August Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Sigh~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A.J. 

My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert … Finally Gets Released

Coming to you, live from wherever you are on June 1st, My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert, a novel by A.J. Brown. 

Starring Jimmy Lambert, Doctor William English, Robert Mahler, Paul Bissette, John Warner and Sarah Tucker. With guest appearances from Mrs. Robinson, Jack Lambert (not the football player), Denise Lambert, Rita Horton, and a host of others. 

***

On the third day of summer vacation in 1979, three boys walked along the side of a road, laughing, talking about baseball cards, swimming at Booger’s Pond and Sarah Tucker, the prettiest girl in school. How could they know a few minutes later one of them would be dead, one crippled and one about to face the worse summer of his life? 

Wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Jimmy Lambert is sent to The Mannassah Hall Institute for Boys. On his first day there, Doctor William English strikes him. It would be the first of many Jimmy would suffer at the hands of guards and inmates. Fighting back is an option, but could it have dire consequences?

As Jimmy loses hope, two unlikely people come to his aid. Will they be in time to save him from the bullies at The Mannassah Hall Institute for Boys? Or will they be too late?

CHAPTER 1

Jimmy Lambert stood in front of a classroom full of kids. There might have been a couple who were a year older, but mostly, they were his age. It was the third day of seventh grade and none of the students really wanted to be there. They were still in summer vacation mode, still coming down from whatever high, low or in between they experienced since the last day of the previous school year. Most of them had normal, even boring summers, which made the summer assignment just as normal or boring. 

Every kid knew the assignment before they left school on the last day of sixth grade: Write a paper about your summer vacation. It wasn’t like it was a big surprise they would have to stand in front of the class and read the paper out loud—they had been doing this very thing for the last two years and probably would again next year, when eighth grade rolled around.

Though he should have been nervous, Jimmy found he wasn’t. Not even close. He had no sweats and his heartrate didn’t increase when his teacher—a short, round black lady by the name of Mrs. Robinson, with more chest out front than up and down height—called his name. His hands should have been cold and there should have been butterflies in his stomach. Still, he stood from his desk slowly, putting both hands on it and pushing himself up. His warmups were too big for him and cinched in front with a drawstring. On his right leg was a brace that ran from ankle to mid-thigh. It was covered by the warmups. The shoe on his right foot was two sizes too big, while the one on the right foot was a normal sneaker, sized eight in boys. 

After a few seconds, he took half a dozen hobbled steps forward. Then he turned and faced the class, a group of twenty-seven students besides himself. They all looked at him as if he had something interesting to say. Of course, they did. He had been on the news multiple times since the last school year. Some of them probably had questions, ones they might hope he will answer with his report. He didn’t know if they would consider his summer vacation as interesting as the news reported, but he knew without a single doubt, none of them had one quite like it. 

Jimmy held his report in both hands, thankful it was bound by a blue folder, something the other kids didn’t think, or care, to do with the annual rite of passage. He looked around the classroom, saw mostly familiar faces, though a couple were clearly new to the school. His eyes fell on the pretty blonde with the green eyes and wearing a light blue skirt and top. He could see her knees and legs. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and her eyes were wide and staring directly at him. If that didn’t make a young boy nervous, then nothing will. 

Jimmy glanced at the binder to see he had opened it to the first page. It simply said, My Summer vacation by Jimmy Lambert. He had put thought into his paper. A lot of thought. Plenty had happened since the last school term ended and before the new one began. Most of those events he left out of his report. Some things were too graphic to write about. Still, it wasn’t a generic rehash of boredom the other kids over the previous two days had given. It had some of the things they probably wondered about in it, but without all the sordid details. Who wants to hear those, anyway?

He looked around the class one final time. None of the other kids looked bored. They all sat at their desk, their reports in front of them. He took a breath, released it, then started.

“My Summer Vacation, by Jimmy Lambert.”

He glanced up, not sure he really needed the paper in front of him to tell the story. 

Jimmy licked his lips, now feeling the butterflies in his stomach. The rapt attention of his classmates was not the same ‘meh’ attention others had received to that point. The nerves came slowly, not because he stood in front of the class about to give an oral report, but because he was about to tell his story, in part at least, to a group of people who might already have preconceived ideas about what really happened between school years. Even so, that wasn’t so scary, all things considered.

“Before I tell you about my summer vacation, I need to tell you about something that happened at the end of the last school year so everything will make sense to you.”

His jaw already felt tired, though he had only stood in front of the class for thirty seconds and said only a mouthful of words.

“Though summer vacation was only a couple of weeks away, my whole life changed one day as I ran from a bully, right through these halls.” He pointed to the closed door with a sliver of glass in the center that acted like a window. He turned back to his classmates. Some of them whispered among each other, surely speculating on who the bully could have been. Jimmy could give them three guesses with the first two being wrong and they would still probably get the right answer. Others sat in their seats, their eyes wide with anticipation in them. 

He looked down at his paper, at the words there, written in his not so neat print, the letters big and easy to read. They were words with no real oomph to them, no real impact. They were boring. He wrote it that way on purpose, hoping to just get up, be quick about it and leave out all the mess that happened shortly after school let out, not ending until just under five weeks before school was back in. But he knew that wouldn’t work. Again, the news had painted a picture for the other students. Now was his opportunity to give his side of the story.

Jimmy turned to Mrs. Robinson. She sat behind her desk, thick, overly large glasses perched on her wide nose, her short arms propped on the shelf that were her breasts. He closed the folder and set it on her desk, then turned back to the classroom of boys and girls. He glanced at the pretty blonde. She smiled, then nodded.

“I don’t need this to tell you about my summer vacation.”

Jimmy took a deep breath. He never thought he would tell this story to anyone besides close family and a friend or two, but there he was, staring at the class as they stared back at him. Now the nerves began in earnest, the butterflies fluttering in his stomach, his palms sweating.

“My name is Jimmy Lambert and I was twelve at the end of last year, just as I am today. I was old enough to hang out with my friends without Mom or Dad holding my hand or looming over me like vultures over the kill. I was also young enough to still be considered a child and still naïve to the world’s venom.” He took another breath, released it, and continued. “I didn’t know time stalked me, its steely claws always reaching, always mere inches away from snatching me up and tossing me into an all too real Hell.”

Some of the boys snickered at the mention of Hell. Though they laughed thinking Jimmy swore and the teacher would tan his hide right in front of them, Jimmy knew better. So did Mrs. Robinson. 

“Quiet down back there,” she snapped, her voice scratchy, “or I’ll give you something to make noise about.”

