The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions… Errr Okay…

We’ve all heard the phrase, The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I would like to refute that, or maybe add to it. Maybe it should read something like: The road to Hell is paved with the greatest of marketing intentions.

I’m no marketer (huh, that sounds like I should be holding a sword in my hand and wearing one of those funny little feathered caps and riding along two other people with swords and caps just like mine), but there have been some pretty cheesy ads out there and some even cheesier promo ideas from big companies that have blundered and bumbled their way out into the world. I’m not going into the various bad ones, but let me mention a few of the good ones:

Where’s the beef?

Mayhem

Any Doritos commercial

And the Darth Vader Volkswagon commercial

The last one of those is my favorite.

Those are good marketing ideas. People have talked about those ads or even emulated them in some way or other. I know whenI saw the VW ad with the kid as Darth Vader it immediately reminded me of my son, who believes he has the Force flowing through his veins.

But, how does that translate to the writing world? After all, us little guys don’t have a marketing team who is paid to think up all these neat little ads. It’s hard to promote your work if you are one of the small fish in the big ocean of the writing and publishing industry. There are millions of writers out there. No, that is not a validated number—just one I pulled out of thin air. However, if you are a writer then, yes, it feels like millions are trying to get the same slice of pie you want.

What are we to do? Short of purchasing ad space at various websites or in certain magazines, what is the fledgling writer to do (especially with no Big Six Marketing Machine backing them up)?

I know, we can shout it from the mountain tops and…

What? That won’t work?

Hmmm…

How about we go door to door and…

What? That won’t work either? They may think we’re religious zealots and shoot first and asks questions later?

Hmmm…

What about use various media platforms to posts our wares?

What’s that? You already do that? Oh, really?

I see.

But, how often do you do that?

A lot? What’s that, you say? Some folks don’t talk to you anymore because you pimped your book to them every chance you got?

Well, yeah, I understand that. Who wants a friend if all they are going to do is constantly asks you to buy something from them?

Chantel over at Word Blurb wrote about this very thing with her post, I’m no expert, but…

I agree, in part to what she says—a lot of writers spam various groups and forums about their publications, but they say very little, if anything else, outside of that. No, those aren’t necessarily Chantel’s words, but how I took them and the interpretation of what she wrote is up to each person who reads it.

When all you see is,

Hey, read my book.

Hey, can you purchase my book?

Hey, I have this book…

Hey, look at me. I have a book I want you to purchase.

Why would anyone wish to buy from you? Sure, readers find a lot of good books by seeing what folks are posting, but if that’s all they see from you, then you may as well be a robot to them. People want to know a little about the writer, not just about what they write.

There are people who know me that have said, ‘I can’t believe you could write something so… so… disturbing.’ Those people, for the most part, don’t know me very well. Either they haven’t taken the time to get to know me or I haven’t taken the time to let them get to know me. The onus is on both of us.

This isn’t really about getting to know me, though. This is about marketing and spamming—there is a fine line between one and the other.

Marketing is telling people you have a book out there and that you would appreciate them purchasing it.

But didn’t you just say that was spamming?

Let me finish.

Marketing is telling people you have a book out there and that you would appreciate them purchasing it and then talking to them about something else.

How are you doing today? How’s the weather where you live? Did you hear this cool song by Nine Inch Nails.

If you are using social media, especially Facebook, then you probably have something like this:

My book, Along the Splintered Path is out on Amazon. If you’re looking for a great read, then please pick it up. I greatly appreciate it.

Okay, that is marketing.

Now, follow it up with something else.

‘Today my daughter had five steals and two blocked shots in her basketball game. They won 58-14. Congratulations Chloe and GO MONARCHS!!’

But, wait, don’t just go ahead and throw something else up about your book. You want to avoid spamming, even on your own page—remember if the only thing your ‘friends’ see in your posts is look at me and buy my work, pretty soon they’re either going to ignore your posts, block you or do the dreaded ‘defriend’ you.

‘My son just ran into the wall on his skateboard—I now must patch up yet another hole.’

Keep going.

If you have a sports team and they are playing, consider posting something about them. “Come on Michigan, Beat Ohio State Today. GO BLUE!”

