Learning, Training, Practicing–Say What?

I talk about writing a LOT. I talk to anyone who will listen. However, I usually don’t talk about my work, my stories, what I am working on unless I am asked. Most people don’t want to hear about it, so no need to bore them with the things I find exciting in my work. Unless you are my wife, my editor or my publisher, you won’t hear me start a conversation about my writing.

Writing has brought me a lot of joy over the years. It’s been therapeutic. I’ve been able to express my sadness, anger, jealousy and resentment in stories. I’ve also been able to express my happiness, love and humor. I’ve been able to creep people out, make them cry, make them smile, make them feel. Having someone feel something after reading one of my stories is one of those things that drives me to get better, to learn how to write better with each story I tell.

Learning. That’s the ticket, as my old friend, Chris, would say. 

The entire sentence is important, but that one word … that one word makes the sentence and, for lack of a better term, the story. 

Learning is one of the most important aspects of life, and not just as a child, but as an adult as well. 

As a child, you learn how to roll over and get onto your stomach. Then you learn how to crawl. Eventually, you learn how to pull yourself up to a standing position. This is followed by many attempts to walk the way you see your parents or older siblings or anybody else in the world who, well, walks. You learn the most important word of your childhood by hearing your mother repeat, “Say Mommy.” Interestingly enough, saying Mommy or Da-da is like a competition for the parents, with each one hoping their child will say their moniker for parent first.

You learn by watching what others do, by listening to what they say. I find it interesting that as children under the age of two, we are/were at our most attentive, listening, seeing and learning selves. Little ones soak up everything you say, everything you do. Then they try these things, like walking and talking. It’s amazing. Don’t believe me? Cuss one time in front of your child and see what happens. At such a young age, we train ourselves to do things we see others do. Yes, I said train. I’ll come back to this in a second, so stick with me for the next couple to few paragraphs.

At some point, most children want to learn how to ride a bike. Most first bikes come with training wheels. They’re called training wheels for a reason: they help you stay upright on a bike as you learn to peddle and steer, as you train. You get on the bike and Mom or Dad gives you a gentle push, maybe even walking right alongside you as you first put foot to peddle and make the bike go. By doing this, you, the bike rider, are both learning and training yourself on how to do something. The learning is mental. The training is physical. Your brain tells you, push down on the peddle with this foot, then push down on the peddle with the other foot. With conscious effort, you put your foot on the peddle and push down. The peddle turns the gears with the bike chain wrapped around them. The bike goes forward. 

The effort is the training. When you actually physically do what your brain tells you to do, you are training your body how to do it and your brain how to remember it. In this case, your brain tells you how to peddle and you physically attempt it. You’ve seen someone do it, so you are already learning what you are supposed to do. The first few times are usually awkward and difficult, but eventually, the muscles in your legs and feet and hips all work together and you begin to ride the bike with less difficulty.

Then the training wheels come off and you get that push or that parent running alongside you and the front wheel wobbles as you try to steer while looking down at your feet, at the peddles that don’t want to do what you want them to do. You probably crashed a few times as you trained your legs to peddle and your body to balance and your hands to steer the handlebar straight so you don’t tip over or crash into something. 

Eventually, though … eventually, what you learned in your mind, you trained your body to do and you rode that bike. You got excited and probably screamed at the top of your lungs in happiness and exhilaration because, by God, you rode the bike. And you probably crashed. But for a moment, you rode that bike and you were the king of the world as Jack said in Titanic. 

You learned, mentally, what to do. You trained, physically, to be able to do what you learned. 

So far: learning is mental and intellectual, and training is the continued attempts to do what you learned. 

Life isn’t only about learning things and training is not just physical. It’s also about training your mind and your body to do things. 

Early in life, I was not all that great at math. Two plus two equaled four like it is supposed to, but multiplication and division and algebra were struggles to learn. Being told four multiplied by four is sixteen is great but being shown was better. Being shown was great but given problems to solve was better. I also hated it. The higher the numbers got, the more difficult it was for me to learn their totals. You want me to multiply eight by nine? Are you serious? Are you some sort of math psycho who relishes the struggles of us non-mathites? 


I also found math boring. 

Then I started watching sports. Sports is all about math. The scores are done in numbers. The statistics are all numbers. The records are numbers. Numbers. Numbers. Numbers. 

In order to understand statistics, I sat down in my room with a pencil and paper and wrote out the multiplication table, starting with one and going to twelve. I struggled with it until I realized that each number was simply added by the number of its multiplier (something the teacher could have explained and I probably would have understood a lot quicker). For example: six multiplied by seven is six added up seven times. 6+6+6+6+6+6+6= 42. I then wrote out every problem as I did in that example in the last sentence. I added them as if they were simple addition problems. 

By doing it that way, I trained my brain to add quickly. So, if someone said, ‘Hey, add this up for me,’ then tossed out a few numbers, I was/am able to tell them the answer fairly quickly. 

Learning the multiplication table wasn’t difficult, but it took training my brain to process those numbers for me to learn math. Now, math is second nature to me, and I can usually spout the answers off without much thought. 

Training is mental as well as physical. 

As we get older, learning and training become more difficult, not because it is, but because we make it difficult. I’m too old to learn new things. We make excuses as to why we can’t do something. For most of us the truth is we don’t want to learn something new, we don’t want to train our brains or our bodies to do something new. And that’s where we fail, not just in learning, but in becoming better at something … anything. It’s arrogance. It’s ignorance. It’s laziness. 

Are you still with me? I hope so.

I have a friend. Yes, just one. His name is Dameion. We both write and we both have our own viewpoints about writing and storytelling. (For the record, Dameion is one of those writers I am envious of. His words just spill off the paper.) He’s like a brother to me, one I never see, but talk to when we are both available. We were talking recently about writing. You learn how to write in school—or at least you used to. You learn basic sentence structure and punctuation but that’s pretty much it. Most of this stuff you forget. Why? Because you are told about it, not shown how to do it. When you are shown, you’re only given a handful of assignments or opportunities to actually practice it. You take a test, pass or fail, then move on to something else, so it doesn’t stick. 

