lips, raised his mug. “To Jamie.”

As they had done a couple minutes earlier, the others raised their drinks, repeated Will’s words, clinked the mugs together and took a swallow.

Will and Charlie looked at Bob. He nodded, but before he began, he motioned for the waitress to come over. She was a pretty red head, her hair pulled back and away from her face. “Can I help you?” she asked.

“Can I get another mug, please?”

“You want another cup of coffee?” the waitress asked and reached for his mug.

“No, Ma’am. I would like another mug—just the mug, please. No coffee. Nothing in it.”

The redhead gave him a curious smile, one that could have been a frown on anyone else’s face. She was gone only a minute, but in that time none of the three men spoke. They didn’t really even look at each other, but down at the mugs in front of them, each one with just a little bit of coffee left in them.

“Here you go, sir,” the redhead said with a smile and set the cup on the table.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Bob said and picked up the mug. His hand shook badly. He placed it in the spot set for a fourth person, one who wouldn’t make this dinner, one who hadn’t made these dinners for the previous 15 years. He turned the mug so that if someone had been sitting there, he could easily pick it up. Then he moved his shaking hand away and placed it in his lap.

Tears hung on his bottom eyelids. One fell. Then a second one. Bob didn’t try to hide his emotions or wipe the tears away. He let them fall, just as he always did.

“I shouldn’t be here,” he said, his voice cracking. He raised his hand and pointed at the empty seat to his right. It was shaking worse now. His sentences were clipped statements, words he had said a million times in his own head and maybe half as many to the two men at the table with him. “I had been sick. For a couple of days. I was scheduled to fly out on the tenth. From Columbia to Boston. Then from Boston to Los Angeles the next day. The next day. The eleventh.”

The tears fell freely now. He saw the redhead, the startled, worried look in her eyes, and motioned her away with a hand up, palm out, and a nod that he was okay.

“Jamie said he would go in my place. It was a four day trip. With about five hours of business in between. He boarded Flight 175 right around the time…”

Bob shook his head. He sniffled, wiped his nose. His bottom lip was poked out and seemed to be eating the upper one. He coughed once, but not because of a tickle in his throat but because he was prompting himself to speak again.

“It should have been me.”

Another long silence and Bob held up his mug. “To Jamie.”

Charlie and Will did the same.

Then Bob picked up Jamie’s mug, held it above his head. “To you, my friend.”

There wasn’t much more to say. Truthfully, they rarely said much after Bob had given his ‘testimony of guilt,’ as he put it. Minutes later they said their goodbyes. Charlie and Will did as they always did, and walked back to the hotel they shared the previous night, wondering if Bob would be alive the next year. They were always surprised to see him roll up in the place they picked to meet at in any given year. But he always rolled up, whether he was well or sick…he was always there.

Bob stood, took one last look at the place where his childhood friend should have been sitting. “To you, my friend,” he said again and turned to leave. Before he could reach the door he heard a faint whisper, or maybe it was his imagination. Either way, he turned around when he heard, To me, but he saw only the mug still sitting on the table with the other three near it and several dollar bills underneath one of them.

Bob smiled, though there had been no joy in it for at least fifteen years. “To you,” he whispered back and pushed the door open. A moment later, it swung shut…

AJB

9/11/2016

 

 

 

Under Pressure…

I have 1484 ‘friends’ on my Facebook page. Whether I know all 1484 of them personally doesn’t matter. At some point we made a mutual agreement to become acquainted. One of us sought out the other one and said ‘hello.’ The other one responded by accepting that ‘hello’ and becoming friends.

Isn’t that how life happens, how friendships are born?

I find it interesting that we view total strangers as friends. I have never actually met, face to face, with probably 1300 or more of these friends. Still, those perfect strangers are my friends. But what I—and more than likely, you—fail to realize is on the other side of the device (where you are reading this right now) is a person. For me there are 1484 people looking back. Of those 1484 people, probably less than 200 of them actually interact with me. I’m okay with that.

Why?

Well, because they are all people and they have lives and cares and worries. They have dreams and ambitions. Some are sick and in need of prayer or comforting words. Others are fine and life is being very good to them right now. But all of them are people.

A little perspective if you will. On my friends list:

There are rich folks and there are poor folks and there are those in between.