Post a video of one of your favorite bands. Or an entire play list worth of videos.

Share a few blogs you or others have written.

But. A.J., doesn’t that defeat the purpose of marketing?

My answer is simple: No. What it does is it makes you a real person to anyone within your social network (and quite possibly, some of those who don’t walk in the same circles).

I know the old adage for a marketer may be put yourself in every visible place possible—someone is bound to take notice. Saturate the markets and networks and people are going to buy what you’re selling. Eventually.

Can you picture me holding my head right now? Or maybe smacking it against the wall? You can saturate the social platforms all you want, but eventually people are going to stop paying attention if you are not saying something besides ‘buy me.’ They get sick of the spamming—kind of like with all the political ads we’re being forced to endure everywhere we look. It’s nauseating.

This doesn’t apply to the groups out there that are dedicated to writers posting information about their books. Those groups exist for a reason and without them a lot of writers (myself included) would have very few places to pimp their wares.

Chantel makes an interesting statement at the end of her blog:

If you want me to buy your book, try something other than the online barrage. Pique my interest, don’t drown it.

Honestly, I understand the reasoning behind constantly telling folks about your work—I have done the very same thing. If you don’t tell people then no one will buy your books. I get it. I understand. But making every single posts about your book is going to begin to annoy folks. There has to be other ways, right? Blog tours? Free give aways (if you have something to actually give away)? Interviews? Giving the reader a glimpse of your work to see if they want to purchase it? Book trailers? Bookmarks? Flyers? Newspaper ads? Magazine ads? A gimmick maybe—something to get people talking about you or your work.

I’m sure there are plenty out there who feel differently about this subject. That’s fine. To each their own, but what about piquing the readers’ interests? What about giving the reader a reason to want to buy your work? It could be just me, but I think Chantel is on to something. I think, as a writer, I’m about to try a few things a little differently. I don’t know if they will work, but I hope to pique the readers’ interest.

Wish me luck…

Until we meet again, my friends…

The Nature of the Beast…

I want to touch on something that I never thought I would touch on, but since it was brought up to me recently (oh, I don’t know, maybe as recently as this morning), I think it’s something that needs to be thought about. The question was simple:

Why is it that folks freak out anytime a woman in a story is beaten or killed, but when it’s a man…no one really cares?

That’s a good question. Can anyone answer that objectively?

I thought about it for a few minutes before responding.

I’ts reality. Bottom line. Reality hurts, especially when it is women and children.

The truth is it’s the nature of the beast. But, it’s wrong. A life is a life, no matter race, sex, sexual orientation or age. All life should be honored and respected.

Is a man being brutally beaten any different than a woman? Honestly, yes. Why? Before I answer this, let me preface anything else that I write here. This is solely my opinion on the matter. What I say may anger some women’s rights advocates. If so, I’m sorry. What I say may anger some child rights advocates. Again, I’m sorry. What I say may anger some men’s rights… oh, wait, there are no real men’s rights advocates. I find that, in and of itself, interesting. If you find what I am about to write controversial… well, it is what it is. I don’t believe it is, but I have been known to be wrong.

So, why do folks take offense when a woman is beaten (or a child for that matter) in fiction, but not really bat an eye when a man has the same things done to them?

Growing up in the seventies and eighties and in the south, I was taught that you don’t raise a hand to a woman. Not everyone was taught this values. In all honestly, not many kids are taught these values. But, for me, striking a woman isn’t an option… unless they are trying to hurt you. Then, you must protect yourself. However, there is protecting yourself and there is the use of excessive force. Yeah, we hear that term when referring to police, but all too often men use excessive force on women and children to either show their superiority or to discipline them. Some men are obsessive and controlling. They are dangerous to women and children and even other men they deem weaker to them. We see this all the time when we read the papers or turn on any news channel.

Give those same men alcohol or let them have a bad day and that frustration tends to be taken out on… you guessed it, the women and the children.

Like I said, we see this all the time in reality. Why put it in our fiction? Because it’s real and as writers we have a responsibility to the readers to make our characters and their situations as believable as possible. But, let’s do it with some tact, okay? We don’t have to go into all the gory details. The implied deeds are often so much worse on the imagination than the shown deeds.

