Humphrey …

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Dredging Up Memories original cover by Lisa Vasquez

A few years ago, I started a story about a guy named Hank. He was alone in the dead world and searching for his friends and family in hopes of finding some of them alive. That story turned into a novel titled, Dredging Up Memories, and it follows Hank’s story into a downward spiral of … well, I can’t really give you all that information, now can I? Doing that would spoil the book for you.

One thing I can do is tell you about one of the main characters from Dredging Up Memories. Her name is Humphrey and she is a teddy bear. I know, right? Who names a female teddy bear a boy’s name? Anyway, she became like Wilson to Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away. She also became one of the most beloved characters of the Hank Walker universe. 

After completing the novel, getting it published by Stitched Smile Publications, and then writing a handful of shorter pieces involving Walker, I approached a friend of mine about interviewing the characters of Dredging Up Memories. This young man—his name is Frank—went home and wrote out twenty-seven pages worth of questions he came up with for those characters. 

What you are about to read are the first twenty-five hundred or so words of Humphrey’s interview. I know, it’s kind of mean not giving you all thirty-nine pages of it, but as I said above, I can’t give you all the information, now can I?

I hope you enjoy the following excerpt from The Hank Walker Interviews. 

HUMPHREY 

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Just hangin’ round.

There is a room in an old school in the lower state of South Carolina. The school used to be known as Century Falls High School. It is now Fort Survivor #3. Half a block away is what is left of the middle school of the same name (minus the High, adding the Middle). Directly out the front gates are the remnants of the town that used to be Century Falls. Remnants that consist of burned out cars, and buildings that are little more than husks. If one were to pay close attention he or she would see the occasional dead corpse shambling around the debris and other corpses that are truly dead. If one was listening, then he or she would hear the occasional gun shot, putting that walking corpse down, joining its brethren on the ground among that debris.

This room is on the second floor on a long hall with double doors at each end. One set of doors leads down the steps and to the outside world. For the most part, these doors stay locked from the inside. The other set of doors leads down another hall that t-bones before reaching a set of stairs on either side of that t-bone. There’s no real need to get into where those halls lead.

The room number is 209, and it used to be Mrs. Willoughby’s math class. Most kids hated having Mrs. Willoughby, due to her always angry demeanor and her penchant for giving out zeroes and detention notes. That’s not a problem here now. Mrs. Willoughby is among the permanently deceased. The room, however, has been turned into a bedroom for children who have survived the End Times. Currently there is no one staying in the room and it is as dark in here as night is these days.

A creak rings through the room and down the hall as the door opens. A switch to the left of the doorway is flipped up and the glow of lights spill across the room, forcing the dark into the corners and beneath furniture. Speaking of the furniture, the room is nice. It is painted pink and white on opposite walls. There are a row of four beds directly ahead, foot lockers at the foot of each one. End tables are to the right of the beds, each one with a lamp sitting atop it. On the opposite wall is the exact same set up: four beds, four foot lockers and four end tables with lamps on them. It is clear to anyone who enters that this is a room set up as a basic dorm for little girls who … well, who may have lost everyone except for themselves. On the wall to the right, the same wall the door is on, is a long bookcase filled with books. 

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I’m in this book! I’m going to be a superstar.

Sitting in the center of this room is a table with two chairs. This is not normal. The table is round and the chairs are simple wooden dinner table seats. There is a vase sitting on it with a single daffodil in it, its yellow star-like petals and tea cup bud brighter than the overheads that light up the room. Next to the vase are two bottles of water. They are already open, though the tops are still screwed on.

There is one other thing that is out of place in this room: a video camera. It stands between two of the beds on a tripod, its lens pointing directly at the table.

Two men walk into the room, one of them in his early forties, stubble chinned and a book bag over his shoulder. He reaches into the bag and unzips the front pocket. Jutting from it is a teddy bear in bunny pajamas. The man, known to many readers as Hank, sets the bear on one of the chairs. He doesn’t like the way the bear’s head barely comes to the bottom of the table. Hank goes to the bookcase and snags several of the hardbacks. At the table he sets the books in the seat, sits the teddy bear in it, and then scoots the chair up to the table. 

The second man is younger, but not by much. His hair is sandy brown. Wire rimmed glasses are perched on his nose; his hair is long and is pulled into a ponytail that runs down his back. He walks over to the camera and presses a button on its side. The camera comes on. Accompanying it is a faint hum that is barely noticeable if you aren’t standing right next to it. He fiddles with it a few seconds more, pressing the red record button. He looks in the digital view finder and sees the red REC blinking, nods and walks away.

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Dredging Up Memories re-issued cover by Lisa Vasquez

“Morning, Frank.”

“Good morning, Mr. Walker.”

To the teddy bear Hank says “Humphrey, this is Frank. He is going to do your interview, okay.”

Humphrey says nothing.

“Come on, Humphrey. Don’t be shy.”

Still, the teddy bear says nothing. Really, why would it? How would it? It is just a teddy bear, right?

“Humphrey, Frank is a good guy. You have to trust me. Can you do that?”

The teddy bear’s head seems to move slightly. 

“Please?”

“Okay.” 

The bear’s voice is soft, not much more than a whisper. But it is enough to startle Frank. His eyes are wide behind the lenses of his glasses. A lump has formed in his throat. If there is one thing Frank did not expect it is that the teddy bear would actually speak. He really did believe he would sit there at the table with the teddy bear, who had been Hank Walker’s traveling companion for several months at the beginning of the End Times, and field answers from Walker, himself. Not some inanimate object.

“Did … did Humphrey just speak?”

Hank laughs, rubs Humphrey on the head. “Yes, she did.”

“She? Yes, that is right. Humphrey is a she.”

“That’s right. A lot of folks wonder about that, why anyone would name  a female teddy bear Humphrey?”

“It is a fair thought. Why would someone give a stuffed toy that is clearly a female a boy’s name?”

“Why do guys give their cars girl names?” Hank responds. “Who knows?”

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Pelican Snowball anyone?

“Good point.”

“Okay, I’m going to leave you guys alone for a while. I’ll come back later and see how you are doing. Humphrey, Frank is not going to hurt you. I promise. He and I have already done this. You’re in good hands. Okay?”

Humphrey doesn’t look up, but she gives a small nod and whispers, “Okay.”

With that said, Walker turns and leaves, closing the door behind him. 

The room is quiet for several long seconds. Frank has been in similar situations, with the silence being so loud you can hear it. He doesn’t like that feeling. It is awkward and thick. He is determined to fill the silence quickly. He picks up his notepad and flips it open. He turns the pages until he finds the first page marked in his scratchy handwriting as, Humphrey’s Interview. He looks at the first question and starts to ask it, then stops. He looks at the glassy eyes of the stuffed toy in front of him. This is a moment right out of a little girl’s childhood, where the stuffed toy is her best friend and they are having tea and crumpets with their pinkies out and slurping away at the nothing in the cups. He could almost see a girl with her favorite white and pink dress on and her hair pulled back into pig tails, her voice very much like the teddy bear’s in front of him. There is a moment of pure joy as he sees the little girl is blonde and her eyes are blue and she has dimples and freckles across her nose. 

‘Is your tea good?’ the little girl asks.

‘Delicious,’ the teddy bear responds.

The little girl smiles wide, showing off her teeth, including the gap where one is missing.

Briefly Frank wonders if the Tooth Fairy visited her the night she lost that tooth. If so, how much money did he (or she) leave the little girl? A dollar? Two? Five? Maybe the Tooth Fairy was very well off and left her a ten spot or even twenty.

Frank shakes his head, smiles and then chuckles softly.

“What’s so funny?”

He is startled by this question. He’s the one who is supposed to asks the questions. The grin leaves his face and the chuckle dies off. “I … ummm … I just didn’t think you would talk to me.”

“Why is that?”

She is well-spoken for a young teddy bear who Frank imagines is around five or six.

“I just didn’t think you would, especially when Mr. Walker left.”

She seems to nod, but says nothing else.

“So, ummm … would you like to get started?”

“Okay.”

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A boy and a bear.

Frank glances down at his notes. The first question is short, but he imagines it is an okay question to ask. At least, he hopes

“Let’s start from the beginning. What was life like before Hank?”

The silence he so hates fills the room, but it’s not that same awkward thickness. It is more of an anticipatory silence, as if Frank is watching a game show on a television of the past, one where the show has gone on for weeks and weeks and now there were only two contestants left and the host is about to announce the winner. There should be some sort of dramatic music playing, and maybe there is in Frank’s mind. The host opens his mouth and says, ‘And the winner of who doesn’t get eaten by a biter today is …’ and the commercial break interrupts the tension, sending the audience into a series of groans and ‘you’ve gotta be kidding me’s’.

But the silence doesn’t last all that long. In fact, it doesn’t even last as long as a short commercial break.

“It was fun,” Humphrey says. Frank thinks he can see her pink string mouth turned up into a smile. And is that a shimmer in her eyes?

“It was fun?”

“Yes.”

“How so?”

Humphrey doesn’t say anything right away. When she does, several seconds have passed and it is not an answer, but a question: “How so?”

Though her face doesn’t change, Frank thinks it does all the same. Maybe it was a twinkle in the eye. Or maybe it was just a slight shift of the head, or the angle at which she is sitting, but something has changed and it is a physical thing he can’t figure out. What he does know is she looks confused, as any living, breathing person would be. Then the light bulb comes on and he realizes she doesn’t understand his question.