The snickers stopped and the boys straightened in their seats. Mrs. Robinson gave a backhanded wave to Jimmy. “Continue, Mr. Lambert.”

He nodded, looked at the class and shoved his hands into his pockets. He felt small right then and the classroom looked so much larger. It was intimidating, and the butterflies in his stomach grew a little more intense. Instead of retreating into a shell, Jimmy began his story.

“A couple of weeks before the end of school last year …”

***

Originally, My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert was scheduled to release in early March. Then people started losing their jobs because of shutdowns and lockdowns. I could not, in good conscious, asks people to purchase a book, especially if they had recently lost their jobs or had their hours reduced. Instead, I spent a month giving away free stories on Type AJ Negative. I believed that was the right thing to do. 

So, why now? Why put a book out now? Like many people who write and publish books, I still need to earn a living. Yes, I have a full-time job, but selling books helps keep us afloat. Simple as that. I hope you will consider purchasing My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert. If you would like a print version, you can get it directly from me and I’ll sign it.

Get your copy on June 1st!

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

A.J. 

An Author’s Gift

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

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

First: Writing is a gift to yourself.

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

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

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

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stories are the same. 

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

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

Sometimes, it’s terrifying. 

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

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

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

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

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

A.J.

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A Note About Closing The Wound

If you’ve read my book, Closing the Wound, then you know several things right off the bat. First, this story would not have happened if not for a friend calling me early one Saturday morning and asking this question: What happened that night? You also know I went and had breakfast with this friend and we talked for a long time while sitting at a Denny’s. You also know Closing the Wound is a true story, at least as true as my memory recalled it. 

coverIt had been a while since I had seen that friend. His name is Chad and we were (and still are, though we don’t see each other often enough) good friends.I ran into Chad at my daughter’s graduation. He was there for another student, but he got to see my girl walk across that stage, too. Afterwards, we talked, as friends tend to do. We said, ‘Hey, we need to keep in touch,’ as friends tend to do, though often they don’t. 

Before we went our separate ways, I told him about Closing the Wound and his part in the story. A couple of days later, he purchased the digital book. When he finished reading the story, he didn’t leave me a review. Instead, he sent me an email. After reading it, I asked him if I could share it with the world. With his permission, I give you Chad’s letter to me.

Dear Jeff,

It is just passed midnight and I read “Closing The Wound”.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it from your perspective.  Like you, I have somewhat boxed those memories away to be opened only one time a year, Halloween.  The book itself is very well written, it’s what’s between the front and back (that) really mattered to me.  It did dredge up a lot of memories.  I am still a bit hazy on our conversation that day, I do recall us talking about that night just can’t quite piece it all together.  It has been 24 years ago and after reading the book, a lot of those forgotten details and memories have crept back into my mind, which is a good thing.  I never want to forget those days no matter how horrific they were at times.  Each piece is somewhat of a building block of who we have become. Back to the book, you have a gift Jeff, you are a master story teller and writer.  I do not use those terms lightly either.  When I was writing, I had a similar style, but I can’t focus long enough to eat a sandwich let alone write a book!   LOL!  You have always had that gift, you can say you’re a natural at it. 

 I know we haven’t kept in touch over the years and meeting at the graduation was very refreshing to say the least.  I like how you write in the book to not live in the past.  There are somethings that I have been apart of where I too, ask could I have done something differently to alter the outcome.  I suppose we can all agonize over those questions, but questions don’t change events concerning the past.  I have struggled with Chris’ death, well at least once a year, yes it still haunts me.  I know he was tormented and I understood his struggles to a degree.  I truly believe he is in Heaven and no longer has those feelings of loneliness, depression and the desire to belong.  I still see his face when he was with all of us.  He admired you so much because you were such a good friend to him.  Like me, you helped alter some of his life Jeff.  His life ended at a very young age, but perhaps that’s how it was meant to be.  We can ask questions of “what ifs”, but I remember the best days with him was when we were all together hanging out.  Those are the days that I remember the most.  Yes, I remember that picture of us at the rest area off of I-77 in between the snack machine bars.  I had so much fun back in those days! 

 I leave you with this my friend.  After reading the book, I couldn’t help but to go back 25 years ago and think how you have helped so many people.  I know you are a little rough around the edges but that’s ok, sometimes it takes course sandpaper to get the splinters off of some of us knuckleheads!  But seriously, as time rapidly marches forward and our own families grow before us, take stock in your life and the people you have influenced.  I know for me, my family may not be here if it weren’t for you.  God uses us in different ways and He used you and a number of others from that church to save me from myself.  I suppose some emotions have been awaken from 25 years ago, but I just remember how happy Chris was with us, in a way we were his family besides his aunt and sister.  This Halloween let’s start a tradition at go and visit him and remind ourselves of the good days. 

BoyThank you for all you have done for me Jeff!  You are and will always be one of my best friends. 

 Keep in touch buddy! 

 PS: Do you remember his sister’s name or know of her whereabouts? 

 Chad *********

After reading this, I sat back for a while, just staring at the words, not really thinking in clear thoughts, but in pictures. Pictures, like the first time I met Chris at a church work day; like the time I saw him at the South Carolina State Fair just weeks before his death; like the hundreds of teens in a standing room memorial service; like finding his grave for the first time after not visiting for so long; at learning my sister’s husband new Chris and has his own theories of what happened that night. All of them were snapshots into the memories that I—that we—dredged up.  

Chad said some nice things to me, but the one that keeps coming back is this: He admired you so much because you were such a good friend to him.  Like me, you helped alter some of his life …

I wish I would have done more, been a better friend (despite what Chad said, I always think I could have done more), knocked the block off the punk who influenced him in the direction that ultimately cost him his life. 

Here’s my questions to all of you: Do you know someone who might need someone to talk to? Do you know someone who might be heading down a path of destruction? Is there someone you care about who is doing something you think maybe he or she shouldn’t, but you are afraid to mention it because you think it will hurt their feelings?

Here’s one more question: Does saving a life mean more than hurting someone’s feelings to do so? 

The story of my friend, Chris, in Closing the Wound, is just the tip of the iceberg. The story goes so much deeper and cuts down to the bone when I think about his life and death. I honestly don’t know if there is more I could have done, and that brings me guilt from time to time. Even so, I did some good in his life, and clearly, in Chad’s life. 