Wait, I just mentioned a man beating a woman or child. It happens in real life and you better believe we get up in arms about it. Rightfully so. I’ve been in more than a couple of fights with big bad bully men in my days, mostly because they were either hurting a woman or someone weaker than them. I put another man in the hospital because he beat up a kid. No, I don’t put up with it in real life. You want to anger me? Hurt a woman. Hurt a child.

In fiction, if I’m going to tell the truth about life, then life has to be depicted… truthfully. If that means there is a woman who gets beaten by an unruly boyfriend because he’s a drunk prick, then so be it. If that means a kid suffers at the hand of his father (or mother as we’ve seen in real life) then I write it. Again, I don’t write the full-blown details unless I absolutely have to.

There’s a scene in an unpublished novel I wrote about six years or so ago. In it a teenager dies brutally at the hands of other kids in the neighborhood. When I was done with the scene I felt sick to my stomach. It was–and may still be–the most brutal thing I have ever written. I almost deleted the entire book after writing it. After going back and reading it, I realized it was the only way that I could have written the scene—violently enough to make a reader cringe, but also give the character enough reason to come back as a ghost later on and do all the damage he does in the book. Any other way and the impact would have been lost on the reader.

That scene was a bunch of boys killing another boy, one clearly weaker than them. Sound familiar? The dominant member of the species killing off the less dominant one. Kind of like a pecking order. I’m not condoning it, just saying this is the way life is.

If you’ve read anything by Jack Ketchum then you are familiar with someone who writes some very disturbing and often brutal stories. In his book, The Lost, Ketchum’s main character kills two women because he believes them to be lesbians. He doesn’t kill them because they are women, but because he thinks they are gay women. That ratchets things up a notch. They’re not just women, but lesbians. That makes it worse.

Why?

Why does that make it worse? Does being a lesbian make them any weaker than being straight? I would think not. However, this takes the murders more into the realm of hate crimes, which is viewed, by and large, as worse than someone killing a straight woman. Murder is murder no matter how you slice it. The black and white of the matter is that there really is no difference between killing a man or a woman or someone who is white, black or Asian. Murder is murder. Brutality is brutality, regardless of who it is done to.

The truth is the strong prey on the weak and only when the weak fight back does the strong back down.

Okay, enough on that. Let me see if I can get to the point now. Men are viewed as the dominant sex. Biblically, men are supposed to protect the women and the children and the women and the children are to submit to man. Don’t throw the rotten tomatoes just yet. However, men are supposed to be nurturing and slow to anger the women and the children. It’s a two way street. Sure, men can be the dominant ones in most relationships, but they are also supposed to be the protective ones.

This could very well play into the psyche of many people, depending on how they were raised. Maybe that’s where some of this comes from. Men are supposed to be dominant andprotective. If they are not protecting then they are hurting. And no man should hurt a woman or a child… or a weaker person. As I told that fellow I put in the hospital all those years ago, ‘Come pick on someone who can fight back.’

Back to the original question and I’m going to switch it around a little:

Why don’t people get as upset about men getting beaten and killed as they do women and children?

All life should be treated equally. If a man gets stabbed 47 times it should be treated with the same disgust and sadness as if it were a woman being stabbed 47 times. There should be no difference.

However, a child is considered helpless and the hurting of children strikes a nerve with most people. And it should. If it doesn’t then I venture to say something is wrong with people these days. The thought of a child being hurt by an adult makes me hurt on the inside. It angers me and I want to just break that person over my knee. I may not be a big guy, but I was raised in the south in a little section of South Carolina known to the locals as Broadacres. I was a Broadacres boy growing up and if you couldn’t fight, you got your butt kicked on a regular basis. So, let me hear about someone hurting a child…

I think—keyword here, think—that part of the reason people freak out when a woman or child is hurt or killed in a story is that we see this stuff all the time, as I mentioned before, in the news, on television, on the computer feeds. Readers want to escape reality and reading about a man hurting a woman or child or, maybe not even a man doing it, but any type of event where a woman or child gets hurt is just putting them right back into the real world. I understand that. I get that. I respect that.