“Oh, umm … ’how so’ is another way of asking, how was it fun?”

“I see.”

“So that’s what I am asking: how was life fun before Hank?”

The creative mind is a place where thoughts conspire for either good or bad. It is also the center of imagination, and as Humphrey sits, stoically, in her seat, Frank’s mind begins imagining she iss moving, like a child would, maybe one of five or six years of age; maybe a little older. He can see her tapping her chin as if she is thinking. Her lips are twisted slightly, almost in a pucker. Then she smiles, her small pink thread lips turning up and her fuzzy fingerless hand pointing at him.

“Before Mr. Walker came I was alone in my girl’s room. They had left me when everything went bad.”

She is quiet, this time with her head dipped and her glassy black eyes staring down at the floor. One shoulder goes up in a shrug. Then she lets out a deep sigh.

“My girl’s dad died.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” And Frank truly is sorry. 

“Me too. They thought he was dead and they were sad and scared and my girl—her name was Casey—she held me so close as she sat on her bed. She had taken a shower and I could smell her shampoo. She always smelled so clean after her showers. Her momma made her take one every night, and sometimes I got one too, but not in the tub. They put me in the wash machine with some clothes and I spun and swam and spun and swam, and then they put me in the dry machine and I tumble up and down until I am dry.”

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Just chillin’ by a wall, hoping for no biters to show up.

Frank smiles at this. The Humphrey in his imagination is opening up without realizing she is doing so. He remains quiet as she continues her story.

“Then they put my pajamas on and I was fresh like my girl.”

She pauses, as if thinking again. When she speaks, her voice is almost a whisper and Frank has to lean in to hear her. Though he misses the first part of what she says, he clearly gets the second part.

“… they were gone.”

Not for the first time he wonders what it would be like to have gone through the End Times, as Hank Walker calls it. Would he have lost everyone he cares about? Would he have even survived the initial outbreak, and if so, would he have lasted as long as some of the survivors in Fort Survivor #3?

In his imagination—a place he thinks he will spend a lot of time during this interview—he sees tears in Humphrey’s eyes. They are no longer glassy and black, but soft and blue, almost real eyes. His heart sinks into his stomach as he realizes Humphrey is remembering the events that took her girl, her Casey, from her and left her alone when everything went bad. She takes a deep breath, holds it for a second and then releases it. She looks up at Frank. Her smile is still there, but it is not a happy one. What he sees on her face right then is resignation.

“Her dad tried to kill them. Her mommy escaped and took my girl with her. They screamed a lot as they tried to get away from him, and then my girl screamed even more when her mommy grabbed her up and left me behind.”

“She tried to grab me, but knocked me on the floor instead. I landed on my back. She cried and screamed and then the door slammed shut. I heard the car doors and … they were gone.”

“I’m sorry,” Frank says. 

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Voices, The Interviews: Jenny

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here. If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before the first session: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 13: JENNY

… With that said, Danny stands, picks up his chair, and takes it back to where he originally was. He sits, and Lisa turns her attention to the notepad once again. She flips the page, and her breath vanishes. The name at the top of the sheet makes her stomach turn. Angry moths flutter about inside, and she suddenly wants to throw up. Lisa stares at it and realizes she is getting very close to the end of the interviews. There are just three people left, two of which she knows could be the most difficult of them all. 

As she sits, staring at the name at the top of the page, written in her hand, she knows when she looks up, the interviewee will be in sight, just as all the rest of them have been. 

“Go ahead,” the silky wet voice comes from beside her left ear. A cold finger traces down her arm, leaving a white line in its wake, until it runs out of skin and touches the paper. The finger tapping it is charcoal black with a long pail nail on its end. “Go ahead, Lisa. Look up. Have a chat with little Jenny Harris, the dead girl.”

She shakes her head. This is too much. This is way more than she bargained for. There is too much … too much …

“Too much what?” Mr. Worrywort whispers. His tongue slithers from his mouth and licks the side of her face. Though it is as dry as sandpaper, she imagines it leaving a slimy residue behind. 

“Too much pain in this room.”

Mr. Worrywort lets out a whistle. It is not shrill and high-pitched, but low and as mournful as the sound of a train in the middle of a cold night. It’s haunting, and her body jerks from the shock of it. He laughs, a throaty sound that scares her. And that is something she wishes she could control: her fear. It is also something she doesn’t believe she is going to be able to get hold of right away. The shock of Mr. Worrywort’s gleeful voice shakes her badly. “Not enough pain,” he says, his voice like dry leaves rubbing together.

Not enough? she thinks. You’ve got to be kidding.

“Look, Lisa. Look at …” he pauses, as if he doesn’t know what he wishes to say. “Look at herrrrrr.”

Mr. Worrywort taps the pad on Lisa’s lap. She glances at it: Jenny.

Lisa looks up. There, in one of the chairs is the waif of a child, too thin to be healthy, her clothes dirty and her eyes sitting in the deep hollows of her sockets. Her bottom lip is chapped and cracked, and her skin is like ivory. A skirt covers her thighs, but Lisa can see her knees are bruised, and is that blood along the inner parts of her calves? The little girl looks down at her hands, turns them over. Her fingers are brittle sticks, the fingernails cracked and dirty.

Lisa opens her mouth to speak, but finds she can’t. Her mouth is dry, and her tongue feels much too large. The girl looks up, and Lisa’s tongue almost shrinks to the back of her throat. The eyes are void of any shine and hold the glazed over look of someone who is no longer among the living. 

Lisa lets out a long breath and forces herself to speak. “Hello … hello, Jenny.”

The little girl says nothing. 

“No one will hurt you here,” Lisa coaxes. “I won’t let them.”

Still, Jenny doesn’t speak. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t blink. She is as still as a … as a corpse. She imagines if she was to touch Jenny’s skin it would be cold and stiff.

“Can we talk, Jenny? Is that okay?”

Jenny finally moves her head, slightly cocking it to the side.

 

“I want you to be okay with it. I’m not going to force you to do anything. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Lisa barely hears Jenny’s voice. It is not more than a whisper and sounds like it hurts for her to speak. 

“Are you sure you want to talk to me?”

She nods, a simple dip of her head, down, then up. “Yes.”

“Okay, Jenny.” Lisa looks down at the notepad. Her stomach rumbles and she truly believes she is going to throw up right there, just let it all out onto the floor between herself and Jenny. When she doesn’t vomit, she proceeds. “Remember when you were nine, and those boys saw your momma give you to the bad men? Was that the first time?”

Her head moves slowly to the left, then the right, then back to center. “No.”

Lisa’s heart sinks into her stomach, joining the angry black moths and the sour milk threatening to come up.

“So, there were other times?”

Jenny nods.

“Do you know how many times she gave you away like that?”

Again, left, right, center. “No.”

Lisa licks her lips. “Do you know how many times there were after the time the boys saw you? Do you remember?”

“No.”

“She’s not going to talk to you, Lisa.” Mr. Worrywort says. He is still standing behind her. His hands settle on her shoulders.

Lisa stiffens. She doesn’t take her eyes off of Jenny, who is now looking, not at Lisa, but beyond her, behind her, to the shadow of a man standing over her. 

“Jenny, are you going to talk to me? You said you would, but so far, you don’t seem to want to.”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

Mr. Worrywort’s hands falls away from Lisa’s shoulders. 

“Okay.” Lisa swallows the nothing in her mouth. “Did your momma ever tell you why?”

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PM“Why what?”

“Why she gave you to those men?”

Jenny shrugs. The breath she takes is visibly deep and when she releases it, something in her rattles. Tears form in her dead eyes.

“It’s okay, Jenny. You don’t have to say. You don’t—“

“Momma likes men. She doesn’t like me.”

“Then why didn’t she give herself to the men if she liked them so much?”

“They don’t like her.”

“But they like you?”

One side of Jenny’s lips inch up in a sad, haunting smile. She doesn’t answer the question. She doesn’t need to. The sour milk and angry moths begin to give way to a hot anger of her own. 

What is wrong with some people?

  

Lisa licks her lips. “How did your momma treat you other than that? Other than giving you to the bad men?”

The terrible smile remains and the dead stare seems to grow more distant, something Lisa doesn’t believe, even though she sees it. 

“The men weren’t the bad ones. Momma was the bad person. She gave me to them for her powder.”

“Her powder?”

Jenny nods. “She sniffed it on the kitchen table.”

“Oh … her powder.” Lisa’s eyes are wide. She had a feeling that is what Jenny meant, but it didn’t register, not right away. Once it did, that anger boils up like lava in a volcano threatening to erupt.

“Quite the wretch, her momma,” Mr. Worrywort says. The cheer in his voice makes Lisa want to stand and punch him as hard as she can. To do that would mean she would have to look at him, face to face, woman to … whatever he is. She isn’t quite ready for that, but she has a feeling if she wants to get out of here with her sanity after the interviews are over, she is going to have to look him in his 

(dead)

eyes. She shudders at the thought and turns all of her attention back to Jenny. She notices the little girl’s skin has changed. The pale white has given way to a tinge of gray. The blood she thought she saw on Jenny’s inner calves is more visible on the hem of her dress, and has it dripped onto the floor beneath her feet?