There are folks from every state in the United States.

There are folks from England, Australia, Canada, Germany, Russia and, yes, the Middle East.

There are folks who work as lawyers and nurses and teachers.

There are folks who work as bartenders and taxi drivers and in retail stores.

There are folks who work in factories and in restaurants.

There are folks who work in the business of religion and others who work in the business of politics.

There are cops and firemen.

There are single moms and single dads raising their children the best they can.

There are married couples raising their children the best they can.

There are gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

There are straight folks, too.

There are musicians and voice instructors.

There are successful writers, as well as fledgling ones with dreams of writing for a living.

There are readers who love books.

There are Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, Non-Denominationals, Methodists, Nazarenes, Atheists, Agnostics and maybe even a Satanists or two. And yes, there are Muslims, as well.

There are liberals and there are conservatives.

There are folks who like heavy metal music. Others who like rap. Still, others who like classical, and some who like country and some who like bubblegum pop. There are those who like it all.

There are sports fans and there are folks who can’t stand sports.

There are those who love movies and television.

There are those who don’t care much for either.

There are those who love The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and those who have never seen the first episode of one or both shows.

There are those who will only drive a Chevy or a Ford.

There are high school friends on here, too.

There are whites, blacks, Asians, and Native Americans.

Why does any of this matter? Simple: all of them are people. People with hopes and dreams, and people who just want to make it home to their loved ones at the end of the day. They, like you and I, have feelings. They, like you and I, have ambitions. They, like most of us, are saddened by events where people are killed recklessly and needlessly because of hate and fear.

During this week where America celebrated its independence, at least seven people died who should still be alive today. The key word isn’t black or cop. The key word here is ‘people.’ Seven people are dead and millions more are angry and some are even enraged to the point of…hate.

Today I sit at my kitchen table having not only celebrated my nation’s independence, but also my birthday. Seven people will never see another birthday. Their families are forever changed, and many of them are mad, not just at those who killed them, but at other people as well—people who have nothing to do with the events that unfolded this week.

There are those who want revenge and those who want to take away someone else’s freedoms and those who want justice now. There are those who will lump everyone into a category because of a few people’s actions. There are those who will scream and demand change, demand our government do something about this.

Here’s the problem with that: change will never come about until we, the people, change our way of thinking and change our hearts. We, the people, are the only ones that can bring positive change. Not our governments and not our laws. The people. The same folks I have mentioned up above can make a change, but in order to do so, we have to change our hearts, we have to learn how to be compassionate again. We have to learn to love our neighbor. If we can have total strangers on a social media site that we call friends, and some of which we come to cherish and possibly even love, then why can’t we do the same to the people we come in contact with every single day of our lives?

I’m reminded of the song Under Pressure, by Queen and David Bowie. At the end they come to the conclusion that it is love that can make a difference in every person’s life. But love is so old fashioned…

And love dares you to care for

The people on the edge of the night

And love dares you to change our way of

Caring about ourselves

The way I see it is, love dares you to look in the mirror, but we don’t want to do that. We want to lay blame somewhere else. We, as a people—not as a nation, as a people—need to step back and look at ourselves, and make a change, starting with ourselves. If we don’t, I fear for myself, my children, my friends, my fellow people. Because, the way I see it is if we don’t make a change in our hearts and our mindset soon, then we will never have true freedom again. We will all be prisoners to fear and rage and hate, and no one will be safe.

This, well, this is how I see it. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Corner Boy is Alive

Picture this:

A small kid, seven years of age, peeking around a hall corner at his local school.  He is looking at two friends, one a boy, the other a girl.  Standing with his two friends is the father of one of them.  The boy–Corner Boy is what we will call him for now–wears a silly grin, one that’s somewhat mischievous, but not in a bad way.

“What?” his male friend says.  He, too, wears a silly grin, but his is more knowing.

Corner Boy peeks at them because of the girl. He ducks behind the wall when he sees all three of them look his way.

Smiling, Dad leads the two friends toward up the hall, sneaking up on Corner Boy.  They round the corner and see him, silly grin and all.  They laugh.  The two boys pick at each other.  The girl knows it’s about her, but doesn’t seem to mind.

The three kids and Dad walk to their classroom, where Dad and son exchange a hug and a handshake.