But (yes, there is always a but) as a writer, I want to put you into my world. I want you to feel what my characters are feeling. I want you to experience their pain, sorrow, happiness, triumphs and revenge. I can’t do that if I don’t bring the reality into the story. It’s the nature of the beast that we call writing.

Still, in real life, a man’s life is viewed somewhat less than a woman’s or a child’s. I find that somewhat sad. Maybe it’s the helplessness we attribute to women and children that polarizes their deaths more so than a man’s. Maybe it’s the way we were raised. Maybe it’s that sense of taboo, that feeling that killing a man is one thing but hurting or killing a woman or a child is crossing the line. That last one I don’t understand. All life should be treated the same. Man. Woman. Child. The elderly. Black. White. Tanned. Straight. Gay. And, in my opinion, the unborn.

I think I may have raised more questions than answers, but I tried to be objective, tried to have an unbiased eye on this. I’m not sure I succeeded.

If you’re willing, feel free to discuss the question. Give your opinions (thoughtful opinions) on the subject. Help me answer my friend’s question. I think it’s one that begs to be discussed and, hopefully, answered.

As always, thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this.

Until we meet again…

Closing the Wound Part V

[[~She used her body just like a bandage, she
used my body just like a wound.
I’ll probably never know where she disappeared
But I can see her rising up out of the back seat now
Just like an angel rising up from a tomb…~]]

Life has a way of moving on and for the most part, time does heal wounds. It just leaves scars behind to remind you that you were hurt.

There are no band-aids for death. Those wounds—mental, spiritual, emotional—they never completely go away. Sometimes a memory comes out of nowhere and your mind goes back to that time… that time where you were hurt deeply.

Like flipping through a portfolio of drawings.

I used to draw and paint and experiment with all sorts of imagery. I loved drawing comic book superheroes (and villains). Chris thought it was cool that I could draw Wolverine and Superman and Spiderman and a whole host of others.

“Can you teach me how to draw like that?” he asked me one Sunday before life took its downward spiral.

“Sure.”

And I did. Chris came to my house several times and we’d either sit at the kitchen table or at the picnic table in the back yard drawing. I showed him a few basics on using circles, squares, triangles and rectangles to frame out the characters’ bodies. All simple sketches that created the foundations of the actual pictures.

He got better as time went on. After meeting Christopher, Chris stopped drawing, or at least he stopped coming over for lessons.

While flipping through my portfolio—one my grandmother bought me when I was in high school and wanting to get into a local art school—looking at pictures I had drawn over the years I stumbled across a brown envelope, one I don’t recall putting in there.

I opened it and pulled out several drawings of a superhero, but this one I didn’t draw. They were signed by Chris. My skin tingled as if I had stuck my finger in a light socket. My breath caught and my chest tightened. I wiped my mouth.

The character on the images had a name that could be considered an omen if I had thought about it back when Chris died. His name: Funeral.

No crap. Really.

There were four images, but two of them stuck out. The one of Funeral with his mask pulled over his face, a cape apparently flapping in the wind. His hands were on his hips in that classic Superman stance. Chris had shaded a good chunk of the costume in grays and blacks. It was a good picture.

The second image was simply a casket. Not all that much of a sign you say? What if I told you the casket was closed? That’s right. The casket was closed.

Sometimes little things… little things bring those angels back from the tombs.

Like a picture.

A picture of four guys—two in their early twenties and two in their mid-teens–at a rest stop between Columbia and Charlotte on their way to Carowinds. They stand behind the snack machine bars as if they are prisoners in a slapstick comedy. Four young men, two of them with more in common than I guess they knew and the other two good friends at one time.

Who would have thought that image taken in the summer of 1995 would be the only image of the four of them together? It would also be the last time one of those four seemed genuinely happy with life, however short lived it was.

The picture disappeared long ago and I looked for it every once in a while when Chris came to mind. Then my dad gave it to me one day out of the blue. And memories… oh my goodness the memories that flooded me, that threatened to drown me. All these thoughts and sidebars and random whatevers and lyrics to songs and… and… and events that changed a lot of lives.