“Jenny, did your momma know Jake and Cody’s dad had you?”

The smile falters. “Yes.”

“Did she give you to him, too?”

Jenny nods.

“Some people will do anything, Lissssaaa.” 

She ignores the hateful voice behind her the best she can, even as her skin crawls and the hairs on the back of her neck stand on ends. “Can you tell me what happened? You don’t have to, but I would like it if you could.”

“He hurt me. He … hurt me.” 

Jenny’s hands are trembling. The nails on her fingers have become a light purple and her skin has grown a darker shade of gray, almost like the color of ash in a fire pit.

“Oh, you’re going to make her suffer, aren’t you? I’m going to enjoy this.”

Lisa’s hands clench into fists as the heat on her face intensifies. She relaxes them, tries to remain calm, and stares at Jenny. She can see the torture in the poor child’s eyes, even if they are void of any other emotion. Death has a way of showing people the last visages of life before it fades out, and what Lisa sees on Jenny’s face is fear mixed with the pain of being ripped open in her soft spots by a horrible man and allowed to do so by an even more horrible woman. 

“It’s okay,” Lisa blurts out. “You don’t have to say what happened. I have a feeling I know already.”

Jenny opens her mouth to speak and the tendons in her jaw creak. Both sides of her lips where bottom meets top cracks, but no blood spills from the wounds. Lisa closes her eyes, opens them and is staring at the notepad. She looks back up at the now decaying little girl and tries to hold herself together in hopes of getting through the last couple of questions. She’s not sure she’ll be able to without going absolutely mad with heartache.

“Your … your spirit got trapped after …” Lisa can’t keep a clear thought in her head. Everything runs together. “… it got trapped after … after what happened after … after it was over …”

Mr. Worrywort laughs, high-pitched and full of joy. He has fallen away from her, but still close by. Lisa feels desperation rising in her heart. Not only is her skin humming, her stomach quivers and both of the heels of her feet bounce up and down, her toes feeling numb from the pressure on them.

“Do you remember that, Jenny? Do you remember being trapped?”  

“Trapped?”

“Yes! Trapped! Do you remember being trapped after you died?!”

Mr. Worrywort’s laughter suddenly ceases. Lisa can feel him staring at the back of her head. He—like herself—probably didn’t expect her to tell Jenny she had died, but she had, and now all she can do is watch the little girl and hope she will respond.

“I remember pain and crying and his nasty breath as he did … things … to me. I remember screaming for him to stop. I remember being slapped and …” her voice grows louder and her words begin to come out faster as she speaks, even as she stares at her no longer shaking hands. “I remember the burn of a cigarette on my stomach. I remember the pillow on my face. I remember wet and sticky and sweat and …” Still, her words grow faster and the center of her bottom lip cracks and the skin around the edges of the sides of her lips begins to tear. “I remember walking through the apartment and reachingforthedoorknobandleaving. Irememberfallingasleepagainstthewallanddreamingeverythingoverandoveragainandwantingtowakeup …”

Lisa’s face is streaked with tears and her lips are pulled down in a frown so sad and so long, she fears she will never be able to smile again. Behind her, Mr. Worrywort is clapping his hands and shouting like a mad preacher giving the gospel of hellfire and brimstone and all the bad little boys and girls are going to go to Ha-yell!

Jenny stops. As suddenly as she started, she stops. She looks at Lisa with her now white-filmed eyes. “I couldn’t wake up,” she whispers.

Then there is silence. Jenny’s body sags, as if all the life that had ever been in her is now truly gone. Mr. Worrywort’s clapping stops, but he is still there. She can feel him. Lisa’s sobs end with a sniffle and a deep breath. 

“But Jake set you free … remember? When … when he killed his dad.”

Jenny’s face holds the tattered ruins of innocence lost. Her head lulls on her shoulders for several seconds before her neck seems to gather strength. She looks up at Lisa and her lips are no longer cracked and splintered. Her skin is not ashen, but back to a light shade of gray, almost as if she is reverting back to the way she was when she first appeared.

Lisa is careful when she asks the next question, but she feels it is necessary. “Jenny, do you hate your mother?”

The once sad smile became wide, showing glints of grayed teeth. She doesn’t respond, but Lisa knows the answer. She supposes she always knew.

“What would you say to her if you could?”

Jenny’s dead, glossed over eyes stare straight at Lisa and she says one word. “Nothing.”

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 …

Voices, The Interviews: Lewis

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMNo, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here: If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before the first session: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 11

“That be a good child,” said the old black man sitting almost directly across from Lisa. He’s hunched forward, elbows on his knees. In his hands is an old cap, folded almost in half. His fingernails are yellow and his hands look like those of a man who had done hard labor his entire life. In truth, he had, and sometimes still does, even though he is well into his seventies. 

“Hello, Lewis,” Lisa says.

“Hello, Ma’am.” He nods appropriately. His voice is deep and holds a rasp in it. 

“How are you today?”

“I’m fine, Ma’am. You?”

“I’m not sure yet. I’ll let you know when we’re done here. How’s that?”

Lewis nods. “That be fine, Ma’am.”

“Lewis, I would like to be candid for a moment, if that is okay?”

Sad Woes of the Trashman“Yes, Ma’am. I ain’t got nothin’ to hide, so you go on ahead and be … what’s that word you said?”

“Candid?”

“Yes, Ma’am. You go on ahead and be candid.”

“You seem like a really good man.  A hard worker.  A caring person. So … Why …? What made you think it was acceptable to steal another person’s car?”

“Umm … I ain’t never said it was accep’ble. It ain’t. I just, well, I wanted my Michelle to be happy. You know, not regret marryin’ a man of my color. You know her pappy wasn’t all too keen on us gettin’ together.” Lewis takes a breath, lets it out in a long, sad sigh. “I reckon I was scared she would leave me, so I stole the car for some money. I didn’t do it out of malice or spite. I reckon I went and took it out of love.”

“Love?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” He shakes his head. His hands twist the cap a little. “Love makes you do some bad things. Stupid things.”

Lisa nods. “Yes, I suppose it does.” She pauses, then says, “It must have been degrading to be called ‘boy’ and, um, other things by the policemen.”

“I reckon so, Ma’am, but back then that’s just the way things were. Boy was the least insultin’ thing I was called by any white man back then.”

“You endured a lot in prison, Lewis.”

He shrugs. “Yes, Ma’am.”

“How did you keep your composure when they killed Marvin Jackson?”

Lewis shakes his head and twist the cap some more. “It ain’t all that hard when you want to stay alive. I was ‘fraid they was goin’ to kill me, too, so I just did what I hads to do to stay on this side of the ground.”

“That’s a smart way of looking at things.”

“It’s the only way in prison, Ma’am.”

“And you went to prison because of your wife, right?”

“Oh no, Ma’am. I went to prison ‘cause I was stupid and wanted to impress my Michelle. If I had just been me …” he shrugs again. “things might’ve been diff’rent.” 

“You obviously loved your wife very much.”

“I still do. Though she’s dead and all, I still love her.”

  

“Is it fair to say you loved her so much you have no remorse for killing her second husband?”

“That wasn’t no husband, Ma’am. He was a monster. I just saved her from the monster. That’s all.”

“What about when you killed the other man?”

“Well,  I reckon that was self-defense, Ma’am.”

“After everything you have been through, can you tell me why you decided to turn yourself in to the police?”

Lewis sits silent for a few seconds. Then a few more. He looks up with tears in his eyes. “When you ain’t got nothin’ you need somethin’ to hold onto. Somethin’ like structure. And prison has structure. Besides, I ain’t long for this world, Ma’am. Ain’t nothin’ worse than dyin’ alone.”

TO BE CONTINUED …

(The wonderful artwork for The Sad Woes of the Trash Man was provided by the amazing Troy Rider.)

Getting Deep With Donelle Pardee Whiting

A couple of weeks ago I got to sit down with one of the editors for Stitched Smile Publications. Her name is Donelle Pardee Whiting. She’s smart and witty and funny. She’s also a really good editor and has just recently gotten back into writing fiction. We sat down, as always, at a computer screen and chatted. I had my coffee and a comfortable seat on the couch. I’m not sure where she was sitting. What I am sure about is she surprised me with some of her answers.

AJ: Donelle, tell me a little bit about you.

DPW: Oh you would start with the question I hate the most. Well, let’s see. I am married with one son and three (soon to be four) grandkids.

I love to read, but I go in cycles. I don’t stick to one genre. I read horror, sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, suspense, mystery. I guess it would have been easier to say everything except straight up romance.

I like to spend time outside. Skiing, camping, hiking, sitting at the beach. Wherever my mood takes me. I absolutely love being out on the Harley with my husband.

And I enjoy traveling. I have been blessed with a mom who likes to take me with her on trips.

AJ: Hold the phone: Harley? I would have never guessed that. Tell me more about how you got into that.

DPW:  I didn’t always love Harleys. But I did like motorcycles. In college I had a few friends who rode. When we were dating, my husband had a Kawasaki, but he always wanted a Harley. So, through his eyes (I let him keep those) I started to see the appeal. They’re growly and tough. And if treated right, they last a long time. There is a long history behind them. Although my husband is more knowledgeable about that than I am.

Strigoi COverAJ: If you had to choose between a Kawasaki or a Harley, I’m guessing you would go with the Harley?