“You have your own handshake?” Corner Boy asks.  His mouth drops open, as if it was something he had never seen before–a dad and son acting like they could be friends.

“Yeah.  I’ll show you,” Son says.  They do the handshake again, complete with smacking palms and bumping knuckles and a little finger wiggle at the end.  “You try it.”

Corner Boy shakes his head.  “No.  I don’t know how.”

Dad kneels down–he would regret that later, seeing how he has a couple of bad knees, one of which hasn’t been right for years–and he says, “Why don’t we do our own?”

“Okay,” Corner Boy says.

They slap palms once, knuckle bump, then do the finger wiggle.  Three simple motions.

Corner Boy smiles.  So does Son and Girl and Dad.

They go to class.  Dad walks away.

For the record, it’s the first time Dad saw Corner Boy smile, and at that point, he had known the child for three years.

That was this morning, May 16, 2013.

Rewind a month, back to April 18, 2013.

Before that day, Corner Boy had mean tendencies.  He was bossy.  He was also somewhat of a little bully.  Though Corner Boy and Son were friends, it was a volatile relationship, with Son being passive and Corner Boy being aggressive.

On the night of April 18th, Corner Boy’s dad tried to kill his mom.

He beat her.

He stabbed her multiple times with a box cutter.

He told her ‘I’m going to kill you now.’

He tried to cut her throat.

He ran over her legs with his car.

He told her, when he was done with her, he was going to kill their son.  That would be Corner Boy, the little child peeking at his friends with that silly grin on his face.

Take that in, folks.  Go back and read it again.  I left out a lot of details on purpose.

On the night of April 18th, Corner Boy’s dad tried to kill his mom. 

He beat her.

He stabbed her multiple times with a box cutter.

He told her ‘I’m going to kill you now.’

He tried to cut her throat.

He ran over her legs with his car.

He told her, when he was done with her, he was going to kill their son.

A few statistics for you.  Annually, over 36,000 reports of domestic violence are reported in the state of South Carolina.  An average of 33 women die from Criminal Domestic Violence each year in my home state.

Only 33, you say?  That averages to almost 3 women per month.  In my opinion, that is 33 women too many each year.  Let’s look at the number a little differently.  36,000 incidents reported a year equals 98.6 incidents <i><b>PER DAY</i></b>.

Let that sink in.

Those numbers make me sick–physically–to my stomach.  And that’s not including all the incidents not reported.

Corner Boy is in the second grade.  He spends his day at the same school, in the same classes, as my son–his friend–and the young girl he was peeking at.

After finding out about his dad, about how that man beat his mom for eight years–the entire length of Corner Boy’s life–everything made sense.  He did things based on what he saw.  He did things based on what went on in his family.  He did what he thought was accepted, what he didn’t know any better than to believe.  Why?  Because his dad acted this way toward his mom, and probably, him.

For the women out there who are reading this:  If you are in an abusive relationship, whether you are married to the person or dating them, please, get out.  Abusive men don’t change.  They will continue to be abusive.  They say, ‘I’m sorry.  It will never happen again.’  Then they get mad about something, and guess what?  It happens again.  And again.  And again.  They will take out their frustrations on you and your children.

Please, don’t believe that your child needs a father, and that the only reason you stay with him is so your child wouldn’t grow up without a daddy.  It is better for a child to not have a father in his life, than for that same child to see his mother (or themselves) beaten, raped, and/or murdered.

Because you have a child is NO reason to stay with a man.  It is the exact reason you should leave an abusive relationship.  If you don’t do it for yourself, then do it for your children.  They didn’t ask to be part of an abusive household.  Give them a chance.

For the men out there who might read this:  If you are one of those abusive men, you are a coward.  You are a punk.  You are weak.  That’s right.  Weak.  If you abuse your spouse/significant other, or your children, you are nothing.  You are not a man.  Men take care of their families.  Men take care of their children.