Sometimes our guilt overrides everything else. It torments us to the point of forgetting all about the good in our life, the good we have done. Chad is one of those good things. He reminded me of that. Now, I remind you: think about someone you have helped in some way. How is their life better because of you? Yes, take credit for that in your heart. Say, I did something great for someone and I helped someone and that person is in a better place because of me. Don’t let guilt ruin you. 

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

A.J.

If you would like to pick up a copy of Closing the Wound, you can find the digital version on Amazon, or you can get the print version directly from me (signed of course) by contacting me at 1horrorwithheart@gmail.com.

Creating Shadows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To cast a shadow, you must do something. 

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

Help me cast a shadow. 

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

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

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

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

In My Head Tour Stop 1: Soiree on State/Cayce Festival of the Arts

April 14th of 2018 put Cate and I at the Soiree on State/Cayce Festival of the Arts. The joint effort by the city of Cayce and the Cayce Avenues Neighborhood Association began at noon and ended a little after eight that evening. There were many vendors, food trucks and live music. 

VOICES with TypewriterThis festival was held the day after my short story collection, Voices, came out. It was the first stop on the In My Head Tour 2018. Tour? Yes, tour. You see, we are looking at each event as a stop on the Voices promotion tour. Though we didn’t have the books for this event, we had a proof copy and pamphlets we had made up about Voices. At the end of the day, many people were interested in getting the print edition when it comes in.

[[As a side note, you can find Voices on Amazon, by going here.]]

To say things got off to a little bit of a rocky start is a slight exaggeration, but still things didn’t go smoothly at first. When we arrived to check in, we were not on the list of vendors. Seriously. We weren’t. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t a little concerned. After a few minutes of them trying to locate our spot, they finally found a place for us.

“We’re going to put you in spot 52.”

After driving the length of the vendor section once, we doubled back and finally found the spot, pulled off the road and unloaded. We went to set up the tables and … I forgot to pack the back flap to the tent and the tablecloths. 

Blink Blink

After hurrying to the house and getting behind every slow moving vehicle on the entire planet, I arrived home, found these things and headed back. Yeah, you know what happened. I got behind every slow moving vehicle on the way back. I parked in the designated spot grabbed everything, including  Cate’s Starbucks she left in the car (this alone could have been disastrous) and walked the two blocks to our booth. Yes, I carried her Starbucks coffee like a true man: down at my side so it looked like it was just another cup.

Upon getting everything set up, we still had about half an hour or so before the event started. This gave me time to walk around and check out some of the neat things other vendors had. After perusing for a few minutes, I made my way back to our tent and sat with Cate until people began to show up. Then, I guess you could say it was showtime, though I don’t know what type of show we put on—we were just ourselves. 

Cayce Setup 2There were quite a few positives throughout the day. First, there was a ton of foot traffic. Second, we had seventy or so people stop by and talk. Third, I got to see my niece, Emmy. She is like a good luck charm or something. She is only three, but she has been to all four of the Cayce Festivals. Yes, it is possible. She was born in January and the festivals have all been in April.

A few quick things:

  • Wanda, an old friend of mine from all the way back in first grade showed up with a friend. We joked and talked about school. Then they walked off, came back later and bought a couple of books. I went to autograph Wanda’s friend’s book and realized they had not told me her name. I asked and they looked at each other, laughed and told me her name.

    “Or you can just sign it to Wanda’s Friend,” she said. I laughed, and signed it to Wanda’s Friend (yes, I did add her name in there. I’m not heartless, after all).

  • I met a woman who said she’s great at watching television. The man with her said, “She has a black belt in watching tv.” Well, that was a first.
  • We were invited to two events for authors in the fall. 
  • We sold some books. 
  • Though I didn’t get to hear much of her singing, Jessica Skinner, one half of Prettier Than Matt, played for a little over an hour. 
  • The Kinda Cheezy Food Trailer was the bomb, and not expensive, at that.
  • We sold some books. Did I say that already?
  • The police officers at the event had a long day, but they seemed to enjoy themselves. At one point they were passing by our booth dancing and having a good time. 

Cayce Setup 4One of the best things that came out of the day was being contacted on my author page by someone who had stopped by our booth and talked about books. She bought a book and took a Brown Bag Story with her. She posted on my page about meeting us  and how she enjoyed the TBBS she got. One of the great things about writing is hearing back from someone who enjoyed something you wrote.

(Just for the record, when you tell someone to reach into the coffin and grab something and they still contact you later, you did something right.)

All in all, it wasn’t a bad day. But it was exhausting. You might not think standing at a booth talking to people and selling books would be too taxing, but it wears you out. it was warm and breezy and we were on concrete. 

And we sold some books …

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

A.J.

The 5 and 3 with M.F. Wahl

Back at the beginning of March, MF Wahl rereleased her novel, Disease, through Stitched Smile Publications. It was a long wait, but one well worth it. I had the opportunity to participate in her online release party as well as do The 5 and 3 with her. So, here we go.

The Five:

  1. We always hear the question, “Where do you get your ideas from?” What I want to know is how do you go from idea to finished story?  Mostly, I just plant my ass at my computer and write. Is there another way to do it?
  2. What is the hardest part of writing for you? Probably the planting my ass at my computer to write part. Life is demanding, and more often than not, it’s not demanding that I make time for myself to pull the words out of my head and slap them on paper … err … screen …
  3. Outside of the writing/publishing circle, when you tell someone you are a writer how do people react? How do they react when you say you are a horror writer? The vast majority of people will tell me they’re not really into horror. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Others are fans of the genre though, and that’s always nice.
  4. If you could meet a character from one of your stories, who would it be and why? My character Alex from my novel Disease. He’s pretty quiet, but I’m positive he has a lot going on inside his head. I think it would be interesting to discover all those things.
  5. What qualities make up your ideal reader? If someone reads they are my ideal reader. They don’t need to read my stuff, and if they do, they don’t even need to like it. Reading opens worlds and allows us to glean knowledge from just about anyone and anytime in history or future. It allows us to live other lives and partake in experiences that we would otherwise be closed off from, both real and imagined. Through it we can explore the human condition. In addition, reading fiction is proven to increase empathy, and learning to read earlier in childhood is a leading indicator of intelligence later in life. Reading is incredibly important and such a boon to human civilization. If someone reads, they are my ideal reader. Period.