DPW: While the only truly important thing to me is my husband is the one in the “driver’s seat,” I would definitely choose to have the Harley. A few years back I took a class to get my motorcycle license. Now I have to save my pennies so I can get one of my own.

I love to ride on the back, but unfortunately, I only get to ride when my husband is able. I won’t take his out. That’s his baby. I didn’t even want my name on the registration when he bought it six years ago.

Still don’t.

I almost forgot. We had a Suzuki Katana before the Harley. I still prefer the Harley.

AJ:  Most folks I know love their Harleys. Let’s step back a minute and talk about your reading preferences. Anything except romance?

DWP: Right. I have nothing against people who like a good romance. I have, in the past, read a few. When I was younger…by several years . And occasionally, in the past I have read works by Nora Roberts, but I prefer her books under the name J.D. Robb. I have nothing against romance, I just don’t need to be romanced. It’s nice when there is a spontaneous gesture, but I don’t expect it, so to me getting lost in a straight up romance novel is akin to getting lost in what a person feels is missing from their life. I could be wrong, but that is what it feels like to me. Plus, a lot of those books are formulaic and predictable. I don’t even really enjoy romance movies. I will watch some rom-com films, but I have to really like the actors. I prefer movies that are in line with my reading tastes.

I think I just figured out something else. I don’t like meek, subservient, female characters. I am not saying the character has to be Xena, the Warrior Princess. She can have weaknesses, or a softness to her, but I don’t like when a female character is portrayed as needing a man to rescue her or to make her feel like her life has meaning. I like that I can count on my husband to be there for me, and to help me. I don’t need for him to, but I like that he is there. Especially, those rare times when there is something I can’t do like fix my car.

AJ: You hit on something very deep here. Getting lost in a straight up romance novel is akin to getting lost in what a person feels is missing from their life. I’ve said something similar to this when referencing erotica and romance and have been blasted for it. Since reading is essentially losing yourself in a book or story, do you find that sometimes people really do read certain types of books to fulfill something missing in their lives?

DWP: Oh boy. I opened the door, so time to step through. I get lost in a good story. And I am perfectly okay with getting lost in a story. But, is it always a matter of it being a case of something missing in real life? It can be, and it can’t be.

Let me explain where I am going.

I love reading fantasy stories. A high school friend introduced me to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and I loved them. It opened a whole new world of reading material for me. Until then I read the typical girl young adult fare. But, those books, and starting to read my mom’s Stephen King books, really grabbed me. I learned I didn’t have to lock myself in to one writing style, one genre, or even one author. It wasn’t just the books either. My dad was a huge sci-fi fan. He and I would stay up late and watch The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Tales From the Darkside together. He introduced me to Doctor Who and Star Trek and Star Wars. Getting lost in a good Doctor Who episode doesn’t mean I feel like traveling through time and space is missing from my life. Would it be fun if the Doctor was real and came to sweep me into an adventure? You bet.

But, romance to me is different. It is similar to the soap operas that began airing in the…what, 60s? In my opinion, they target lonely, dissatisfied women. There is nothing wrong with reading them. They are not my style. The problem becomes when they become a substitute for what is really out there waiting. Very much like video games. It becomes all encompassing. There is a difference between losing oneself in a good book for a bit, and getting completely lost and missing what life has to offer.

AJ: Wow. That is deep, Donelle. I get what you mean completely. I have heard a lot of women mention before that they love their romance novels because of the fantasy feel to it. It’s not always bad to fantasize, but to get caught up in that fantasy and not live is another thing all together.

Where do we go after that answer? What is your favorite style to read?

DWP: Now that is tough.

I mentioned I loved The Hobbit and LOTR, and I have read the Game of Thrones books. And while I love Tolkein’s work and like Game of Thrones, they are a bit ploddy – I know, not a word – in spots. I do enjoy a descriptive, easy going style, I guess. Honestly, I never really thought about it much. But thinking about it now, I really do enjoy a more conversational style. As if I were sitting with the author in a coffee shop and he/she is telling me a story. Just me. It draws you in. I do not really enjoy lengthy, preachy styles. I have a hard time with non-fiction because there usually is no lightness to it. Working on Strigoi: The First Family with Michael Freeman was interesting because there was the historical element to it. I love history, and I did not want to lose that. I feel like I am rambling, but you asked. I guess I don’t really have a favorite. The style has to fit the story. Some stories are meant to be told in a light-hearted way, or a conversational way, or a more straight forward manner. What is important to me is it is done well.

AJ: Personally, I love the conversational style. Speaking of Strigoi, tell me about that.

Strychnine COverDPW: Strigoi is a re-imagining of the Dracula origin mythos. It is written in a historical fiction style. There is a historical background with fictional elements weaved in, similar to the way Hollywood presents their “based on a true story” films. Some examples would be Titanic, Pearl Harbor, and 47 Ronin (my favorite). We know from history those three events happened. But did they happen exactly that way? Were all those characters really there? Same with Strigoi. We know Vlad Dracula’s lineage, and we know what happened to his family. We also know the Bram Stoker version. So, Michael and I *tweaked* the myth, although he did all the, as I say, heavy lifting.

AJ: You came to be co-author of this book, correct?

DPW:  Correct.

AJ: How did that happen?

DPW: There were actually two books I eventually co-authored with Michael. The other is Strychine, a werewolf story. Anyway, after joining Stitched Smile Publications as an editor – shout out to David Youngquist, a freelance editing client, who put me in touch with Jackie Chin of Zombiepalooza Radio fame who put me in touch with SSP’s CEO Lisa Vasquez – Michael’s two books were given to me for editing. Unfortunately, both books required a lot of reworking through no fault of his. I mean, you’ve seen his writing.

It is my understanding Strychnine was slated for a film, but whoever was going to do the film wanted to make too many changes, so Michael pulled it and submitted it to Lisa. Strigoi was submitted for re-release under Stitched. The previous editor, in my opinion, dropped the ball. Michael said he trusted me to be thorough. After some discussion, he decided we should team up and I should go ahead and do the corrections and whatever rewrites I thought were needed. He put a lot of trust in me. I have to admit, it felt good. I mean, he is extremely talented in both writing and with his film work, and I was the new kid to the party. We agreed to continue a writing partnership. There are three more screenplays he wrote that I will be converting to book form. I enjoy working with him. However, I am not giving up on the editing. That is what got me where I am now. And, I have some other projects, as well.

AJ: So, then you guys pretty much hit it off so well the collaboration works. It is hard to find a good writing partner these days.

How has the editing phase of your job with SSP gone?

DPW: Busy. But also very rewarding. I am enjoying myself immensely. I love what I do, and the people I am getting to know are fantastic. It’s like everything I have done before has led to this. This is what I am meant to do.

AJ: Why do you say that? Why do you say this is what you are meant to do? I always find it intriguing when someone says that.

DPW: Because even in school as a kid, I would help classmates with their papers. Plus, when I was a kid I would write stories using characters from movies or shows I saw. And I have never given up on my dream to be a published author. Put it aside for a bit but never lost it.

AJ: So, then you have always been the helpful type?

DPW: When I can, yes. There are times I have to say no. But, if it is in my capabilities and when I can I will.

AJ: So, let’s turn back to Strigoi and Strychnine. Both books were released at the same time. Why did you and Michael go with a dual release?

DPW: As far as I know it was a publisher decision. To be honest, I never asked.

AJ: Okay, how about a break from the seriousness? Give me one word answers for the following questions:

Vampire or Werewolf?

DPW: Werewolf

AJ: Beer or wine?

DPW: Wine.

AJ: Are you a fan of Darth Vader?

DPW: No.

AJ: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?

DPW:
That’s tough. Near a beach, but not too far from the mountains. I know, more than one word.

AJ: That is okay–I knew that one would be.

Favorite food?

DPW: Chocolate

AJ: Okay, now let’s get serious again. Are you working on any solo writing endeavors right now?

DPW: Always. I have a book with dragons that has been back burnered since 1995. I like to say the dragons were too young, so they were maturing in their caves in my head. They are awake now. Plus, I have some short stories in need of being written. Thought of one today while out and about. And I have another co-author project with someone else, but her identity is currently a secret until she chooses to come out of the veil and into the light.

In a way it is still sinking in that I am published as an author and not just as my previous “identity” as a journalist.

AJ: I understand that. I think it should always continue to sink in. That way you keep working hard at it.

DPW: Yep. Finding my rhythm.

AJ: Rythm. That leads us right into my next question. I’m a music guy, so with that said, recently Prince passed away. His manager said this about him: “His music did the talking.” He did some amazing things in the music business. As a writer, what do you wish to accomplish with your writing?

DPW: A very good question. I don’t write for others, so to speak. I write what is in my own head, my own imagination. However, when I share that part of me I hope people join me for the ride and are able to put aside their own worries and such and just live in that moment, to be a part of my world.

AJ: Have you been reading my notes?

DPW: Ahahaha. Nope. We just think alike.

AJ: Okay, let me throw this at you: I am a reader. I have never read anything by you. Sell me on you, not just you the writer, but Donelle, the person as well.

DPW: I am not afraid to admit I am human, I am not perfect. However, I am willing to step out of my comfort zone and take some chances. I love to have fun and I like to share the fun. And I am more than willing to fly my Geek Flag. And, if I can get one person to join every so often I am a success. Especially if we can share a laugh.