You want to know what a real man is?  My dad.  My dad is a real man.  He overcame a rough childhood, an abusive step dad, and not a mom who wasn’t much better.  He left home at a young age, and when he had children (four of them), he made certain to take care of us, to make sure we learned about life.  Not once did he beat us.  Yeah, we got spankings, but if you knew my siblings, you would understand, we deserved them.  After his children grew up, my parents adopted three of their grandchildren.  When he should be enjoying his retirement, he chose to be dad all over again, and doing a damn good job.  My dad is a real man.  He didn’t shirk his responsibilities, and he didn’t make excuses.  And he never abused us.

Men, if you’re not taking care of your family, if you’re beating your wife and children, and they are living in fear of you, then you’re nothing but a weak, spineless P.O.S.  Feel free to quote me.  You have no clue what type of damage you are doing to your family, especially the children.

After dropping my son off, I got in the car and headed for work.  I turned my MP3 player on.  The first song was so appropriate:  Father of Mine, by Everclear.  As a father, who often feels like I’m not good enough for my children, this song reminds me that there are kids out there who have it far worse.  I can’t give my children the things they want, and we don’t live in a nice house, and sometimes the cars don’t work right, and…and…and…and so what?  I give my children love.  I let them know Daddy is there for them, I protect them, I provide for them, I love them regardless of what happens.

There are so many children out there who are like some of the lyrics to that song:

Father of mine
Tell me how do you sleep
With the children you abandoned
And the wife I saw you beat
I will never be safe
I will never be sane
I will always be weird inside
I will always be lame…

That song always pisses me off.  Not because of what it is about, but because of the truth that comes with it.

Corner Boy was lucky.  So was his mom.  They are alive today.  I got to see him smile, to hear him laugh, to do a handshake with him, to watch him walk into his classroom.

But what if his mom wouldn’t have managed to jump out of the car?  What if she hadn’t been able to get to a stranger’s house who set her on the floor, called the police and got out his gun to protect her if needed?  The mother would be one of those 33 women killed each year in South Carolina.

I don’t want to know the numbers on how many children die from abuse each year.

His father is currently in lock-up, awaiting trial for criminal domestic violence (the third time he’s been arrested for this), and attempted murder.  I hope he goes to jail for a very long time, and the other inmates find out about what he did.  They don’t like these types of things in prison.  They will show him what it’s like to be in his wife and child’s shoes.

We need to shine a light into the dark world of Criminal Domestic Violence.  We need to bring these people out of the shadows for the world to see.  We need to support the victims of CDV, let them know they are people with value, that they are not damaged goods.

I think about my son’s friend.  He was fortunate.  Maybe there was an angel watching over him.  But how many women are not so fortunate?  How many children live in fear of an abusive parent or guardian?

It has to stop.

It has to stop…

Half and Half and the Rest of the Story

As a writer, I am often inspired by bits and pieces of conversations, things I see and hear, things I read in the paper or see on the news. Sometimes the inspiration can be something as simple as a picture on the back of a magazine cover or the way a tree looks at a certain time of day. It doesn’t take much.

I would like to give you an example of this, and then I would like to tell you a story.

The example is: I worked late last night, filling in for one of my co-workers. As I walked down the hall, I glanced into a conference room as I went by the open door. The window shades were up and the city was aglow in lights. I could see Gervais Street Bridge lit up on both sides with white globes glowing in the dark. It was, for a lack of a better term, breathtaking. I stopped for a moment and just stared out the glass. When I walked away, the beginnings of a story that I have titled, Ledge began to form. It’s my current Work In Progress.

Now for the story.

I had a Paul Harvey moment this morning. If you don’t know who Paul Harvey is, I strongly suggest you look him up on Youtube and listen to any one of his The Rest of the Story segments.

I was in the kitchen of the hospitality department at work, chatting with a co-worker as he made himself a cup of coffee. The young lady who heads hospitality was in there as well. As me and this co-worker talked, I saw her do something out of the corner of my eye.

“Stop with the Twelve Chairs for a moment,” I said to the co-worker (Twelve Chairs is a Mel Brooks film based on a Russian comedy, or so I learned today).

Before I go much further, I have to explain what I saw. The young lady peeled the top off of a half and half container. You know what I’m talking about, right? Those little cups that hold liquid creamer in them that you pour into your coffee. She then raised the small container to her mouth, downed it like a shot and threw the cup away.

Weird, right?

Ahhh, but not so fast. There’s more to it than that.