The Three:

  1. If you were ruler of your country for one day and you could make one change that DISEASEbyMFWahl_Cover_Thumbnailcould not be revoked, what would it be? Any change that could be made is wrought with consequences, both good and bad, and any policy change that could never be revoked would make for bad policy. Take education, something I feel strongly about, something I feel is on the “need” list if we want a viable society. But, say we were to be invaded by aliens and required all resources for one year to go toward surviving the invasion as a country rather than education. If a policy of universal free education couldn’t be revoked temporarily we might perish at the hands of the tentacled invaders. Beyond that, every policy must be made with an idea of how to fund, implement, and sustain it at its highest ideal. I don’t think I’m qualified to make such decisions. So, I suppose I would veer away from an individual sweeping reform policy, despite the fact there are many issues I feel strongly about. Instead, perhaps I would try to install a diverse, flexible, and highly intelligent council that operated outside the influence of politics and money and that could help create policies with the public’s input for society’s good. Of course, now we’re essentially speaking about the total destruction of our current and corrupt, money motivated political system, and such an overhaul is bound also to have unforeseen consequences, although they may be preferable to the abomination we currently kowtow to. It would also likely be met with vehement opposition by those who benefit from the status quo and be susceptible to corruption in of itself. Which, I suppose would lead me to deciding that the one change made that couldn’t be revoked be that I was the ruler of my country for ever and ever, past my one day with the stipulation that I would step down from my position once I installed an new and fair system. But now, don’t I sound like a wondrous dictator?
  2. Do you have a guilty pleasure? If so, what is it? Nope. I feel no guilt about my pleasures.
  3. Can you give us one memory from your childhood that helped to shape you into the person you are now? My mother used to read to my siblings and me every night. I think that had a large impact on me and helped lead to my love of reading and eventually to writing.

Bonus question:

How does your significant other/spouse feel about your writing? Does he/she support your pursuit of writing/publishing? Of course. I couldn’t get along without the support and encouragement I receive.

You can find M.F. Wahl at her website HERE.

Conversing With Pembroke Sinclair

Recently, Stitched Smile Publications put out a novel by the talented Pembroke Sinclair. The novel, Humanity’s Hope, is about seventeen year old Caleb, who survived the zombie apocalypse and his struggles there after. I had an opportunity to sit down with Pembroke and talk to her about writing, Humanity’s Hope and where her totally cool pen name came from. Please, sit back, grab a beverage and join me in my conversation with Pembroke Sinclair.

A.J.: Let’s just jump in here. Tell me, who is Pembroke Sinclair?

PS: Well, there are several answers I could give you. The funny “I’m an editor by day, zombie killer by night” response. Or the incredibly long response that explains why I started writing and how I came up with my pen name. Or I could tell you there is no Pembroke, only Zoul.

A.J.: I think I would like to hear the longer version. Why did you start writing?

PS: I’ve always been a writer. I remember as early as 3rd grade I wrote a story about a horse named Charlie that my teacher laminated. When we went back to Iowa every summer, my grandma had an electric typewriter that I would create stories on. None of those were laminated, and they should probably be completely forgotten. When I was in high school, I had a spiral notebook I wrote stories in, but I made sure it looked like I was taking notes. When I got to college, things got a little weird, and I had some professors who tore down my self-confidence and made it so I didn’t write for a very long time. I picked it up again after grad school while working at an environmental consulting firm. One of my friends convinced me it was worth trying again, so I started with a few short stories. I got addicted to getting published, but decided I didn’t like short stories, so I worked on novels.

A.J.: It never fails. Someone will tear down another person, and usually because they can, but I am glad you started writing again.

Since you bring up that tearing down and losing confidence, what was that like?

Pembroke SinclairPS: It was tough, especially considering I was taking a writing class and they were supposed to be helping me get better at writing.  Instead, they found every opportunity to inform me (and probably other students) that they would never amount to anything. One professor was a literary writer, and since I was a genre writer, she said she wouldn’t be able to fairly critique my writing. Isn’t good writing good writing no matter what genre? Either way, it cut deep.

Years later, I found out these professors (one in particular) had a habit of tearing down writers’ self-confidence—perhaps because they viewed us as competition. I don’t know. But it did give me a good view into what the publishing world would be like, and after getting over my initial hurt feelings, it helped me grow some thick skin.

I’m no longer angry at the professors for what they did. Was it mean spirited and ridiculous? Of course. But me still being angry won’t change anything. The only thing I can do is move forward and write.

A.J.: Pembroke, how did you move forward?

PS: Having encouragement from a friend really helped, and then getting some stories published really pushed that along. To be honest, getting a lot of rejections throughout my career helped, too, because I’m one of those people who loves to show others that I CAN do what you say I can’t, and I’ll prove it.

A.J.: You sound like me—I say the same thing. One thing I have learned is those who have been told can’t—or shouldn’t—do this business, are the ones who want it more and try the hardest.

PS: I think it’s because we think we have something to prove.  I absolutely question my ability to write every single day, but at the same time, I’m not going to let anyone tell me I shouldn’t be doing it.  That’s my choice, not theirs.

A.J.: You said you got addicted to publishing. Can you explain what you mean by that?

PS: If you’re an author, and you’ve ever received a slew of “NO’s” for your submissions, you know that it only takes one “YES!” to completely turn everything around. I love getting yeses—I think it goes back to my desire to prove I can and should be writing. And it’s just an amazing feeling to know my work is going to be available for people to read.

A.J.: I get that, completely. I, literally, received 100 rejections before my first acceptance, including one where the editor said I should never write another story again.

PS: I received a rejection for a YA story I wrote because a reviewer gave me a mediocre review on one of my middle grade books. I wasn’t even pitching anything to do with that particular story.

A.J.: You absolutely have to hate it when that happens.

PS: I was pissed. I did the thing you’re not supposed to do: I replied to the agent (I’m pretty sure it was an agent) and asked him what the hell he was talking about. He never responded.

A.J.: Oh my—I understand your anger, but you are right, never respond in that manner. In this day of social media, that is akin to literary suicide.

PS: I phrased it nicely, but that was the gist of it.

A.J.: Earlier, you mentioned possibly telling me where you got your pen name. Do you mind telling me now?

PS: When I was first setting out to get published, I knew I couldn’t use my real name because it’s pretty common and when you Google it, a country singer shows up. I needed a pen name so I could be found.

I was pregnant with my first child at the time, and we were looking for names for him. I thought, “Pembroke Sinclair Robinson. That kid would be destined to be a writer.” When I suggested it to my husband, his response was, “You want our kid to get beat up on the playground, don’t you?” My friend suggested I take it for myself, so I did.

Side note, Pembroke’s middle name is Alloicious.

A.J.: That is a great story—and your first child probably thanks you for not naming him that.