What sticks is when you physically do something. By physically doing something repeatedly, you train your brain and your body to remember how to do those things. It becomes muscle memory and you do it without thinking once you’ve practiced it. For example: they say once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. You might get rusty, but if you learned how to ride a bike at six and you stopped riding a bike at sixteen, at fifty-three you will be able to get on a bike and ride it. Muscle memory.

Telling a story, orally, is easy. If you’ve ever told a good joke, then you have told a story. Why did the chicken cross the road doesn’t count. Okay, fine, we’ll let it count, but only if you told it to someone who had never heard the joke. Good luck with that.

When you verbally tell a story, you get into it. You add little things to show the person (or people) listening something about where you were or what was going on. You can become animated with hand gestures and tone of voice and facial expressions. By doing all of this, you show your listener(s) the story. If you are really good at it, you can be a comedian. 

You learned how to tell a story by listening to others tell stories. If they were good at it (as my grandfather was), then you will pick up some good pointers by watching them. If they were bad at it, then the lessons you pick up will not be the ones that help you tell a good story. When you’ve seen someone who can speak, either in public or private, it doesn’t mean you can become a great speaker. It just means you have seen someone else do it right. It is up to you to gleam what you can from it and practice what you learned. The practice aspect is part of the training. It’s where you train your mind to think, your voice to have tone, your facial expressions and hand gestures to be coordinated with your words.

Writing is the same. A lot of your learning comes from reading. You learn neat turns of phrases, styles, descriptors, pacing, dialogue, and plenty more from reading. The trick is to not just learn these things, but to practice them. 

When I wanted to become a better writer, I picked the brains of other writers. I asked questions and read stories that were suggested to me. If I wanted to know about dialogue, I asked questions about it, then I wrote stories that were dialogue heavy to see if I could move the story along using conversations. If I wanted to learn descriptions, I asked questions about it, then wrote stories heavy on descriptions, then flipped the script and wrote stories light on descriptions in order to try and find the sweet spot for descriptions. The talking to writers and gathering information was the learning part. The putting words to paper and writing was the training part. 

Then came the practicing.

Are you still with me? Hang on a little longer. We’re nearing an end to this (probably) confusing topic.

Practice is honing what you have learned and trained yourself to do. 

I was a good basketball player. When I was a kid I loved Len Bias, who played for the University of Maryland. He was smooth and fascinating to watch. He was, in my opinion, the greatest basketball player to never play in the NBA (he died of a drug overdose the day after being drafted by the Boston Celtics—I cried). Though I wasn’t a fan of the University of Maryland, I watched their games when they came on television just so I could see Bias play. I paid close attention to the way he shot the ball, the way he played defense, the way he moved up and down the court. Then I would go outside and try to teach myself what I saw him do. After a while, I moved on to other players who did things that interested me. Jeff Lebo played for the University of North Carolina and was a great outside shooter. Michael Jordan (come on, do I need to say who he played for?) was a phenomenal defender and a better passer than most people give him credit for. 

I watched them to learn what they did. I trained myself by trying different ways of doing what they did. I practiced daily.

Practicing something you have learned and trained on will only make you better. 

All of this points to one thing in particular: training your brain. When you train your brain, it becomes muscle memory after your body is trained to do it. All of us have something we are good at, but we didn’t get good at just by saying we were going to be good at it. We became good at it after we learned, trained,  and practiced. All of that starts with your brain, with a thought your brain has, with you putting forth the effort to learn, then applying what you learned. 

The bottom line to the previous 2300 words is this: if you ever want to be good at something (you know, like writing), you need to learn it, train yourself to do it, then practice at it. Hmm … I probably could have just said that to start with …

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


A.J.

Questions, Questions, Questions. I Need Questions.

A couple of years ago Cate and I did a series of question and answers on Youtube. We made a dozen or so videos answering questions submitted by readers. Most of these videos were short. All of them were completely unscripted. We want to do this again, but with a little twist. 

Twist, you say? 

Why yes, and I’m not talking about the dance made popular in the 1960’s.

To kick off these videos, we are giving away a new T-shirt with my saying on it: Everything is life. Everything is a story. We were going to have these for events this year, but 2020 has kind of gone sideways on everyone. 

This guy wants to answer your questions and give you something for free.

Here’s how you, the readers out there who subscribe to Type AJ Negative, can be entered in the drawing: ask questions. We need questions to answer in our videos. We need at least ten participants, but more would be great. Be creative with the questions. They can be about anything book or writing related, and please, no boxers or briefs questions. 

Each person who submits a question will be entered into a drawing for the T-shirt. The winner will be selected on June 1st, so get your questions in as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I can only ship these shirts within the United States. However, we have decided to offer a free digital copy of My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert, slated to be released on June 1st, as part of the drawing for International participants.

Don’t you want an awesome shirt like this?

Time for the pitch:

Ever want to ask an author a question? Now is your chance! We are taking writing and book related questions that I will answer for you in a short video. Your questions are a great way to help promote my work, so in return, you will be entered into a random drawing for a free shirt (in the U.S. only) or a free digital copy of My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert (International participants only). We need 10 participants to post questions to get the drawing started. We would like all questions submitted by May 31st. Our drawing will take place on June 1st and I will answer your questions through out the month of June. Get creative! We are looking for unique, interesting questions. 

This is a fun way to interact with readers and practice speaking on video during this time when book events are still canceled. I love talking with readers and especially with fans of my work, so give me something to talk about. Please join the fun and invite your friends.

Are you interested? I hope so. Please, share this post and comment with your questions. I look forward to seeing what y’all come up with.

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

A.J.

#everythingislifeeverythingisastory

Like Cotton Candy?

Occasionally, I get to talk books with people who don’t write. Recently, I had an interesting conversation with someone about memorable books. She said often books are not memorable. They are like Cotton Candy. You eat it, you enjoy it, but then it is gone and it really doesn’t leave you wanting more. You don’t remember the story, you don’t remember the names of the characters, but while you read the book it entertained you enough that you continued reading until reaching the end. Then, like cotton candy, it’s over, done, gone, the sweetness of it nothing but a memory and one you quickly forget. 