AJ: And you know I like to laugh.

DPW: Very much so. I am even willing to laugh at myself. I prefer not taking life too seriously. More fun that way.

AJ: What, if anything, would you do different with your writing or editing?

DPW: When I edit, I go through more than once. I approach it like a treasure hunt. There are corrections to be made and I want to find where they are. With my writing, I am a firm believer in self-editing. I will go over it with a critical eye before saying it is done. And even then, I know it needs another set of eyes because I miss things because I know what it is supposed to say and I auto-correct in my head.

AJ: Are you sure you are not looking at my notes?

DPW: LOL.

AJ: Okay, one or two more questions and I will let you go. If you could sit down with any living writer and have a conversation with him or her, who would it be and what would you talk about?

DWP: Stephen King. He has overcome challenges in his life. He never gave up. And he doesn’t let his critics beat him down. He marches to his own music. So, I guess that, in addition to finding his rhythm, his routine. Keeping balance in his life and, well, his dogs. One is Molly the Thing of Evil. The other is the angelic one. Can’t recall its name, though.

AJ: I would have said King as well.

DPW: Great minds.

AJ: I’m sorry–you have slipped a notch if we are thinking alike.

DPW: Nope. Means you have been elevated.

AJ: Hahahaha—nicely done.

DPW: Thankee, sai.

AJ:
Donelle, Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers out there?

DWP: Never stop reading. Never stop dreaming. And, thanks for joining me on the ride. I’ll see you on the next page.

AJ: The next page is a good place to meet.

You can find Donelle on Amazon and her website, Pardee Time.  You can also fine Donelle on Facebook. Show some love for Donelle and leave her some comments.

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

 

The Pinch: Greg Ferrell

Zombies. They’re the in crowd, the monsters everyone is talking about right now. They kill indiscriminately. One bite, even just a pinch of the teeth, and you’re as good as dead, well undead. With that in mind, let’s bring in Greg Ferrel, the author of the Humanity’s Hope series.

Let me get straight to the point: Why zombies?

Zombies rock. They are the epitome of an unstoppable enemy that wants nothing more than to kill you. Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers they don’t scare me as much. They are one being, a serious threat, yes, but still just one being. They always seem to have a weakness you can exploit to survive. Zombies have one, too, but they are legion. Shoot one in the head four more come running, shambling, crawling or whatever and they wont stop until you run out of gas and become dinner. They have always been my favorite of the movie monsters, and as far back as I can remember I had a plan for the coming apocalypse more thought out then I had my plan if it didn’t happen.

Tell us about Humanity’s Hope, the series.

Humanity’s Hope came from my belief that it would be possible with the right people and the right mindset that you could survive the apocalypse and have hope again.

It starts out as a group of close friends who have built a safe haven in a neighborhood in Tallahassee, Florida, that one of them lived in when the outbreak happened fifteen months earlier. They have a wall built protecting them inside from the slabs, which is their name for the zombies, or even other humans who would want to take from them. They have weapons scavenged from overun military convoys and many other places. They have limited electricity from solar panels on one of the houses and ample food supplies. Life is looking good for them and they are survivng well.

All hell breaks loose on them though shortly afterwards. They face two impending threats from the north and the south and the camp comes under attack.

As the smoke clears there is loss and confusion as the survivors deal with the aftermath. A revelation from one of the residents reveals a much more sinister world that threatens their survival. But there is also hope as one of them goes through a change after being bitten.

While the people in Tallahassee are trying to survive another group of people scattered all around the world are attempting to reconnect with each other. These people have lived a very secretive yet powerful life and want nothing more than to regain their lofty position controlling the events of the world. Is there more to them then just their lofty position and what is their ultimate goal?

Hutch is a man on two missions. The first is to kill slabs and he is good at it. One at a time is too slow and he is not a patient man. With a twenty year carer as a Navy SEAL recently behind him he has the know how to cause massive damage to the slab population. His second mission is his secret. Follow him as he travels across the country doing what only he can do the way he does it.

The stories of these groups will become intertwined and a much more secret history of the world will be revealed as the series moves on. History is written by the survivors not the dead, what we know may not be the truth.

If you had to convince someone to pick up the Humanity’s Hope series instead of another book (or series), what would you say?

Humanity’s Hope is not just another zombie survival book. It is an adventure as you follow not just one group of people but at times up to four differnet groups of people in various locations of the world. The story will span 3000 years as the origin of the zombie plague goes back farther than we could ever imagine. Before it is over you will find out that the zombies aren’t the only monster the survivors will have to deal with but they might end up with a few on their side too.

It is also a more positive look at the apocalypse and I prove that you don’t have to go over the top with the language or violence to get your point across about what is going on. Even though there is some language in it I have had a few parents feel very comfortable letting their teenagers read it saying it’s nothing worse than they hear on network television.

It is a page turning, fast paced ride that many readers have written to me complaining that the book ruined any chance of getting a good nights sleep. They couldn’t put it down until long after they had planned on reading for the night.

Greg, what do you believe is the most important part of telling a story?

Make the reader want to turn the page. Keep it interesting and keep it moving. Some readers might want you to spend two pages describing the mole on the side of someones face, but I think most of them want to get a good story full of fun interesting characters. I love a good story where the action keeps coming at you to the point where you find yourself breathing faster and faster not even realizing you are doing it. But not at the expense of quality action. I feel it needs to have a reason for happening though, a gunfight or fistfight that has no impact on the outcome of the story is stupid it needs to carry through either changing the character or the outcome of the story.

Including Humanity’s Hope, what stories does Greg Ferrel have for us in the future?

I have just released my first non monster book on January 5th called Nothing Ever Happens Here. It is a coming of age story of two boys having the night of their lives, good and bad, as they try to get to a party to meet up with some girls they like. They face off against nudists, bullies, cops, witches, shotguns and so much more. The great part is that all the events are based on real life experiences I had growing up. It is something very different than my first two books and is being received very well by reviewers.

I plan on wrapping up the last three books as well as two or three short story books in the Humanity’s Hope series in 2015. As soon as I wrap those up I will be jumping right into my next series which will be a fantasy series I am keeping under wraps until I can get to work on it.

I have to ask this question because I think you and I are of the same mindset. You have a saying: “I’m not an author, I’m a storyteller.” I say the exact same thing. In your mind, what is the difference between an author and a storyteller?

I view the difference of the two are similar to the way you classify baseball players. You can play for years in the minors but wont be taken seriously about your skill until you make it to the big leagues. Then you are a professional ball player, a Major Leaguer. For me I feel like I am just a storyteller until I am taken seriously by my peers up top in the publishing world in New York. I do feel like I will one day accept that title of author even though at heart I will always be a storyteller.

Here is a brief excerpt from Humanity’s Hope : Camp H:

It has been three days since Hutch had arrived in Hilton Head, South Carolina; and he has been on a recon watch since arriving. Not because of slabs, though. This time it is because of a human, he thinks. He came here to see the famed PGA golf course Harbor Bay, and he has arrived. But instead of finding a grossly-overgrown golf course; he, instead, finds that it is in incredible shape almost pristine. That doesn’t make sense, and he is on watch waiting to see who is taking care of it.

He had a hellacious time getting here as almost every bridge to the area was either destroyed or impassable. The only bridge to Harbor Bay was completely destroyed and under water from end to end. So he had to abandon his vehicle on the other side of the river and swim across, bringing as much weaponry as he could with him, which wasn’t much. Since arriving, he has not seen a single slab in the area or any human for that matter; but he has found several dead corpses lying around that indicates someone cleaned house here. And then he found the golf course and has been waiting for any sign of its keeper.

Out of the corner of his eye, Hutch catches the first sign of movement since he arrived; and it catches him a little off guard. In a small golf cart, with a set of golf clubs on the back, sits one lone old man.   He is dressed as you would expect someone heading out to play golf for the day to be dressed. He wears long black-and-white plaid pants with a bright yellow polo shirt and a straw hat keeping the sun out of his eyes. He watches as the lone man cuts his cart across the backyard of one of the houses bordering the fairway of the first hole and parks at the tee box and then approaches it with a club and ball in hand.

Hutch continues watching all this from his hiding spot on the third floor of another house bordering the golf course. He thinks at first that maybe he is imagining this scene before his eyes. And then thinks it again as he watches the little old man, who can’t be more than five feet tall and weigh about a hundred and ten pounds, hit his first drive and watches it go about 325 yards straight down the fairway. Hutch, with his physical shape, would love to one day be able to hit a drive that far, and he is impressed. However, none of this thinking is helping his confusion on what is going on around here.

Hutch watches the little old man scoot from hole to hole; and by the time he rounds out of sight heading to the fifth hole, Hutch has his score at two under par already. With him out of sight and no other human spotted, he thinks maybe it is time to approach the old man and see if he can get some answers. So he grabs one lone rifle and heads downstairs and out the back door to find him.

As Hutch opens the back door, he is startled by the sight of the golf cart he was just watching sitting on the back patio of the house. He turns to see where its occupant is and finds himself staring straight down the barrel of a .357 magnum with the old man looking down its barrel back at him.

“Can I help you, sonny?” The old man asks.

Okay, zombie lovers, let’s show Mr. Greg Ferrell some love. Feel free to leave comments at the end of this post.  Thank you, Greg, for coming in and spending a little time with us, here at Type AJ Negative.