PS: He’s never really said …

A.J.: Let’s go back a little here. I want to touch on two things. First, why genre fiction.

PS: I’ve always been a huge fan of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I’m an English major, so I’ve read my fair share of literary—and I don’t think anything is wrong with literary—but I don’t enjoy writing it. I’ve tried, and it feels weird to me. I have a much easier time imagining myself in another world or surrounded by monsters, and I prefer to be in those worlds. Writing is an escape from reality for me, and I want to get as far away as I can.

A.J.: Before I go to the second part of this, what do you consider literary fiction?

PS: I would say literary fiction are the classics you read that are based in reality. The ones that focus on craft and language, such as Toni Morrison, Faulkner (although I would argue some of his stuff is fantasy), Hemingway, etc. Does that help?

No, wait, Faulkner is literary. I was thinking Vonnegut Jr.!

A.J.: It does help, but literary fiction is still considered, by many, to be real writing, where as genre fiction is considered for hacks. What do you feel is the difference? Or is there a difference?

PS: Oh, I’m fully aware of the distinctions between literary and genre and how literary is soooooo much better. I think the distinction comes from how people want to be labeled. If they want to seem “smarter” and more high brow, they will be “literary.” If they want to appeal to the masses, they’ll be genre. Personally, both can be incredibly intelligent and complicated (have you read Dune or the Foundation series?) and, conversely, both genres can have their crap. It’s all in what a person wants to read/write.

A.J.: Great thoughts in there, Pembroke. I agree. You seem to have some strong feelings on literary fiction—just as I do. I can totally appreciate that. Is that, maybe because of the way those who write literary fiction frown on those who write genre?

PS: Absolutely. And of course, it’s not all of them. There are always those authors who support and encourage other authors and those who are just poops–in all mediums of writing. Again, I’m an English major so I enjoy literary works. I just don’t like writing them.

A.J.: I don’t like writing them either.

Let’s switch gears. You recently had a book released. Humanity’s Hope. Can you tell me about this?

PS: I’m a huge zombie fan. I love zombies in all their mediums, and I really enjoy writing about how people survive the apocalypse—especially teens.

In most zombie stories, the heroes have no quarrels about filling the role of savior and fighting for what’s left of the world.  But when writing Humanity’s Hope, I wanted to look at a character who was reluctant about that role; who didn’t want to be in that position and who has a lot of issues with surviving when others have died.

While I truly believe there will be those people who fight hard to defeat an undead threat, I also believe there will be those who only survive.  But I don’t believe any of us will come out of the zombie apocalypse unscathed.

On top of that, I also wanted to give my main character something to set him even further apart from his fellow humans, so he’s immune from becoming a zombie.

A.J.: I’m not going to ask how he is immune—that is for you to reveal in your work. I will say I love the zombie sub-genre as well. But I also find that so many people have written the same things over and over and there is little variation. What sets Humanity’s Hope apart from other books?

PS: Of course the same things have been written over and over. The same can be said about films. That’s what works and makes money!

You know, I was typing how Hope is different from other stories, and it’s not really. There are certain elements that exist in stories, and they are portrayed through different characters and settings, but they are always there.

I guess I can say it’ s not the same because I have zombies that are different. Other than that, it’s a story about someone trying to come to terms with losing his friends and family and struggling through his day to day exist with PTSD while the living dead roam the earth.

A.J.: Fair enough. Do you mind sharing an excerpt with the readers at the end of this interview?

PS: Not at all.

A.J.: Awesome. Okay, if you have a few more minutes, I would like to ask a couple more questions. What do you enjoy most about writing and publishing?

PS: I enjoy being able to escape. I enjoy exploring the question of what it means to be human (I haven’t found an answer yet). I enjoy sharing my stories with others and seeing readers enjoy them.

A.J.: Okay, on the flip side, what do you dislike about writing and publishing?

PS: The length of time it takes me to get a story on the page. It would be so much easier if I could plug the computer into my head and THINK my story onto the page. When it comes to publishing, I wish there could be more camaraderie and support among authors. We’re all in this together. Let’s build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Not that everyone does this, but those that do need to stop.

A.J.: I absolutely agree, we are in this together. I’ve always viewed this as a family, even though there are some family members we want to just stay away.

Now, other than Humanity’s Hope, you have some other works out, correct?

PS: I do. Several fiction stories and nonfiction works.

I write the nonfiction under my real name. Just to make it nice and confusing.

A.J.: Okay, treat me like a writer just starting out. What would you tell me?

PS: Have fun. Publishing is full of rejection and others who want to see you fail, but if you write because you enjoy writing and have fun creating your stories, you’ve already shown the world you can be successful.

A.J.: I like that. I like that a lot. Sound advice.

Okay, before I let you go, is there anything else you would like to say to the readers?

PS: Thank you for reading my work.  Without you, there’d be no reason to do what I do.

A.J.: One more thing: where can readers find you?

PS: You can find me on Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon.

A.J.: Pembroke Sinclair, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to chat with me. It was nice to get to know you.

PS: Thank you!  I appreciate you taking the time also!

I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Pembroke Sinclair. Now, here is a sneak peak at Humanity’s Hope:

1906894769Caleb sprinted across the dirt road. His leg muscles burned. He was barely able to get his feet off the ground. The backpack slammed into his lower back with every step—the straps dug into his shoulders. As he approached the low wall, he slid into a crouch, turning so his back would contact the stones first. The pressure of the backpack pressed into his ribcage—squeezing the air out of his lungs. He pressed his lips together and let the stream flow out of his nose. He tried his best to keep it silent—a task that proved difficult with every pant. His lungs screamed for air. He wanted to draw in large, gasping breaths, but they would be too loud and attract unwanted attention. The undead were just on the other side of the wall, unaware of his presence, and he intended to keep it that way.

Caleb’s gaze drifted back to the road and fell on his sister, Nina, and Len, his chemistry partner from school. They ran toward him as fast as they could with their heavy backpacks that hunched them over. Or perhaps it was an attempt to make themselves smaller so they were less noticeable—Caleb couldn’t tell. They slid up to the wall on either side of Caleb and attempted to control their breathing.