This bothers me. No, not in a ‘this is so sad’ way or in an ‘I think I need a hard drink’ way. It bothers me because I look at writing as a highly criticized art form where hearts and souls are often poured into each word. It bothers me because, at the core of telling a story, you should want the reader to feel something, not just forget what he or she has read. You want them to laugh, cry, cringe, say “what the heck?” You want them to remember your words—not all of them, but the ones that have impact. You want them to say, “Dang, I need a cigarette.” You don’t want them to say, “eh, that was okay, but not enough so that I remember something about it.”

cotton-candy-497209_1920I hate the idea that someone can pick up a book, read it and just be done with it without so much as a thought given to what he or she just read. It’s like a passing moment in your life, like walking down the street and looking straight ahead, not turning your head to see what is on your right or left. Your eyes stay straight. You don’t turn to look at the person walking by you, or the car accident on the corner of Main Street or the homeless man asking for change, sir, can you spare a quarter? You don’t see the storefronts so you would never know there was a barber shop with a pole out in front covered in red, white and blue stripes, or a jewelry store with big wooden doors that appear uninviting, or the little coffee shop with the four tables set out along the edge of the sidewalk like a cafe, or the fact that there might be an adult store next to a Christian bookstore, and on the bookstore’s other side is a bar with all the finest liquors you can find. It’s a mindless walk that means nothing in the grand scheme of things. 

I think back to all the times I walked to school as a kid, first to the elementary school six blocks away, then the middle school that was about ten blocks away, then just up to the top of the hill where the bus came to take us to the high school. From first through fifth grade, I would make a left; from sixth through eight grade, I went straight for three blocks then made a right and went straight for about another six blocks or so; from ninth to twelfth grade, I stopped a the top of the block, leaned against the Hagins’ fence or the stop sign and read whatever book I had, unless someone was there with me. I remember these things because they were part of my life back then. But do I remember these things because I was attentive to my surroundings, or was it because I walked them every day of the school week? Was each day nothing but a bit of cotton candy that I regurgitated up the next day and ate it all over again? Of course not. I paid attention to my surroundings, to the mean dog six houses up from ours, to the pretty woman with the dark hair and green eyes who always waved, to the cop who lived three house from the top of the block. I paid attention. I absorbed my surroundings and I remember them, even to this day.

I reckon this bothers me so much because, as a writer I tell stories I want you to feel and I know how hard it is to do that, to move someone’s heart in any direction. 

I guess the concept of a story being like cotton candy, enjoyable for a second but then forgotten, is tantamount to someone saying ‘meh,’ or shrugging to anything. Was it good? Meh. Did you like the story? Shrug. What did you think of it? Meh. Would you like some cotton candy? Shrug. I guess. 

I guess? Meh. Shrug.

I can only shake my head to this. 

Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe I’m so close to the subject of writing being an art form that hearing someone say they read a book through to the end but couldn’t tell you anything about it, not even one of the characters’ names, is disturbing. 

Then I really started thinking about it. How many books have I not finished in my lifetime? A few. How many books have I started reading, gotten bored with, then put them away? Yes, a few. How many of these books do I remember? Umm … not many. Are those books like meals I didn’t like, so I didn’t finish them? Those books didn’t even make it to cotton candy status. Does that mean the cotton candy books are better? At least with those, you actually finish the meal, right? You were entertained for a minute, right?

Cotton candy is pretty much air and sugar, nothing of substance. Is that what you want in a book? A bunch of air and sugar and nothing of substance? I can’t get behind that thought. I do not want a cotton candy story. I don’t want to write one. I don’t want to read one. I want to read a story with some substance, something that will leave a taste in my mouth, good or bad, just not indifferent. I want a four course meal that I can tell others, hey, you need to try this four course meal. Don’t settle for cotton candy. Don’t settle for a meal you don’t like, and either throw it out or finish it anyway. You deserve better. 

Now, I ask you, my faithful readers, have you ever read a story that was like cotton candy to you? If so, how do you feel about it? Thank you for answering and I look forward to hearing from you. Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J. 

Reflections On the Year Gone By Part 1

I don’t usually do a year in review type of thing. I leave that to others because sometimes reflecting can be good, while other times it can be a nightmare or a heart wrenching episode that makes you want to crawl in a hole and hide from the rest of the world. Maybe the point of reflection is so you see things the way they truly were, in perspective to how you thought they were when they were happening. Maybe some events were happier than you originally thought. Maybe they were worse than you originally thought. Maybe, just maybe, they weren’t anything near what you thought they were. 

 

I guess that’s the point of this post. Reflecting on the past year, just as I would if I looked in the mirror and saw the age creeping up in my hair and around my eyes and lips. Sometimes objects in the mirror in front of you are closer than they appear.

Where do I begin? With the good? The bad? The ugly? Okay, maybe not the ugly—you can call me pretty. Go ahead. Do it. It’s not like I will hear you. Do I start with January and work my way through the year chronologically? Do I bounce, bounce, bounce around, touching on this point or that point or those points? I don’t know, but I think the next sentence will give me some direction.

In December of 2017, I got sick one Friday evening. It carried over into Saturday. Cate and I and the kids

were heading to Rock Hill that morning for Christmasville in Rock Hill. I had been looking forward to it for a couple of months, but when we left, I had a slight fever, hadn’t slept much the night before and a blister had formed on the roof of my mouth. By lunchtime, I told Cate, “Babe, we need to go home.” I was hurting. My throat was on fire. My mouth hurt. I had a fever and the chills and my body ached. I remember getting in the back seat of the car and vaguely laying on the couch when we got home. The one thing I was aware of through it all was the blister on the roof of my mouth had tripled in size. 

I woke the next morning feeling better. The blister was mostly gone, as was the fever and the chills, though the aches still remained. 