You can find out about all of his books at www.humanityshope.com

You can also follow him at humanityshope series on Facebook.

 

The Pinch: Claire C. Riley

Welcome to The Pinch. What’s The Pinch? Oh, it’s simple. You know when you go to the doctor and end up getting a shot? You know how that nurse (who just loves her job so much she could be a serial killer in any psychotic movie) who smiles at you and says, ‘We’re going to give you a little shot. It won’t hurt much…’ I always wonder who the ‘we’ is here?

The nurse then goes on to say, ‘It’ll only be a little pinch.’

First off, she’s lying. Don’t believe her. I’ve never been given a shot that felt like any pinch I’ve ever had. Second off, she’s enjoying herself. While you’re sucking in all the oxygen in the room, she’s smiling away. Little evil serial killer wanna-be.

Okay, I’ve gotten a little sidetracked. The Pinch is an interview series. They are four or five short, quick questions (though the interviewee doesn’t have to give short answers), just enough to tease you folks out in Reader Land. It’s also my way of introducing you to writers you (may or) may not know.

Our first Pinch is a young lady by the name of Claire C. Riley. I just recently found out about her through a Facebook group (yes, a trusty Facebook group—isn’t that how everyone meets these days?). Without going into further unpleasantries, why don’t we just get started?

Limerence, The Obsession Series, is along the lines of a romantic horror involving vampires. This is something we’ve seen before in another series that shall go unnamed within these dark halls. For those readers who have been ruined on vampires because of that other series, how does Limerence differ from it?

Limerence was my debut novel and the second in the series came out in October, with the third and final installment set for release in 2015. How does it vary from the film that shall not be named? Pretty much everything about it is different, haha. I tried to take vampires back to the more old school route of Bram Stoker where vampires were dark and dangerous. I also tried to turn things on their head. In most books and film adaptations the woman wants to be a vampire, however in Limerence it’s the very opposite. So, there’s blood, and lust and danger and crazy-assed vampires!

You write about zombies as well. Why?

– I love reading about apocalyptic worlds, and some twisted part of me actually believes that zombies could possibly come about one day. Or something similar anyway. Plus for that reason, zombies are a big fear of mine, and I think it’s good to write about things that scare you. Facing your fears head on so to speak.

Tell us a little about Odium The Dead Saga.

Odium is set several years after the outbreak, and our main protagonist, Nina, lives in a walled city protected from the Deaders out in the world. However, the city has become less than a happy place and people are forced to either starve or sell themselves to survive. Nina has had enough, and when a young girl is being kicked out of the city for stealing, she decides to go with her.

Nina, however, is not a fighter. She can’t use a gun or a sword; she has no survival skills whatsoever. She’s just an everyday woman determined to survive in a world overrun by the dead.

She’s feisty and snarky, she’s inappropriate and says what she thinks. Some say bitch, but I say that it’s just her defense mechanism. It’s better to have no friends so she can’t lose any one. Along their road for survival, they meet other survivors that are surviving the best way they can.

I also have out – Odium Origins A Dead Saga Novella part One and Two. These are accompaniments to the Odium novels and tell the back-story on some of the more important characters from each book. I LOVE writing these books and letting the readers know the TRUE story behind each character. And let me tell you, they are not what you expect them to be.

I love this line from your website: She writes characters that are realistic and kills them without mercy. Do you sometimes have a hard time killing off a character you love or do you really kill them without mercy?

– I genuinely kill them without mercy! Haha, I’m cruel like that. However, do I regret killing some of them off afterwards? Yes, a lot of the time. In fact, some of them still haunt me

Another blurb from your website that I like is the description of your writing: Claire C Riley’s work is best described as the modernization of classic, old-school horror. Is there an old-school classic that you haven’t tackled that you would like to?

– There’s a lot that I want to tackle in the future to be honest, it’s finding the time that I have the problem with. My fans are greedy voracious, and I love them for it, but it’s hard to keep them fed all the time with new tales! I have quite a few anthology contributions under my belt namely, Let’s Scare Cancer to Death (a charity anthology) State of Horror: Illinois and Fading Hope: Humanity Unbound.

I love them all, but the Fading Hope anthology is one of my very favourites because it talks about a subject that I haven’t covered before – monsters! Like, real old school monsters. And in this anthology there is no hope whatsoever. It was a great collaboration of authors such as Jack Wallen, Rebecca Besser, Eli Constant, and several more, and each of us wrote completely unique and hopeless stories. It’s brilliant and really goes out of everyone’s comfort zones.

Thank you, Claire, for your time and answers. Keep the band-aid on for at least 24 hours to prevent any bacteria and infection. Or risk getting infected and becoming a zombie.

The following are excerpts from two of Claire’s books. Enjoy:

From Limerence II

The dining room is quiet at this time of the day. It is neither lunch nor teatime; however, I know that there will be food prepared. There is always food prepared. I take my glass from the stand and move along the counter until I reach Mad Donny, the chef here. He smiles warmly at me, as he always smiles.

“Mia, how are you today?”

“I’m good.” I mirror his smile as I look at the selection. “Hungry.”

“Of course—aren’t you always? What would you like? Something sweet? Something spicy, perhaps?” He licks his lips greedily and rubs his hands together. Donny is always hungry, though he should have learnt to control his thirst by now. He is far older than Evan, and me, and even older than most of the other vampires around here. His eyes gleam at me with an insanity that he does not try to control; it’s what makes Donny Donny. I don’t know how he does this every day; the smell alone would send me over the edge, but he seems to relish in it. Perhaps his pleasure from it is because of his constant overindulgence.

“Sweet, please, Donny,” I say and hand him my glass. Sweet is always my preference, especially after an unfortunate April Fool’s Donny played on everyone, which involved hot chillies and blood. The poor human never tasted the same afterwards.

He turns to the selection of humans behind him and, reaching for a youngish man, he pulls the seal from his wrist and holds it over my glass. The man’s eyes are glassy and hollow as he stares ahead of him at nothing. His lips are bluish and dry, and his skin pasty.

My stomach grumbles as the glass begins to fill, and I urge him to hurry, my fangs unsheathing in expectancy.

Down, boys. Not this time.

Donny reseals the wound and turns back to me with my now full glass of sweet B negative.

“Thanks.” I smile wider this time and hurry to a table by the window. I want to sit and enjoy the sun on my face whilst I drink. It’s cold out, but the sun still rises each day in retaliation of the coming winter.

The first sip is always the best. That first millisecond when the blood touches your taste buds is as if every one of my senses are being caressed by the hand of God. Every stroke, every touch awakens my very soul, devouring my body from the inside out—though without doubt, not by any God I know of.

© Copyright Claire C. Riley

From Odium The Dead Saga

“Let’s go.” JD moves off round the corner, and we follow him as one and without argument.

There are stains smeared along the walls, handprints and the words help us written in dried blood. I shudder and look at Duncan. He lowers his gaze away from me and away from the words, knowing only too well that he caused this. He could have saved some of these people if he wouldn’t have been such a coward. Instead he locked them all inside and sentenced them to death.

There are the remains of a body or two on the floor, but not enough of either of them remain to be reanimated, and so JD kicks the bloody bones to the side and out of our way. We can hear more growling coming from behind a closed door; we seemed to have riled them all up, by the sounds of it.

“That’s the medic’s room,” Duncan whispers.

I want to shout out no shit, Sherlock! since there’s a big red cross on the door, but JD turns the handle before I can get my words out. I swallow them down and ready myself as the door opens inwards and reveals to us the five zombies within.

They head straight for us with long, hungry growls, as if mamma didn’t give them their last meal before bedtime. Sludge hangs from their jaws and a cold blankness fills their eyes. Their lips peel back to reveal blackened and broken teeth and they push and shove to get past each other and to their meal. Us. I shiver and swallow down the stomach acid that has worked its way up my esophagus and into my mouth.

“I got this.” Crunch steps forward, and with her two knives, she decapitates the first two zombies with relative ease (if there can be such a thing when killing the living dead). JD follows her in, and when a zombie lunges for him, he deals with it with a quick swoop of his scythe down its middle. From skull to stomach it splits, and everything left inside tumbles into a pile on the floor along with its body.

Crunch laughs as she circles another, kicking it away with her foot until it falls on its back. She stands above it, placing a foot on its chest, and drives her blade through its face slowly and with a maniacal glee that sends shivers down my spine. There is something like contentment in her expression as she pulls the blade back out, gunk spewing out of the hole left by her knife.

The last deader has reached the doorway, and Duncan takes aim with his gun.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers as he pulls the trigger and the zombie hits the floor.

©Copyright Claire C. Riley

Intrigued? Good. You can follow the links below to her website, Facebook, twitter, Google+ and Amazon author pages. Check her out, and thanks for stopping by.

Claire C. Riley’s Website

Claire C. Riley Facebook

Claire C. Riley Amazon Author Page

Twitter

Google+

 

Shambling Around with Julianne Snow

Back in October I participated in this thing called The Coffin Hop. It’s the first time I have participated in something like this and it was fun, yet time consuming. I think the time consuming part swallowed me and spat me out at the end. The premise is writers and artists in the horror genre signed up and then from October 24th through Halloween those same folks visited the blogs doing the Coffin Hop. There were give aways and stories and great things to read. Better yet, there were friends to be made.