They are all things that I never forgot, but pushed way back to the recesses of my mind. They are in one of those books that normally sit on the shelf at the very top where no one else can reach it. But, there it is, sitting on the coffee table of my soul, the pages turning, the images all black and white and some of them a little grainy. If you flip the pages together starting from the beginning of the book, you’ll see the stop motion images play out in a cartoon-like movie. Isn’t that the way of memories?

It doesn’t take much to dislodge The Great Big Book of Memories from the highest shelf.

We live with those memories and we live with the deaths that happen in our lives. If we don’t, then we just die as well, but I’ve said that already. The dead are just that—dead. The living, however, are alive, unless they choose to never let go of the past.

Maybe that’s why I write this. That picture my dad gave me shook those cobwebs off that book of memories and opened up a little sadness that had passed years ago. I haven’t pulled out the images Chris drew. But, I did go back and read the original version of this story. So much was left out before that I tried to put into this one.

This is how I remember things and some may disagree with me on how events unfolded. That’s fine. To each their own and to those I say, have your memories. Again, this is how I recall things. Other folks may have had a different view, but they can tell their own stories, write their own words. This one belongs to me and I tell what I know, what I remember, what I feel…

There’s a lot of negative stuff in here–I’m quite aware of that. It is what it is. But, it’s not always that simple, is it? Chris was a good kid. I can’t stress that enough. Chris was a good kid. Understand that. Know that. Believe that. Like all teenagers, Chris searched for his place among his peers, among those he trusted and liked, among a world that wasn’t necessarily good to him. He and I had a lot of conversations in the course of the short time I knew him. A lot of them centered on that Laura girl I mentioned earlier.

Chris had a lot of questions about life, love, religion and why things happen. Many of those questions no one could answer for him, and to the same, no one can answer them for you. You have to live life to discover them on your own.

In an interesting turn of thoughts, sometimes you don’t realize how sad someone is until they are gone and you spend some time in solitary thought–just you and your mind. That’s when you notice things you missed before. The part of your mind that analyzes things until they are beaten into the ground takes over and you see things for what they were… or your mind tricks you into seeing things that weren’t necessarily there to start with.

I almost feel like Chris was doomed the day his momma gave birth to him. It’s bad to say that. The truth is so many people didn’t listen to him while he was alive. And now that he’s dead, they can still hear his voice…

I’m rambling. The thoughts are all scattered about and there is no real closure to something like this.

October is my favorite month of the year. The leaves are turning colors, the cool breeze is just that: cool. The mornings become nippy and my wife and I tend to snuggle a little closer under the blankets. Should I do one of those smiley face things here?

Halloween has long been my favorite ‘holiday.’ The creepy things, the horror movies, the scary shows, the cheesy songs, the Halloween theme, trick-or-treating and dressing up. I love everything about Halloween. The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is one of my all time favorite Halloween themed shows.

Halloween was also Chris’s favorite…

Maybe at some point this month, my wife and I and maybe even Chad can get to the cemetery and visit him. If we do so, I’d like to do something special. I’m not going to say what that is… just in case. But, if we do make it, I’ll let you know.

***
[[~But it was long ago, and it was far away
Oh God, it seems so very far;
and if life is just a highway, then the soul is just a car. And objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are…~]]

Before reading any further, I would like for you to consider opting out at this point. There is only one other thing that needs to be told, though the actual details of it are a bit sketchy at best.

You see, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. No, it has the type of ending so many senseless deaths have. One with more questions than answers and, really, only two people know the real answers to those questions. One of them is dead. The other one is in jail.

I intentionally left out this part because I felt there was no real need to go into detail with: Chris’s death. I did that because I only have the mixed up confessions of the last person to see him alive as the map to what happened and when it happened.

It was a suicide pact.

It was a drug deal gone bad.

Chris tried to kill Christopher… blah, blah, blah.

Why and how Chris died isn’t the important thing. His life is. Remembering him is.

However, there are those out there who will feel cheated for reading over ten thousand words of this story and not finding out how he died.