A couple of days passed and the blister and all of the sickness was gone. However, I noticed a knot in my mouth. After a couple of weeks of it being there, I went to the doctor. 

“I’m going to send you to a specialist,” she said.

“What for?” I asked.

“I think it’s cancer.”

Wha … what?

The following week, I

Before

went to see the specialist, but not before spending the duration between doctor visits in stunned wakefulness—I slept very little. Oral cancer. Two people I knew had died of the very thing in the previous year. 

I was asked the typical questions: Do you smoke or have you ever smoked? Do you chew tobacco or have you ever chewed tobacco? Do you drink or have you ever drank? I answered ‘no’ to all of those questions. 

The doctor visit came and went. “You have a tumor,” the specialist said. “It’s rare that it is in the hard palette of the mouth, but it is there.”

The good thing is it was operable. 

Cate and I kept quiet for the most part. I only told a couple of people at work and neither of us told our families about it until the week before the surgery was to happen. Sure, our friends and family could have showed support for us, but we didn’t want them worrying, especially our kids or my father, who had his own health issues (and I didn’t want to add stress to his life).

The operation was set for March 9th. I will not lie and say I wasn’t nervous and somewhat scared as we made our way to the facility where the surgery would take place. When I got there, all the nerves faded and the fear left me. I was ready to have this thing out of my mouth and to start recovery (hopefully with no cancerous lumps anywhere in my mouth).

I got mostly naked and put on their napkin thin gown and crawled up on the gurney they would take me back to the operating room on. The nurses did their thing and poked me with needles. The anesthesiologist came in and said he wasn’t sure what type of anesthesia I was supposed to get (you know, the one that knocks me completely out or the one that puts me under but only far enough not to feel anything) and he would wait for the doctor to inform him before he doped me up.

The doctor came in and started feeling around in my mouth. 

“Hmmm,” he said and left the room. 

I looked at Cate. She looked at me. The worry and nerves that had gone away earlier came back in all of its hated glory. 

A couple of minutes later, the surgeon came back into the room with a coal miner’s light on his head. He flicked it on—yes, it was bright—and shone it into my mouth. He felt around some more, looked again, then flicked off his light. He stood straight, pulled the gloves off his hands and said, “I guess I won’t be buying that Jaguar today.”

Cate and I looked at him with what had to be obvious confusion on our faces.

“I hate when my patients heal themselves.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“The tumor is gone,” he said.

“What?”

“It’s gone. It’s no longer there. You don’t need surgery.”

“Are you serious?”

After“Yup. It’s gone. There’s not even a mark where it had been.” There had been a purple lesion where the tumor had been and from December until the night before the surgery was to take place, I could feel it with my tongue. I ran my tongue along the top of my mouth and … I couldn’t feel it. 

They discharged me and I left the hospital floating about three feet off the ground and with happy tears in my eyes. 

I thank the Lord for the major miracle He had worked. Then my wife made me get a cell phone. Yeah, I know they aren’t connected, but they really are. I had resisted cell phones for the most part during my 48 years of life. But after dealing with the doctors on her phone, she thought it best for me to have my own. To recap: there was no surgery on March 9th, but there was the purchase of a cell phone.

That afternoon, I posted on social media about it for the first time along with two pictures Cate had taken: one before I was to go into surgery and the other after we found out there would be none. 

***

Going into 2018, Cate and I decided we wanted to do more book related events, meaning more festivals and conventions. We went into 2018 treating my writing more like a business than a hobby. 

One of our two goals for the year was to break even with the amount of money we started with, or do better. We didn’t want to go into 2019 in the hole. If we were losing money then that would make putting out books an expensive hobby instead of something more sustainable. I can honestly say we did better than break even by $128. I’ll take it. That means we sold more than we spent. 

Cayce Setup 2The second goal was to do at least twelve events. We surpassed that easily, appearing at 24 events on the year (even though we had none in January, February, July or December). It was exhausting, but we learned a lot. We met a lot of good people and made some great connections. We also heard this more than we thought we would: “I don’t read.”

I don’t read. 

This is sad. I’ve said for the last several years, the reading populace is dwindling and the pieces of the pie (readership) are getting smaller and smaller. Still, hearing so many people say they don’t read is bothersome. I had one woman lament for about ten minutes how people should read more and that it is a shame that they don’t. Then when I said, “Well, can I interest you in one of the books on the table?” There were eleven books on our table that day. She promptly said, “Oh, well, I don’t read.”

I could only stare at her in disbelief as she walked away.

ReadingThis is the world authors live in today. Its not like it was fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago before the internet exploded and smart phones gave you access to everything around the world in your back pocket and at your fingertips. People do actually read, they just don’t read books anymore. They read on tablets and from websites and through apps, but many of those people aren’t reading books on those devices. Twenty years ago, or maybe even ten years ago, the world still liked its printed stories. 

This also leads me to believe that without a huge following, you can’t make a living in this business. That is terribly sad. 

I don’t read. It’s a mantra I will surely hear in this upcoming year, but I hope less and less so.

To be continued …

Voices, The Interviews: Jeddy

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

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

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

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

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

SESSION 5

He sits in the seat next to where Spencer sat earlier. One leg is stretched out in front of him, while the other one is bent at the knee and bouncing up and down. He wears a pair of biballs that has seen better days. The white shirt beneath the biballs has a brown stain on it that might have been red at one time, possibly spaghetti sauce or chili. His hair is thinning and it appears to Lisa that life might have been rough on him when he was younger. 

“Jed …” she says.

The man looks up. His eyes are brown and his lips are thin. 

“Or do you prefer Jeddy?”

“It’s Jeddy, ma’am,” he says.

“Hello, Jeddy. How are you today?”

“I reckon I’m all right, Ma’am. I hope you are, too.”

“I am, thank you.”

Troy Black StormsJeddy nods. His long fingers are folded neatly in his lap, even as the one leg bobs up and down nervously. He licks his lips, sniffles, licks his lips again. 

“I’m going to ask you a few questions, Jeddy. Is that okay?”

“Yes, Ma’am. I reckon so.”