This was a terrible place to hide—they all knew it. It was too open, too exposed, but there weren’t any other choices. The squat wall was right at the edge of a fallow field, across the dirt road they had been traversing in the hopes of finding civilization. They found the wall in a vast, rural landscape. The three of them were lucky there was something. They had come around a bend in the road and up a small hill, and there they were—zombies—shuffling aimlessly through the countryside. Caleb had to suppress his shocked gasp. They came out here because the urban areas had become too dangerous. There were too many zombies. The supplies had either been pillaged or were too difficult to get to. The country was supposed to be their hope, their salvation. So far, it wasn’t. The farmhouse was still ways away, about 50 yards. At least that was what Caleb assumed. He was horrible at judging distances. It didn’t matter anyway. With the zombies in front of them, the house was as accessible as another planet. But they couldn’t stay out in the open, either.

The look on Len’s face reflected the turmoil Caleb felt inside. His eyes were wide, his face red from exertion. His head was cocked to the side, his jaw muscles tight. The look asked: “What do we do now?” Caleb had no answer.

When they set out that morning to look for food, they had told themselves the zombies had been confined to the cities. Why? Because they had to believe something. They had to think there was still a chance.

Caleb lowered his gaze to the ground. There was no way to respond to Len’s silent question. They just had to wait it out—make their move when they got the opportunity. Caleb glanced over his shoulder at his sister. She slumped against the wall, her legs sprawled out in front of her, her chin resting on her chest. His stomach tightened as he took in her pose. She wasn’t going to be able to move quickly from that position. She needed to be ready. Yet, he felt for her. What was the point of being ready if it meant they had to keep running? His legs shook underneath him as he held his crouch. It would have been such a relief to plop onto his butt and take the weight off his legs. He could’ve placed his arms around Nina’s shoulders and pulled her close. They could have relaxed in their misery. Instead, he gently backhanded her arm. When she looked at him, he thrust his thumb into the air. With an eye roll and deliberate movements, Nina moved into a crouch, removing the gun from the back of her waistband.

Caleb focused on the weapon in his hands. It was there so often, it was like an appendage. He rarely noticed it anymore. But neither of the guns would do them much good; there weren’t enough bullets to take out the threat. Even if they fired their remaining rounds, all it would do was draw more zombies to their location.

Caleb turned his attention away from his gun and stretched up to look over the wall. As soon as his eyes broke the surface, he scanned the area before sinking back down. His heart pounded against his ribs, his throat tightened. An undead lumbered close to the wall—too close. One wrong move or sound and they were spotted. He licked his lips and felt the sweat slide down his spine. If they stayed quiet, the zombies would keep moving. They just had to wait it out.

A low, soft grumbling filled the air. At first, Caleb wasn’t convinced he’d heard it. It was so low, he could have imagined it. He had hoped he’d imagined it. But then Len wrapped his arms around his midsection and squeezed. The rumbling grew louder. It was hard to hide the sounds of hunger. Caleb’s eyes grew wide. He shifted his stance so he could explode onto his feet.

The rotted hand reached over the wall and swiped the air between Caleb and Len. There were no other options. All of them sprang to their feet. The crowd of rotting flesh was converging on their position. Caleb extended his arms and lined up his sights. The crack of the gun echoed loudly in the country air; the corpse slumped onto the wall. All three of them jumped over the wall and ran toward the house. The path took them directly toward the zombies; they had to be fast enough to get by them.

Caleb’s extremities tingled with adrenaline, his footsteps thumped rhythmically on the hard, dry ground. He sucked in long gasps of air, but his lungs still burned for oxygen. He caught glimpses of the other two out of the corner of his eyes. The undead drew nearer. Their arms outstretched, waiting to snag their prey. Caleb zig-zagged across the field. He ducked under a pair of arms, then shouldered a zombie out of the way. Its bones crunched against his shoulder, teeth gnashed close to his ear, driving him forward with more urgency. The house grew larger with every step he took. Almost there.

A short yip followed by a grunt sounded behind him. He risked a glance over his shoulder. Len stumbled then fell. Caleb’s heart leapt into his throat. He skidded to a stop, turning to help his friend. Caleb was about to step toward Len, but he was stopped in his tracks. The action caused him to lose his balance. His arms flailed through the air to keep Caleb from falling over. An incessant, strong tugging kept him from moving forward. He turned to see Nina jerking on his backpack. Her eyes were wide and glistening with tears. She bit her bottom lip and shook her head violently. Caleb glanced again at Len, who reached for Caleb, his mouth open in a silent plea, tears running down his cheeks. Caleb reached toward him. Len’s plea turned into a scream as a zombie bit into his calf. A dark ring of blood stained his jeans and grew larger. Another zombie latched onto the fingers of his extended hand. The crunch as it bit through his bones rattled in Caleb’s skull. He pulled his hand into his chest.

Caleb turned at that point. There was nothing more he could do. His sister grabbed his wrist, and they ran into the house. They took the stairs two at a time and headed into a bedroom on the right. After closing the door, they scanned the area, checking under the bed and in the closet. Clear. His sister collapsed face first onto the bed. From the way her body shook, Caleb could tell she was crying. He leaned back until his pack connected with the door. His legs gave out, and he slid to the floor. Pulling his knees to his chest, he wrapped his arms around his head and tried to disappear into himself.

And then there were two.

Fleshing It Out With Lisa Vasquez

For the better part of the last seventeen months I’ve gotten to work with Lisa Vasquez, owner of Stitched Smile Publications, graphic designer and author. She’s witty and funny and believes in shenanigans. She is also hard working, dedicated and determined. I think this is why we get along, even though our personalities should clash.

Back in January, Lisa released her novel, The Unfleshed. Recently, I sat down to talk with Lisa about the new novel, among other things.

AJ: Before we get into the nitty gritty, tell us a little bit about Lisa Vasquez, the person.

LV: That’s the question I dread the most when doing interviews. I often put myself into separate boxes.

Lisa, the author, has been writing since she was in the 4th grade. My debut book, The Unsaintly, was released a few years ago and is my favorite work because it was my first published accomplishment. I just released my new novel, The Unfleshed this year and I’m currently working on my next novel as well as a few short stories.

Lisa, the book cover designer, has been doing covers for three years and it’s one of my favorite hobbies-turned-professions.

Lisa, the publisher, began her company in January of 2016 and is proud to say we have doubled our growth since then. We have amazing staff and authors. I love what the company stands for and how we support indie authors and help them learn to improve their craft and build their business.

AJ: That is a lot of Lisa! I would actually like to talk about Lisa, the author, for now. You said you started writing in the fourth grade? How did that come about?

LV: I had this teacher who was awesome. She engaged us and did all she could to spark a real love of reading. We did fun activities like completing stories when given the opening paragraph, doing stories from pictures (what’s going on here?) and then sometimes we did skits. I was in love with the whole process and in seeing what my fellow budding authors came up with.