You know what she did, now, here’s the rest of the story:

As a young child, both she and her brother spent a lot of time with her grandparents. They were picked up from school by her grandparents, and spent summers at their house, and went to breakfast where coffee was served, and yes, the two little kids were allowed to have some.

It wasn’t just the coffee that the kids enjoyed. It was the creamer. The little .375 ounce containers that looked like white boiler pots that you could see the liquid shaking around inside held, not creamer to the Siblings Duo, but sweet deliciousness. They would get their cup of coffee with breakfast and pour the creamer in, carefully peeling back the top so not to spill any on their fingers, or worse yet, the table where a napkin would have to be used to clean up the droplets instead of a tongue. They would pour what looked like milk into their cups, stir it around a little, and then drink the coffee down, albeit slowly at first until the heat had cooled enough for guzzling.

As the coffee became less and less in the cup, the two children would add more and more of the half and half until, before long, the cup no longer held any traces of coffee, except maybe a hint of aroma. And they would drink all the fatty happiness that was the half and half in their cups. And their grandfather would let them.

Yes, their grandfather let them.

Their mother, however, wasn’t too fond of the children drinking the creamer down like that, either in little shots straight from the plastic cup, or bigger ones from a coffee cup. ‘It’s not healthy,’ she would say and would not allow it. No, her children were not going to have any of that yumminess.

But there was still grandfather.

You see, grandparents are just parents of the parents of the children their children brought into the world. And the sole purpose for parents whose kids have children of their own, is to spoil them, and then send them home, sugar-highed, caffeine-wired, toy-bought, cartoon-watched, goofed-off-all-the-day-long, so that their children could sow what they reaped from their own childhood. Yes, grandparents often spoil their grandchildren in ways they would have never done with their own kids.

And the Sibling Duo’s grandfather was no different. If he turned a blind eye to their constant opening and pouring of the half and half’s into the cups to the point that they would have stacks of empty containers on the table when they left, only he and those grandchildren would ever know. That was their little secret.

For the Sibling Duo of brother and sister, it was their treat, their little tradition with Grandfather.

As we grow nearer to the completion of this story, let me now tell you that not too many years ago, this great man passed away, leaving behind these two wonderful now adult grandchildren who still have a fondness for half and half–straight up, folks, not in their coffee.

This brings me back to the moment in time where two male co-workers were discussing a film by Mel Brooks as the young lady first peeled the top away, and then tossed back the creamer like a shot of whiskey, before throwing the container into the trash. You see, she wasn’t mimicking the actions of someone in a bar, or even just downing the semi-sweet delightness that is half and half just for the heck of it. No, as you will come to know shortly, there was a reason for this quick action, glimpsed by her co-worker.

You see, as explained earlier, her grandfather allowed both her and her brother to partake of the half and half as kids. Now, as adults, and with their grandfather no longer around, it is a tribute to him, a way of honoring him. Each morning, when the young lady in question makes a cup of coffee, she takes a .375 ounce container of half and half and downs it in memory of a great man she loved, a great man who taught her a lot about life, love and, yes, happiness. And that happiness is a half and half at the breakfast table as a little child…

To steal from Paul Harvey, now you know the rest of the story.

I told you that story in honor of, not only my friend’s grandfather, but my friend as well. In life you have to hold onto those little things that make you happy, hold onto the good memories of childhood that helped shape you. In turn, you can hold onto those you love, even when they move on.

After hearing that tale, my mind–being that I’m a writer–instantly said, ‘hey that could go in a story’. I even joked with her about using it. But, after thinking on what she told me, I thought it would be better served, not as a part of a story, but as a reminder about life, about what to cherish and what to let go, about what and who to hold on tight to.

I’m reminded of the recent Bud Light commercials that play during football games. Fans are shown doing all sorts of odd things, but the commercial boldly states, it’s not weird if it works.

What the young lady did this morning struck me as weird at first, but after hearing her story, it’s not weird at all. It’s a pretty cool way of remembering someone, and I’m glad I saw her in the act of remembrance. So next time someone does something that you think is odd, take a step back and think about my friend and her tribute to her grandfather. There’s a story behind everything, and if you don’t know the story, you may misconceive someone’s actions.

Until we meet again, my friends…

AJB

1/16/2013

Half and Half, the Rest of the Story