“You witnessed something extraordinary. I would like to talk about it with you if that’s alright?”

“What was extra-or-dinar … extra-or-dinar …” He shakes his head in clear frustration. “What is it, Ma’am?”

“Extraordinary. It means something out of this world, something most people don’t ever get to see.”

“You mean like that thing that took Mary Marie away from me?”

Lisa smiles, but she feels no joy in the expression. She knows this could be a touchy subject for him, just like each of the other characters have their touchy subjects. But she also knows—well, maybe not knows, but believes—he will answer her questions anyway.

“Yes, like the thing that took Mary Marie. You saw something …”

“I saw the devil, Ma’am. That’s what that thing was. That thing … that thing that took Mary Marie, it took Momma, too, and who knows how many other people?”

“Speaking of your Momma, why didn’t you tell anyone that your mother and Aunt Louisa had passed away?”

“They didn’t pass away, Ma’am.”

“They didn’t?”

“No, Ma’am. They didn’t.”

“Then what happened to them?”

Jeddy shakes his head demonstratively, showing disgust in Lisa’s not understanding, or his perception of her not understanding.

“They were taken, Ma’am. Taken … by that thing. That demon.”

Tread carefully, Lisa, she thinks. Jeddy has the aggravated sound of a toddler wanting candy and a politically obsessive individual raving about the most recent candidate for garbage collector. The edge in his voice might still hold enough respect with the ‘ma’am,’ but Lisa knows sometimes that respect is as false as that politician’s promises to get all the garbage out of our county. To go with the edgy respect is this man is a  country bumpkin with, what Lisa believes, a more obsessive religious point of view. She takes a shallow breath, releases it.

“Jeddy, is it possible that thing was an angel and your momma and Aunt Louisa and Mary Marie were just taken up into Heaven?”

The color drains from Jeddy’s face. Though it is already long and thin it seems to stretch further. His mouth drops open, exposing the edges of three teeth on the bottom and possibly four or five on the top. His eyes don’t change—she’s not even sure he can get them any wider than they are with his hooded eyelids and the one eye that seems to droop as if looking at her bosom unintentionally (or maybe intentionally, she thinks).

“Listen here, missy,” he says in his country drawl. He points one of his long fingers at her. There is dirt beneath it. She wonders if it got there while digging the graves of his momma or aunt. “Ain’t no angel looks like that except maybe the Angel of Death. I saw that thing—that demon—swoop on down and land on Mary Marie’s chest. I saw it grab her eyes and rip them from her face. I saw it fly away, it’s demon wings lifting up, higher and higher into the sky. And right out of the holes where her eyes had been flowed her soul. I saw that white smoky mist leave her body and float up into the air, and when I looked back at Mary Marie, she wasn’t nothing but a blackened husk on the ground. Now, you think you’re gonna tell me that thing was an angel from on high? No disrespect, Ma’am, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Lisa shrugs. During his rant, Jeddy had waved his arms madly. His one leg stayed extended out while the other foot tap-tapped the floor. Spittle had flown from his mouth and landed somewhere on the floor between them. Now, his arms are crossed over his chest and the one foot that had bobbed up and down is still. He glares at her and she can see the righteous indignation on his face, the ‘how dare you?’ stare of the insulted.

“You’re right. I probably don’t know what I am talking about. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see this creature and I didn’t witness what it did. Can I ask you about Mary Marie?”

Jeddy’s shoulders slump. The grip on his elbows loosens until his hands fall away and drop into his lap. 

“Did you love Mary Marie?”

He barely nods and the simple yes he gives is a croak she barely hears. 

“So, you were sweet on her?”

Again, he nods, but this time there is a grayness on his face that wasn’t there before. She thinks she knows where the shadow came from. She thinks if she stares hard enough, she will see Mr. Worrywort behind Jeddy and he will be whispering in one ear the lies it tells people.

Then the shadow fades. Jeddy’s face is no longer ashen gray, but the country white reappears. His eyes, which she thought earlier could get no bigger than they are because of the heavy lids covering them, actually do get wider. 

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMThe shadow that had been over Jeddy now stands over her. The air around her is suddenly thick and moist and it is becoming increasingly harder to breathe. Lisa feels a panic come over her, something she hasn’t felt in years. 

Tread lightly, a voice hisses in her ear. It is as wet as the suddenly humid air around her. 

Lisa closes her eyes. The breath in her lungs freezes midway up into her chest. It holds there, threatening to strangle her just as a chilly finger runs along her right cheek. She tries to swallow the breath down, to free the airwaves so she can breathe again. Her thoughts—her true inner self—are silent now as this other … voice … tip toes into her psyche like a silent thief in the night, one there to rob her of her confidence and freedom. She knows it to be Mr. Worrywort, but she is too paralyzed to say or do anything to stop him. 

He will kill you if you continue on, the voice whispers. He will kill you and take your eyes and your own soul will seep from your sockets. You will never know rest. You will never know peace and your very soul will scream for eternity.

The voice drips malice on her shoulder, a dribble of icy fear that holds her close. Its hand covers her eyes, enveloping her in a terrifying darkness. Her head begins to hurt, as does her chest and stomach. Her lips feel as if they are sealed shut. Lisa realizes if she doesn’t open her mouth she will suffocate right there in that meeting hall with the characters of a collection of stories sitting around her. In the darkness beneath its hand, she saw herself passing out and sliding from the chair with the unconcerned and disinterested faces of those characters staring at her, none of them standing and hurrying over to help her.

You don’t need to be here. You don’t want to be here, Lisa. You want to get up and walk—no, RUN!—from here and never come back. 

Yes, she thinks. I want to run away and never come back. I want to get away from here. 

Her chest hurts as panic sets in. Her head is swimming with the breath stuck in her lungs. 

Get up. Leave. Ru—

Breathe, Lisa thinks. Breathe!

You will never be able to breathe again if you don’t leave … right … now.

Breathe!

Run away, Lisa. Run away.

Breathe! Breathe!