So a shout out, if she ever sees it, to Mrs. Reese!

AJ: Do you remember the first story you wrote?

LV: Unfortunately, I don’t. I couldn’t even tell you what it was about.

AJ: Boy do I know that. I can’t recall the first story I wrote in school either, but that was because I hated writing back then. Now I wish I had been a better student.

Let’s talk The Unfleshed. What was the inspiration for this story?

51m6V9lTKQLLV: The Unfleshed was inspired by a few things. One of the important influences was Frankenstein (which led into Bride of Frankenstein). In the front of the book, I go into the story of how my father and I sat watching it after he had become ill with renal failure. They added him onto the transplant list and it suddenly became this dark blanket over our family.

Back then we had no internet so it was a time of reading thick medical books. We were pretty young at the time, I think I was about 13 (I’m the oldest).

My dad always used opportunities like this to talk to us about things. Comparing situations from movies or songs to real life scenarios. It was a cool way to open doors of discussion that might have been awkward or avoided otherwise. So we’re there and we’re watching, and he says, “Who would’ve thought when Mary Shelley wrote this, that one day taking body parts from people who died would give life to someone else? And that someday this wouldn’t be science fiction, but reality?” And it stayed with me every single day until today. It probably always will.

AJ: Parental lessons, especially given in this manner, always seem to stick the most. Having read The Unfleshed, I really want to know where Angus Wulfe came from.

LV: Angus came from a dark place. All my characters come from my head but this was me vs me. I tackled some heavy issues I won’t go into publicly. He also came from my love of Thomas Harris’ character, Hannibal Lecter. Somehow, this vile human was loved as much as he was hated. I wanted to be able to expose that in this story. The psychology of how we can empathize, even with monsters.

AJ: You put Angus through a hellacious childhood that we only get to see a glimpse of. I know this is part of character building, but at any point did you look at young Angus as a little boy and wonder, ‘why the heck am I doing this to him?’

LV: No, because that is reality. In order for the reader to relate, I have to make it real.

AJ: Oh absolutely. I have to ask this since you brought up Frankenstein: when The Unfleshed was published, did you scream, “It’s Alive! It’s Alive!”?

LV: Damn right! haha!

AJ: Hahahahahaha. Did you enjoy the … umm … how do I put this … the scenes where Angus inflicted his doctorly will on his patients?

LV: Actually, I did. I have to admit there was a tiny, evil giggle during those scenes. I might have some issues. That’s between us, though.

AJ: Us and all the readers out there. My favorite character in the book was actually a secondary character. Marshall. Tell me a little about him and where he came from.

LV: Oh yes, poor Marshall. Marshall is the balance in the story. No one is “all bad” and no one is “all good” in life. Some may come close, but to me, I feel like life puts us in situations and really tests our moral compass. If Angus hadn’t gone through his childhood, he might be Marshall, and vice versa. I like having a complex but balanced story that explores human nature. Marshall is “the conscience” in the story.

AJ: Marshall reminded me of Renfield from Dracula, but a little more tragic.

LV: He does kind of remind me of him in a way.

AJ: How long did you work on The Unfleshed?

LV: Hmm … well I wrote The Unfleshed as a short story back in early 2000. It was much different then. I changed it around because I wanted to change up the “zombie” craze a little. I mean technically, Frankenstein could be a zombie! I liked the idea of it and ran with it. Instead of zombies walking around, we had Frankensteins. It took a year to rewrite and about a year to polish it up.

AJ: A lot of The Unfleshed is steeped in history and in the medical field. Is that a direct relation to what went on with your father during your childhood?

LV: It did, but it didn’t seem realistic to have like … say a baker bringing people back to life. It had to be something believable. Since it’s set back in the 1300’s, there wasn’t education like there is today. When you were old enough to walk, you were old enough to work. But having the experience of my dad being sick and having an education in the sciences, it directly influenced the story.

AJ: Speaking of the setting, why did you set it back in the 1300s?

LV: Well it was the time of the plague for one. And secondly, I love time pieces. I love anything medieval or historical. They’re very interesting times.

AJ: Speaking of historical, you have another book titled, Unsaintly, that is somewhat historical as well. Tell us a little about this one.

LV: Unsaintly is a book about good and evil and everything in between. It’s spiritual, fantastical, and horror altogether.

AJ: Now, that one took you a little longer to write than The Unfleshed, right?

LV: Unsaintly took me ten years to write! Haha, so yes, a little longer

AJ: Ten years? Wow, that is a long time.

LV: Most of it was self doubt. The other part consisted of research and computer crashes

AJ: Computer crashes suck. So, Lisa, tell me, if you can, what do you want the readers to come away with from The Unfleshed?

LV: I’d like them to love the characters and enjoy the story. I hope they understand the complexities of the characters while getting a good old fashioned horror story. And finally, I hope I gave readers who enjoy the classics (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.) something special.

AJ: Fair enough. Before I let you go, tell me what does the future hold for Lisa Vasquez, writer?

LV: More writing. As long as there is a story to be told I’ll be letting the demons out. I have a female assassin who’s getting antsy to be heard. She’s been in there longer than Unsaintly. And my Viking Werewolves are pacing their cages.

AJ: Very nice, Lisa. Very nice. I’m going to let you go now, but do you mind telling the readers where they can find you and your work?

LV: Sure!

Twitter: unsaintly

Instagram: unsaintly

Lisa Vasquez on Facebook

Unsaintly Website

And of course  Stitched Smile Publications Website

You can find The Unfleshed on Amazon here.

Opinions, Quality and a Great Experience

Recently I read an article titled, Dear Writers: Stop Releasing So Many Novels. If you haven’t read it, you can find it here: https://ryanlanz.com/2017/02/26/dear-writer-stop-releasing-so-many-novels/.

I think the author of this blog had some fairly valid points. I also saw where quite a few of the comments on his post were negative and contradictory to what he stated. I think one of the key aspects to this piece is the author clearly stating it was his opinion. A lot of folks missed that before pulling out the whips, chains and knives.

I am a fairly prolific writer. It doesn’t take me long to pound out a thousand words or more. If I really wanted to, I could easily write 6 or 7 novels in a year. No, that is not bragging, just stating an honest fact. However, I have no desires to put out that many books in one year.

I am a plodder. What I mean is I plod along in my stories, often reading what I wrote previously before I write the next day. I am methodical in that approach, which allows me to get into the mindset (even if for just ten minutes at a time) of my current WIP(s). This allows me to pound out those thousand words a day with relative ease.