One of those friends is a young lady who writes a zombie series and runs a website dedicated to the zombie sub-genre. She is a pleasant woman who has an insatiable desire to write, to tell stories, and like the rest of us, she’s putting herself out there for the world to love and criticize. Such is the life of a writer.

Her name? Julianne Snow, and she graciously agreed to an interview with Herbie and me. Granted, she doesn’t care much for needles, so Herbie had to leave them home, much to his dismay.

Now, if you don’t mind, follow us if you will into the world of Julianne Snow.

HH: Who is Julianne Snow?

JS: As I sit here trying to think about what to say, I’m struck by how hard of a question that actually is. How do I want to the world to perceive me? Does that world actually perceive me in that way? Should I embellish bits and pieces to make myself sound more interesting or am I interesting enough all on my own?

You asked, so you’re going to get the most honest version. I am a thirty-something year old (Oh God! Where did my 20s go??) author striving to make my world a better place each and every day. I write horror, so generally my day is not as bad as those of my characters. Am I classically trained in the art of prose? Heck no, but I do have two degrees and I have written tonnes of academic papers and two theses, so I think I have the basics covered.

I am Canadian, extremely proud of our spelling of specific words, and trained in all of the correct usages for the phrase ‘eh?’. I have travelled, though not extensively, and found myself to be open and willing to experience new and wondrous things.

I have a distinct love for Zombies, which originated at age six with a viewing of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. That grainy, black and white masterpiece solidified so many things in my young mind; a love for horror and that of the Undead. I absorb (read: watch, read, craft, write, etc.) anything Zombie related and I am currently working on my first Zombie cross-stitching project – it’s a hand reaching out of the dirt –and plan to create more embroidered masterpieces (because deep down, I know it will be a masterpiece).

I am the creator and author of Days with the Undead, which started off as an online serial, but I have added more to the story and have begun to release the sagas as a series of books. Days with the Undead: Book One is currently available with Book Two coming out in the spring of 2013.

I have also penned a number of shorter stories which can be found in various anthologies from Open Casket Press and Sirens Call Publications with a few more awaiting deliberations. You can even find some of them on either of the two blogs I maintain, but you may have to go digging for them a little bit.

So to sum it all up into a few words, I’m a Canadian Horror Author with a penchant for the Undead. I suppose I could have given you that version to start with, but how much fun would that have been?

HH: I’m a fan of zombies as well and have been working on a series for the last couple of years. Having said that, what do you find is the hardest part of creating a series and maintaining it, especially one based in the world of zombies when so many stories and movies are currently out involving the not-so-loveable shamblers?

JS: At the moment, I am no longer posting aspects of the Days with the Undead saga online, but the hardest part of it was finding the time to develop a story and then put it all together for posting. My posting schedule was such that I was writing and posting a new segment each and every day or every couple of days. Getting the word count was not difficult; I never concerned myself with that aspect. The problem was more in finding the time to sit down and develop the story in a direction that could sustain the saga for additional days after that.

When you write a book, you have an idea of where the story is going and if not, you can always go back and flesh out the bits that need to be there to make the rest of the story follow a logical and continuous path. When you’re posting something online, you’re working within such a short deadline: you need to write and edit before you can post. It was hectic, but I loved it.

I’m never short of ideas, even within the Zombie genre, but I do find it hard to come up with story arcs that have never been encountered before. I think I have a few, but it’s hard to say for certain because I have not read or watched every Zombie related piece out there – close to it, but certainly not all. I found it easier to create my characters and the general conflict, letting everything develop from that point.

HH: Though you love zombies, they aren’t the only things you write about, right?

JS: Good heavens, no! I definitely write in other genres of horror as well. At the moment, I have three non-Zombie related stories in anthologies with a few more in different stages of the decision process. I’m a regular contributor to an online dark and edgy literary magazine entitled The Sirens Call and I’m currently working on a number of stories for different projects as well, so there will be plenty more from me in the future if you’re not a fan of the Zombie sub-genre (though I have no idea why you wouldn’t be…).

Heck, I’ve even had my first acceptance for a romance themed anthology. Sometimes the muse hits you in the right way and the call is something you need to answer. I enjoy writing and while horror and Zombies may be my first loves, they are certainly not my only ones.

HH: The Sirens Call? Can you tell me about that?

JS: The Sirens Call is the dark and edgy literary bimonthly online magazine that is put together by Sirens Call Publications. Generally, each issue is themed and authors, artists, and photographers are invited to submit any work that fits that month’s theme. They’ve actually just released December’s issue, which is themed ‘frozen’ and they’re giving it away for free! It’s a wonderful project to be a part of and I love the mix of talented authors from different genres that make up each issue.

HH: For free? Would you mind sharing the link with all of those in Type AJ Negative land?

JS: Absolutely! You can find the link by visiting the Sirens Call Publications website.

HH: Can you tell me about the writing process for you? Are you one that outlines or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

JS: The process of writing for me is something very organic. Usually it starts with an idea or a line of dialogue and the story builds in my mind before I have the opportunity to sit down and write it. Submission calls are also very inspirational to me – sometimes I write stories without the inspiration of a call, but if I’m going to submit to an anthology or magazine, I let the words of the call guide me in the right direction. I think it’s extremely important and helps your chance of acceptance if you pay attention to what the publisher is ultimately looking for.

As for being a planner or a pantser, I’m a pantser during approximately ninety percent of the stories I write. The other ten percent of the stories are planned down to most of the details. Don’t get me wrong, the stories I write by the seat of my pants do have to hit on certain aspects for the story to progress, so there is a small amount of planning but it’s extremely minimal. In fact, most of the time, I have no idea how I’m going to join elements of the story together until my fingers start to fly over the keys.

HH: That’s interesting. For the most part I fly by the seat of my pants as well, but for me I never write specifically for an anthology or a particular publication. I used to, but I found many topics limiting and my stories like to stretch their legs.

Being a writer, I like to say my stories have to ‘breathe’ in order to live and there are various things I do during writing to try and make them come alive. Are there any particular things you focus on when writing a story to make them as believable as possible?

JS: I think having characters that are relatable adds a significant level of believability to any story that I write. Without the connection between character and reader, the story is going to be an extremely hard sell. Even if your character is a villain, adding an aspect or two of vulnerability can help to make them a little more palatable in the loosest definition of the word. No one wants to like the villain, but sometimes when you’ve created the perfectly flawed character, the readers cannot stop themselves from liking them just a little bit. Let’s face it, sometimes good people do bad things…

Generally I concentrate on one central main character and tell the story from their point of view. Other points of view are necessary in some cases, and I concentrate on each one as I bring them together into a cohesive whole. A misplaced perspective can destroy a great tale and I work hard to make each one that I present authentic.

I also find that writing what I know is the easiest way to keep things straight. Each of my stories contains a small aspect of myself that I can rely on to draw inspiration from and help me to keep the different story lines organized and complete.

And then there are those other times that I just write with abandon and see what comes out at the end. Those are certainly some interesting stories…

HH: Do you ever see yourself in your stories?

JS: I see parts of myself, but I’m never a complete character. At times, the similarities are akin to a situation that I have dealt with or a particular quirk that I have. In others, certain traits are amalgamated along with others into a character to the point that readers would have no idea that a part of myself was even included. I believe that many authors put bits and pieces of themselves into their work, whether it’s subconsciously done or completely transparent. It makes for a better read, in my humble opinion.

HH: I agree that putting parts of ourselves into our work makes the stories much better and less one-dimensional. A couple more questions and we’ll wrap up. Who is your favorite character that you’ve created and why?

JS: Such a hard and unfair question! They’re all my favourites! After thinking for a moment and coming to terms with the thought of singling out one of my creations, I’m going to choose Julie. In so many ways, she’s exactly like me (name aside and all of that). We share some of the same history and she is the ultimate embodiment of survivalism. That’s something that I really relate to in more ways than one.

HH: We have our favorites, though we’re supposed to love them all the same, right?

JS: In a way that’s true. Our characters are ‘people’ that we end up spending inordinate amounts of time with – we craft them into who we want them to be and do our best to help our readers form the right opinions and emotions concerning them. It’s hard to pick a favourite.

HH: Julianne, where can we find you? Facebook? A blog? Amazon?

JS: Oh I can be found in lots of places! I’m on Facebook with both a personal page and a fan page, on Twitter. I can also be found on Goodreads, Google+, and my Amazon Author Page. I blog in numerous places: WordPress – Days with the Undead and The Flipside of Julianne; Tumblr – The Randomnes of Julianne. I think that’s everywhere you can find me.

HH: Julianne, thank you for hanging out with us today. We hope your future is bright with many words and publications and zombies.

To the readers out in Type AJ Negative land, drop a comment in the section below and/or visit Julianne at any of the links provided above. Thank you for reading, and until we meet again, my friends…

Five Questions with Petra Miller

AJ: Good morning, afternoon, evening wherever you’re at in the world. My alter ego, H. Herbie Himperwheel III (I’m not quite sure why he’s a third, since he is the only one) came to me last week. It seems he was a tad disgruntled that during my interviews, he doesn’t get to asks any questions. Sure, he gets to jab the interviewee with a needle and drain them of life-sustaining blood and laugh maniacally as he does this, but apparently, that’s not good enough for him.