Tears spill from her eyes. She hears Mr. Worrywort’s laugh. It is the sound of joyful victory. He has her in his grip and he knows the fight is almost over.  It is this laugh that angers her. 

Lisa doesn’t move her head or her arms and she doesn’t try to force his hand from her eyes. She concentrates solely on her mouth, on her lips pinched tightly together. 

Open, she tells them. Open. Open. OPEN! OPEN!

Her lips unclench with an audible POP and the air in her lungs rushes up and out. The grayness in her vision fades and Mr. Worrywort’s hand vanishes from over her eyes. The cold, thick wetness in the air around her dissipates and the throbbing in her head lets go. The meeting room comes back to her. The shapes of the characters comes back into view. Their faces show shock and worry, but like in her vision, none of them has moved to help her. None of them asks if she is okay, not even Jeddy, the man who has seen a demon rip the soul from the woman he loved.

A minute passes. Two minutes. Three minutes. Five minutes. Though she doesn’t quite feel right, she feels better, she feels as if she can continue. 

Do you want to, though? she asks herself. It’s a seed of doubt that hadn’t been there earlier. As if to show she is not afraid of what has just happened, she smiles inwardly at the voice she knows is not hers and says, I’m not running.

Lisa levels her gaze back to Jeddy. She takes a deep breath—a feeling like Heaven to her—and speaks calmly, like nothing has happened. “You’re a Christian man, aren’t you?”

Jeddy hesitates, then answers, “Yes, Ma’am. Of course I am.”

“Do you believe God called you to intervene and save Mary Marie from the … umm … attentions of the preacher?”

Jeddy rocks in his chair, though the one leg stays out in front of him. “If’n Preacher Harry can get into Heaven, the devil can. That’s what Momma always said.” He pauses, but his eyes don’t leave Lisa’s. “He was the devil and the devil wanted Mary Marie. I don’t know if I was sent to stop him from doing what I think he meant to do, but maybe if’n I wasn’t there and I didn’t try and get her away from him, she might still be alive and her soul might not be …” He waves his hand in the air and looks at the ceiling. “ … floating around out there.”

“So, you think it is your fault Mary Marie is dead?”

Another long pause follows. “Maybe. Probably. I don’t know. But she’s gone and … she’s just gone.”

“Jeddy, may I ask you something personal?”

“I reckon so. I don’t know if you can ask anything more personal than my feelings for Mary Marie.”

“You spoke of Fear like it was … an invisible companion, or maybe … an inner voice?  And you spoke of being of two minds on more than one occasion. Do you have an inner voice, too?”

“Every one has an inner voice, Ma’am. Everyone has a good side and a bad side. Momma told me that many times. That’s why she believed Preacher Harry might could get into Heaven. If his good side could run out his bad side, he could get through the pearly gates. I guess it’s like the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. They are always talking, always in your head. Momma used to say don’t let the demons get you, Jeddy. Don’t let them get you. I never did. I always did right. I never did anything to hurt no one. The voices never got to me. Not like they did some of the other people here. Not like he tried to get you just now.”

“Excuse me?” Lisa asks.

“I saw him, Ma’am. I saw the devil behind you. He was there. He’s still here.”

Lisa turns and looks behind her. Mr. Worrywort is not there. There are no shadows near her. Outside the dark corners of the room, there are no shadows at all. She looks back at Jeddy Sanford, but he has now put his arms back across his chest. His interview is over and Lisa knows it is. Though she doesn’t expect an answer, she asks, “Where is he?”

To her surprise, Jeddy does respond. “Momma used to say the devil is in all of us, Ma’am.”

“In all of us?”

“Yes, Ma’am. In all of us.”

To be continued …

ASOM Gets a Cool Review

Normally, I don’t place reviews as posts on Type AJ Negative, but this one totally made my day. This is from DSJM Reviews and appears on Goodreads. I was totally blown away when I read it. It is humbling to have someone say this about my work.

Inside our minds there is darkness that sometimes forces a reality to those who think it might exist, bringing you into the world of being mad- full force with illusion; therefore, causing the state of mind to become unstable. Meaning numbness, deception, paranoia, just a cocktail of madness that is somewhere in between chaos and having a dream. The boundaries of going mad is a well thought process, quite genius if I may add. Scientists and doctors will say that madness or becoming psychotic happens in many different ways though I am only going to list a couple: abuse during child life, triggers (meaning something touched that right nerve mixed with emotional problems) cross-bred with other abusive like natures which creates the perfect recipe for chaos. It enriches the lucidity of dreams in an atmospheric way, manipulating them into your worst nightmares. Some may say it is only a nightmare but what if those dreams or nightmares become your reality in the depths of your brain, statically charging the mayhem within?

A.J Brown brings us not just one incredible short story but three amazing, bizarre, and mind altering stories- perfect in my thoughts. Every once in awhile you hear voices in your head, as you turn the pages with frigid, clammy hands and spine chilling nerves causing you to react irrationally. While you go on with word by word, they soak into you as it trickles through your processors in your mind. Slowly succumbing to the insanity within it officially makes your mind alternate between paranoia and its normal stance. In my opinion, Brown- who is the master mind behind this madness- is powerful in his words and builds the ultimate character strength with a vivid and lucid imagination of slowly making you feel like you are becoming psychotic and paranoid, that the insanity is slowly overtaking your reality.

A.J. Brown is an excellent story teller, his ability to think like this is honestly just quite maddening. I rejoice to have the chance to read this fantastic and amazing soul tearing tales that almost make you want to shake your head at the realism and connection you feel for each character. A Stitch of Madness reminds me of Stephen King, the articulate detail bringing forth to your mind that makes you question is this reality or not, that alone brings you into A.J. Brown’s personal nightmares. Anyone who would spend a little time and read this will forever become a fan of A.J. Brown. I look forward to reading more from Brown, perhaps seeing more- and longer- novels in the future. Thank you for creating a few more nightmares in my mind for sleep at night.