Before you read the next couple paragraphs understand something: most of this is speculation, simply because of the information given and where it came from. It is the information put together by word of mouth, the newspapers, the local news stations and the court proceedings that ultimately found Christopher guilty of Chris’s death.

The police searched for a couple days for Christopher. They found him at a friend’s house, a little disoriented, tired and hungry. That’s what happens when you’re on the run and you have no where to go and no way to get there. I’m not certain if the friend called the police to let them know of Christopher’s whereabouts or if the cops had just followed him until he sat still long enough to move in for the arrest. No need for two young adults to die, right?

I gather he was interrogated. With or without an attorney present, I don’t know. I’d like to think he was scared, terrified even. Yeah, that’s what I’m going to say.

His first confession was that it was a suicide pact. That Chris was supposed to shoot Christopher with a shotgun, then turn the gun on himself. But, when it came time to do it, Chris couldn’t pull the trigger, so Christopher did. The problem here is that Christopher then chickened out and instead of following through with the pact, he set the trailer on fire and fled.

He recanted that statement and said it was a drug deal gone bad and that he didn’t even pull the trigger. Someone else did. Then why wasn’t Christopher dead as well? And why couldn’t he give the name of the person who supposedly killed Chris? Fear? Hell, I’d think going to jail or possibly facing the death penalty would be scarier than giving the name of the dealer up, especially if that person could go to jail for a very long time.

He recanted that statement as well and said that Chris tried to kill Christopher, that they struggled and that ultimately Chris was killed.

Whatever.

Then he went back to his original statement, the suicide pact. Only this time he said it was Chris’s idea.

When all the information came out about what happened, I called bullshit on a lot of it. Chris told me he was getting away from Christopher. I believed him. I speculated that Chris told Christopher that he wanted nothing to do with him anymore and Christopher got mad about it. Do I think drugs were involved. It’s possible. But, I also thought that Christopher stood to lose a lot if Chris told anything to anyone about the drugs and wear they came from. In a panic, Christopher took the shotgun and took off part of Chris’s head before setting his body on fire to hide the evidence. That’s what I speculated then.

As I’ve thought about this over the last few weeks, I’m becoming more and more convinced that my speculation was wrong. My thinking has changed. Why?

Goodbye.

Goodbye is so final.

Chris told me goodbye that morning as if he knew–KNEW–that I would never see him again. At least not alive. I keep coming back to that. Do you understand? He said GOODBYE. If I’m completely honest with myself, I think I knew as well, though I might have thought he would run away and not come back. I never thought he would die…

As I’ve pondered this I’m closer and closer to believing that the two boys had a suicide pact. I’m not so certain that it was Chris’s idea. After all, he was a follower, not a leader. I also believe that it was more a murder/suicide pact where one would kill the other then turn the weapon on themselves. Chris wouldn’t have been able to follow through on this. Christopher would have been–or so he may have thought. I believe Christopher shot my friend in the head and the scene that played out in front of him as and after he pulled that trigger was so devastating that he couldn’t follow through. Panic probably set in for him–that Oh Shit factor that we’ve all experienced from time to time–and he had to do something with the body, but have you seen what a shotgun does to a person? There was a mess to clean up and Christopher didn’t have it in him to do that cleaning. Instead, he set Chris on fire and ran, hoping that by burning the body and the trailer that there would be no real evidence that a murder had taken place.

The problem with his thinking is that the fire department was quick to react to the phone call it received about a fire in Starmount. They were able to put the flames out before the trailer was completely burned down. And what they found inside was the body of a teenage boy, shot to death and burned.

There you have it. The somewhat inaccurate/accurate portrayal of the death of a friend. I only wrote this part for those who wanted to know, who would have been angry to not find out, who would have bitched and moaned and groaned about me wasting their time and not giving out the details of the murder/suicide or whatever it was.

I write. I paint pictures for readers by using words and showing them what I see in my head. I give them scenery and try to build characters and try to create situations for my characters to figure out and I let them figure out how to deal with it. But, I’m not painting this picture any more than what I have in these last few paragraphs. If you can picture the scene, go right ahead. I, personally, don’t want to see it anymore than my mind will allow…

There is one final piece to this story, one final thing that needs to be told. Until tomorrow…