So, to appease him and keep him from releasing the other personalities currently imprisoned in my brain, he and I agreed that I would start a new, albeit smaller, interview series titled Five Questions. This is nothing like my former NiNe QuestioNs series or the Donor Series currently running at Type AJ Negative.

I even let him handpick the first participant, one of his favorite writer folk, Petra Miller.

Let me step aside and let Herbie take over. He’s giving me the evil eye and I really don’t feel like getting stabbed by another one of his needles.

Five Questions for…

Petra Miller.

Herbie: A few years ago–six or seven, I guess. It’s hard to remember as the years just seem to blend together–I met a young woman named Petra Miller. She and I hit it off immediately. For those who may not know, Petra is a writer–a good… no, a great writer. She’s also somewhat of a perfectionist. I’ve read several of her stories that the viewing audience probably will never see.

However, lucky for you, the readers, Petra has a story, Knowing the Deal, in the book The Yellow Rose Diner and Fill Station. I’ve read the story and, to be completely honest with you, it’s a winner. It’s powerful in its storytelling, and a testament to Petra’s ability as a writer.

So, let’s get to it:

Herbie: The Yellow Rose Diner and Fill Station recently came out and within its pages is your story, Knowing the Deal. Tell us a little about the book and then about your story.

Petra: Well, I’ll be honest – the book is a little difficult to label. Sideshow Press came to us with the idea of doing this novel/collaboration and of course, we jumped on it. Each story was written by a member of my writing group, Snutch Labs. Kurt Dinan, Erik Williams, John Mantooth, Kim Despins, Sam W. Anderson and myself. It’s a collection of six stories all centered around a diner, The Yellow Rose Diner and Fill Station. Every story addresses the same question: “What’s the worst thing you’ve done?” They are separate stories, but all connected in one way or another, which makes it much more than an anthology. By the time we’d finished the final draft, we all agreed to call it a mosaic novel, although privately we refer to it as a ‘story orgy.’ Mostly because the guys just like to say ‘orgy.’
In my story, Knowing The Deal, Pax Riley has a special talent that allows him to see how someone will die, three days before it happens. He makes a decision–a perfectly noble decision, really–to save a friend’s life, and realizes too late he was missing a crucial bit of information. The aftermath of that decision lands him in prison, where he has all the time in the world to contemplate the ‘worst thing he ever did.’

Herbie: Being that The Yellow Rose was a collaboration, what’s it like working with so many different people in trying to put this together?

Ha! That was a horror story all its own, let me tell you! I’m kidding. Kind of. In Snutch, there are no identical personalities. We are all so VERY different–in our writing styles, the way we all handle stress, the way we give feedback. But we’ve been together five years now, and in the midst of many threats of throttling, death and torture, we were able to put our hearts back in our chest where they belonged, instead of keeping them on our sleeve. Mostly.

The thing is, we all really respect each other’s work, and we knew that for this project, we needed our best work. And, because we trust each of us only wants the best for each other, we were able to get it done. This was my first collaboration and I’ve always shied away from projects like that, because let’s face it, I’m hard-pressed to relinquish control of anything. But these guys know how I work, and as crazy as I made them, as crazy as we made EACH OTHER, we knew deep down we had something great.

Herbie: I’ve known you for a while and I know that you are somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to your writing. Was writing Knowing the Deal difficult for you, especially considering this was a group project.

Petra: Actually, the story mostly wrote itself. I love it when that happens; the excitement of going at it for days at a time is EUPHORIC! I had the first draft done pretty quickly–a month to be exact and that’s a record for me. It was the subsequent drafts that almost killed me. Because it wasn’t right, but I knew it could be GREAT! I knew how it was supposed to be, and I had to pour every ounce of emotion and feeling into it to get it right. I had to kill a few darlings, to say the least, but that was a good thing, because killing them made me see the REAL story. Kurt pointed that out to me many many times. Erik almost caused me to slit my own wrists and if it wasn’t for Kim, I’d have burned the manuscript. I’m kidding. Sort of. Truth be told, all of them kicked me hard enough to get the story out right. So then, that’s alright, I say. 

Herbie: Recently, The Horror-Web
did a review of The Yellow Rose Diner and Fill Station. In it one of the comments made about Knowing the Deal was:

“This story reaches deep down into aspects of human pain and suffering that only a few have ever experienced. If zombies could shed tears, I may very well have shed some myself by the time this story was over.”

That is one heck of a compliment and testament to your ability as a writer. As a writer, how did that make you feel?

Petra: AMAZING! I felt amazing. I have a hard time taking compliments, but it’s a lot easier for me taking them from people I’ve never met. Don’t ask me why. With Horror-Web, they didn’t know me from the girl down the street. All he knew was my story. The fact is, he got it. He totally got it. That’s better than ANY compliment ever. He could feel what my character was feeling and the fact that I was able to convey that with mere words on paper was enough for me.

Herbie: Will we get to see more of Petra Miller in the future?

Petra: Oh, I certainly hope so! Ha ha. I just today found out that a story I submitted to a contest in Glimmertrain, was a finalist in their December Fiction Open contest. I had really hoped they’d accept it for publication, but maybe down the road I can crack that nut. I’m editing a story now, called The Girl, The Ivory Brush, and Eternity, which I hope will find publication soon. And then I really need to finish my two novels. So, I’m going to go out on a limb and say, yes. Yes you will.

[[A.J.’s Notes: You can find Petra at her blog: Rageful Bacon and the Angry Porterhouse.

Also, if you would like for Herbie to interview you for Five Questions, drop me a line at ajbrown36@bellsouth.net]]

News, Interviews and Notes… Or… I Wanna Talk About Me…

News, Reviews and Notes

[[The Before We Get Going Side Note: This blog is all about me and what’s been going on lately. I can’t say for certain if there will be any humor involved, but there will be pimpage.]]

I start this edition of Type AJ Negative with a video clip of a show from my childhood. It is from The Great Space Coaster and it is the Gary Gnu No Gnu show.

That clip is how I’ve often felt when writing. You know, things should go a certain way, but they don’t. Lately, things have gone fairly well in the writing portion of my life.

First, the news:

If you haven’t heard, my three story e-book collection, Along the Splintered Path, is out now. It was published on January 1st as part of Dark Continents Publishing’s e-book release, Tales of Darkness and Dismay, not so better known as: TODAD.

You can find it here: Along the Splintered Path

Also, my short story, In the Shadows They Hide was published on January 16th by Blood Bound Books in their anthology, Night Terrors II.

You can find out more about Night Terrors II here: Night Terrors II

And that is currently all the news that is… umm… no gnus…

Now for the reviews:

Along the Splintered Path has garnered some pretty good thoughts from folks who have read and reviewed it so far. Just a few blurbs:

AJ Brown has a gift for expressing the emotions of his characters. Within the three stories found in this collection, individual journeys are riddled with landmines of torment that lead to discovery. Sometimes the discovery is life affirming and sometimes it is life threatening, but never is it mundane. If you enjoy crawling into the skin of a character and seeing the world through their eyes, no matter how traumatic the view, you’ll enjoy the writing of AJ Brown.

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AJ Brown certainly has his own voice on display with his three stories in Along the Splintered Path. I entered into this one expecting something completely different; tales of rednecks and zombie chickens and banjo-plucking cannibals. I was very, very wrong… This is said by so many people on so many reviews about so many authors… and I think I’m going to say it. Yes, I am. AJ Brown reminds me of Stephen King. ‘Round These Bones especially reminded me of King’s stories of people trapped and simply trying to escape their fate. My favourite was Phillip’s Story. As a writer myself who tries to create completely evil bastards that the reader hates, AJ has the skills to do the opposite: characters that are uplifting and good despite the circumstances.

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If you are looking for something that will keep you on the edge of your seat this is it!

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A fantastic collection and all I can say is I want more from this writer.

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Brown is a writer who does a great job of exploring the reasons why his characters act the way they do. It’s character-driven fiction, and he does it beautifully…

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The author has a unique styling and storytelling that keeps you engaged throughout…

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…therein lies the true horror of “Along the Splintered Path” – in these characters, we can all see shades of ourselves, and all see how everything can come crashing down around us in one moment’s inattention, one split-second mistake, or one crushing pronouncement from a loved one.

Those are some nice words and I appreciate them all. To go with those snippets of reviews is this image of a friend of my sister (We call my sister P-Shorty, by the way. The P stands for Pooky. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) In this image, the young lady is reading The Woodshed, from Along the Splintered Path. It’s nice to see the look of fear on her face… and yes, the image is used with permission.

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Shameless begging time: If you’ve read Along the Splintered Path and haven’t reviewed it yet, would you mind doing so? If not, I understand and will probably only asks another hundred to a thousand times in the future.

Interviews:

If you would like to find out what I’m thinking at any given point, check out these interviews:

AJ’s Back: Announcing Along the Splintered Path at BREATHE

This Is My World Along the Splintered Path with A.J. Brown

I Wasn’t Dreaming: Tales of Darkness and Dismay Series An Interview with A.J. Brown

On the Couch with A.J. Brown

Inspirations Forum’s Our Interview with A.J. Brown

And, finally, but not least, is a couple of Guest Blog Posts:

Scared Little Writer Boy at Exquisite Corpse, Home of author Tracie McBride

Along the Splintered Path at The Writers Block Party

Now that you’re done reading, go check out the links.

I leave you now with Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me”

Until we meet again…