And now for the shameless plug: if you haven’t read A Stitch of Madness and you would like to, please go to Amazon and check it out. If you have read ASOM, I thank you, and also ask would you mind doing a review? I totally appreciate it.

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

A.J.

Friends of the Library, A Short Trip

It was a short trip. One that could only be taken while the kids were in school. They were sometimes fun suckers—the kids, not the man and woman in the white car driving along 176 through the small town of Whitmire—and would have complained from the beginning of the trip until the end of it. Husband—or Dad, to the kids—didn’t do well with the complaining and whining, and often had a hard time letting things go when the fun was ruined by running mouths and attitudes. Wife—or Mom, to the kids—had the travel bug since coming home from over seas seven months earlier. The day trips kept her sane, but didn’t do much for ridding her of her traveling shoes.

He knew she took several short trips on her days off, while they were in school and he was at work. it was something she needed, and something he wouldn’t hold her back from doing. There was a serenity to it that always seemed to center her and put her at peace.

Today it was him and her, her and him. She drove along 176, leaving Whitmire behind and coming up on Union County. Not much further down the road was the town of Union. Here is where they made their grand discovery, after a few turns they came across what they gathered was downtown. It looked as if it could have come off of a sixties postcard, with the buildings along each block appearing to all be connected.

“I think they like jewelry here,” he said as she drove slowly down what they thought was the main street of town.

“Why do you say that?”

“I’ve seen four jewelry stores in two blocks.”

“Maybe.”

That was her form of an eye roll. It was the equivalent of an ‘interesting,’ from most others who really didn’t find these types of things interesting.

Then it happened. He glanced away from the road and saw the sign in the shop window. It read Friends of the Library in green hand written letters on a piece of cardboard.

“Bookstore!” he all but yelled.

“Where?”

“Right back there.” He tried turning in his seat, but it was already out of sight and they had passed through an intersection.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m positive. It’s a bookstore.”

17039263_10212341562718915_2909203469636739807_oOne of the common bonds of she and he was their love for books. She read more than he did, but he enjoyed a good book just as much. It was something neither of their kids cared much about.

For him, it was escaping into someone else’s world for a while and letting the imagination run with the written words that drew him to books. He thought she was much the same in that respect.

She pulled the car over after passing through another intersection, and parked along the curb. They got out, she putting her purse around her neck and shoulders, and began the walk up the steadily inclining road. They passed a jewelry store on their left, and right across the street three stores down, was another one. He pointed them both out to her as they went. They crossed the street at one intersection then another, passing a bank (which was probably the most modern building in the town) and another jewelry store. As quickly as they had passed the bookstore a minute earlier, they arrived at it.

The sign did say Friends of the Library in an almost looping script, but it also said Book Store. Beside the signs were three pieces of white copy paper taped to the window. They read: Hardbacks = 1.00, Soft Backs = .50, Children’s Books = .50, in the same green looping script as the name of the store.

They looked at each other. “Book store,” he said just outside the opened door.

“But are they open?” she asked.

When he looked inside, he saw why she asked. There were no lights on. The store was cast in gray. But there were people inside. He poked his head in. There was an older woman standing ten feet away. She wore a blue top and pants and her hair was white and cut short. She held several hardback books in her hands.

“Are you open?” Wife asked.

“Oh yes. Come on in.”

They did.

The store was long and wide. The floor was concrete and in need of a good sweeping, and probably a good mopping as well. And, just as he thought while standing outside, there weren’t just no lights on, there were no lights at all. The ceiling was a standard drop style, but there were no light fixtures anywhere to be seen. In spots there were pails and even a blue kiddie pool, all of which had a little bit of water in them. When he looked at the ceiling above them, there were brown spots on the tiles.

Those tiles are going to collapse one day, he thought.

None of that really mattered at that moment. What did were the dozen or so tables to the left and right of the entrance, all of which held boxes of books. Each box had a letter on it, written in black marker and in the same script as the signs on the window. Beyond the tables were thirty or forty folded chairs, each holding more boxes on them, all marked with letters. Some of the chairs even held two or three boxes, one on top of the other. Beyond those were still more boxes on the floor and two doorways, one to the left and one to the right, that led even further back into the building.

“The boxes are alphabetical by author,” Mrs. White Hair said.

“Thank you,” Husband replied.

“Hey, there is a box of Stephen King books over here.” This was Wife. She pointed down beside one of the tables.

He walked over, bent down and started pulling books from the box. Though they weren’t all Stephen King, a handful of them were. He plucked out three. Sure, he had them already, but these covers looked like first prints. Whether they were or not didn’t matter—he would purchase them.

“The hardbacks are a dollar, “ Mrs. White Hair said from over his shoulder. “The soft backs are fifty cent.”

He gave her a courteous nod and a ‘thank you,’ and turned back to the books. In his hand were the two hardbacks and one ‘soft back.’ He smiled at the thought. It wasn’t a paperback, but a soft back. He had seen it on one of the signs on the dusty window before walking in, but it didn’t register with him until he heard the term spoken.

Husband went from the box of ‘King’ books and made his way along the tables around him. Most of the books were older—nothing within the last five or six years—and they were mostly in good shape. He made his way from the tables to the first row of chairs. There were some Harry Potter books on one chair. Kellerman was a little further down. There were a couple of Lee Child’s Jake Reacher series, but he had both of those books. There were no Barkers or Campbells but there were a few Straubs. Still, nothing he had to have and nothing he hadn’t read. He came across three chairs that had Pattersons. He passed them up without giving it much thought—not really his cup of tea.

“There’s another room in the back,” another woman said. She was short and thin and looked frail. Her skin was almost tanned and her wrinkles were deep valleys on her face. Her fingers were together in the form of a teepee.

“Another room?” he repeated.

“Yes,” she responded. Her voice was soft and sweet and she smiled a grandmotherly smile. “Back there.”

She pointed to the back right corner where a door stood open. Unlike the room they were in, there was a light coming from it and shining through the doorway, cutting an extended rectangle into the darker portion of the open floor plan of the main room.