Just because I can write a bunch of words doesn’t mean they are all good words or that they should all see the light of day. In truth, over half the stories I write I would never show the world. I could probably put out 8 or 9 volumes titled Crap I’ve Written with the amount of stories I’ve completed that should NEVER be read by any reader.

So often in marketing, the idea is to hit the customer with catch phrases and logos over and over again. Repetition is the key to people remembering who we are or what product we are selling. People making sales pitches will often say the same thing three times, with each one having more emphasis than the last. Again, this tactic is often used to get you to remember what is being said (or sold).

This same mindset seems to have taken hold here in the business of publishing. It is one thing to have your advertisements and logos in front of people. It is another thing to write a novel and put it out as quickly as possible. And then do it again. And again. And again.

The argument here isn’t necessarily about how many words someone can put out in a day, week, month, year. The argument isn’t even about putting out one novel as opposed to six. The argument is how many quality works can someone put out in any given time period?

I know, from experience, that I can put out a lot of good work in a short amount of time. Does that mean it is my best work? Not necessarily. Does that mean it needs to go from concept to written to published in a couple of months? Not necessarily. There are no real facts supporting time from start to finish equating to poor or good quality. I say that as someone who believes in taking my time in getting from one project to another. I don’t rush them, no matter how bad I want them to be done and out the door for people to read. If it is not ready, it is not ready.

But that is me. I plod along. Some people race along at breakneck speeds. We are all different.

I don’t believe I could ever put out six or seven novels in one year. I could write a ton of short stories, but novels? Nope. I just don’t see that happening. But some folks can. And of those some folks, some of them probably put out quality book after quality book. My question: how many of them can do it?

Something at the end of that article really stuck with me, though, and I believe it is somewhat accurate: Drafting a novel quickly is not the problem; rather, the problem is releasing everything that touches a Word document within six months of conception in an attempt to inflate the number of works attached to your name.

I think a lot of folks took offense to this. I know writers who do this very thing, who have said they do this very thing. This amounts to the whole marketing concept of hit them hard and continuously with ads about you and your product. In our case, put out as many titles as you can in a short amount of time to keep your name in front of the readers. Eventually, someone is going to see your name enough to think ‘hey, I should read something this person put out.’ This is subliminal advertising at its best, kind of like the theaters showing us people with food and drinks in their hands going into the movies. Doesn’t that just make you want to go get the jumbo popcorn soaked in heart attack butter and the mega-bladder buster soda?

The mindset seems to be ‘the more I have out there, the better chance I have of making sells.’ While that may be true in many cases, I go back to should you or I do that? I know I can put out a ton of work in a year. That doesn’t mean I will put out a ton of work in a year. I’m not going to pad my catalogue with inferior stories just because I can. It’s not fair to me and it is not fair to the reader.

What it boils down to is the reader. Without them there are no books being bought and read and no need for us to publish. The writer is not the person who is important here. It is the reader. It’s not just about getting readers, but getting them and making sure they are happy with what you put out time and time again.

I want to give readers an experience, and not just any experience, but one they won’t forget. It’s like buying a burger. I’m not going to pay six or seven bucks for a burger at McDonald’s. Two bucks tops, and that would be because I am hungry and their burgers are relatively inexpensive, though friendly service seems to always be lacking. However, if I go to Fuddruckers, I expect to pay between six and eight dollars for one of their burgers. The quality of the food is great and the service is always friendly, therefore I would pay a higher price for it. I also come away more satisfied with the money I spent based on the quality of the food I ate and the service I received. My experience is worth more money at one establishment than at the other.

It’s the same with reading. I want you to have a great experience when reading my stories. I want you to feel you received the value out of them that you paid for. I want you to say, ‘that story was so good I would buy it again.’ Not that you would buy the same story, but hopefully, you would try something else on the menu. That menu would be the catalogue of books you can choose from. You read Dredging Up Memories and liked it? Why not read Cory’s Way? Hey, Along the Splintered Path was good? Why not curl up on your couch with A Stitch of Madness? I believe in the menu I present to you. I believe in its quality. It’s not McDonald’s.

If you paid five or ten or even fifteen dollars for something I wrote, I want you to feel you got your money’s worth. I want you to feel like you received Fuddruckers, not McDonalds. But I’ll be honest with you, if I put out five or six books in a year, you would be getting the Quickie Mart on the corner of Not Good Street and This Sucks Avenue, and that’s not what I want.

I know some folks might not like some of what I wrote here. It’s not meant to be offensive and it is not angst driven. Sure, there are some folks who can put out quality work every single time they sit to write. Sure, there are some folks—some being the key word here—who can put out three, four, seven books in a year and they are professionally done and are quality stories. I absolutely believe that. But most people can’t.

I’m never going to say you should do this or you should do that or you shouldn’t do something. Each person does things their own way. If you can put out six quality novels in one year, I say, ‘wow’ and ‘congratulations’ to you. It’s not easy to put out one or two quality works in a year, so it is amazing when someone can put out many quality titles over a twelve month period.

For me, and for you, the readers, I want you to have a great experience with my stories. If that means I only put out one book or two tops over a year period, then so be it. I would rather do it that way, than to bombard you with mediocre stories that do nothing for you.

The article I read was hit or miss. Some would agree with the author. Others would not and that is okay. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on my thoughts, and the writer of that article should probably not expect a one hundred percent approval rating, either. But he hit on some things I have griped about over the years and he made me think, and that is always a good thing. And I hope I made you think, even if it was just about burgers.

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

A.J.

__________

All We See is the End

From the minds of A.J. Brown and M.F. Wahl comes two horrific tales of struggle and loss you won’t soon forget.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 2.35.48 PM.pngRun For the Flame takes us into a world where an ice age has engulfed everything, driving life underground. The Sanctuary holds the last vestiges of humanity, but its walls are cracking and the ice is slowly encroaching. In their last grasp at survival, the community is forced to send their boys on an all important run for the flame … none have ever returned.

In Purple Haze, a crash landing on an uninhabited planet strands Adira and the surviving members of her crew. Surrounded by a quiet world of blue grass and purple skies, danger lurks within the beauty. Without contact to Earth and light years from home, they encounter a treacherous enemy that threatens to destroy them from the inside out.

Wahl, a #1 Wattpad featured author, and Brown, whose stories have appeared in over 200 publications, use their easy styles to draw you in and hold you close. Welcome to their nightmares.

Get the ebook on Amazon today.