Husband and Wife exchanged looks. She smiled. He did, as well, but maybe not as wide as she did. There was a second or two when he looked back at the light and the elongated rectangle of yellow cut into the dark of that corner where the room was, and he thought of any number of horror movies he had seen.

‘Come, little children, come into my house of candy.’

He could almost see a witch at the doorway, one finger beckoning to them.

‘Come, crawl into my oven, little children.’

There was no witch beckoning. Wife was.

“Do you want to take a look back there?”

“Sure,” Husband said.

“Go ahead and have a look,” the short, thin woman said with a smile.

Again, that witch appeared in his mind and he wondered if they were walking into a trap. He glanced back at the open front door of the Friends of the Library book store. Part of him hoped it wouldn’t be the last time he saw daylight.

Wife walked into the room, clearly with no trepidation. He followed, with just a little. And there was no wicked witch and no oven and they didn’t get stuffed in bags and carried off for dinner one day.

“Ooo … Nora Roberts,” Wife said with excitement in her voice. She began going through the boxes on the floor and pulled out several paperbacks by Roberts.

Husband looked around the room. There were a couple of tables in there, as well as a handful of shelves. Many of the books in what he thought of as the Oven Room were older than the ones in the main room. Sitting on top of a tall stack of books in front of one of the bookshelves was one with a red cover and what looked like an obscure eye with a moon behind it.

Deathman, Do Not Follow Me?” Husband said. He picked it up and thumbed through its yellowed pages. The book was short—144 pages from front to back, title page included. He flipped it over and read the enlarged yellow font:

He heard the scream float up, up, up and the screeching of the anguished brakes … and he heard the silence. Then he saw the black limousine streak away and disappear …

“Find something you like?” Wife asked.

“I believe so,” Husband responded. “You?”

She held out two Nora Roberts books. “Oh yeah.”

They made their way out of the Oven Room and into the main room. They walked up to where Mrs. White Hair stood by a table.

“Did you find a few books?” she asked.

“Yes,” Wife responded and handed her the Norah Roberts books. Husband handed over the three Kings and Deathman, Do Not Follow Me. On the table was a book titled, Vampyres. “Is this one for sale, too?”

Mrs. White Hair looked at it. “Absolutely.”

“Awesome, I’ll take it.”

They paid for the books—just under nine dollars for all of them, most of which were hardbacks, not soft backs—and left the Friends of the Library to the tune of “Come again.”

“We will,” Wife said. Husband had no doubt they would be back.

“I love book stores,” he said as they walked away, the books in a bag in one hand, her hand in the other.

AJB

 

A Memorable Road

I’d like to believe over the last few years I have developed a voice of my own, one that is so obviously mine that when someone picks up a story I have written and my name isn’t on it, they know immediately, ‘This is an A.J. Brown story.’ I’d like to believe that. In some ways I do. I believe I have a very distinct style, one that pulls you into the tales I tell. I like to say my style is conversational, kind of like if you and I were sitting in a room somewhere and we started chatting it up. ‘Hey, let me tell you this story…’

Yeah, that is how I feel about my writing.

‘Come with me,’ said the spider in a silky smooth voice. He took the hand of the little child and led him into the darkness.

I admit my style lends to long winded stories, some that plod along at an easy clip as the tale unfolds. Others move swiftly through the words, while others…swiftly plod along. Sometimes I run into someone who doesn’t like the plodding style of a story, and that is okay. Not everyone loves Stephen King. Not everyone loves J.K. Rowling. Not everyone loves James Patterson (I’m in that camp). So it’s okay if you don’t like the stories that are a little slower paced and dive more into the emotional turmoil the characters go through. It is.

Here is the thing: some stories are meant to drive fast and get from Point A to Point B. Those stories are meant to be full on action and in your face. I don’t like those types of stories, so I don’t write them. If that is what you like, then fabulous. You won’t get many of those from me. I just can’t write that way. Interestingly, I don’t drive that way either.

Other stories are meant to take the longest route from Point A to Point B, traversing miles out of the way to get there. If you like those stories, then fabulous. I like some of them, but only the ones that need to go that route, and only because any other route will not complete the story. Those stories are all backroads to a destination. I sometimes like to drive that way.

Then there are those stories that start out on the backroads, take the interstate for a couple of miles, detour at EXIT 51, bump along a dirt road for a mile or two before finding a main road again and racing, headlights shining (even in the light of day) toward its destination. Sometimes those stories speed right into the ending, leaving you breathless, while other times it eases in, like a grandmother touring her old stomping grounds and reminiscing as she does so. Just so you know, I like those stories the best. Why? Because they are memorable, and everyone wants to be remembered. Even characters in a story want to be remembered. They want people to talk about their adventures, just as if you and I were sitting in that room together and I leaned in to tell you a story. I want you to remember what I told you, not let it go through one ear and out the other.

Those are the stories I write, the ones that take you on a trip, ones I hope allow you to see the world through my characters’ eyes. I enjoy the little trips I take you on. I enjoy the little country roads and the dirt paths and the many avenues we travel together. I hope you have enjoyed them as well. If you haven’t picked up one of my books or read any of my stories, come, sit down beside me. I have a story for you.

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

 

 

Dredging Up Memories-You Want This

13106731_10209260504770741_700376366_o-2.jpgSometimes I get so busy doing other things and writing other things that I often forget that I need to focus on things that are happening right now or have already happened. Like my newest book, Dredging Up Memories.

Let’s talk about this book for a second. Dredging Up Memories is the story of Hank Walker and his downward spiral into depression during the zombie apocalypse.

Zombie apocalypse? Seriously?

Yes, seriously. Before you go and judge a book by its zombies, let me put a few fears to rest:

  • The zombie apocalypse thing has been done to death! Yes, it has, but this isn’t the typical zombie story. The dead don’t play the biggest role in this book. A stuffed animal does.
  • There is no hope in zombie stories. Well, you might be right there, but how do you know if you don’t read the book?
  • Zombie stories are all about zombies rending people from limb to limb. Yes, most are, but not Dredging Up Memories.
  • There is nothing new you can do with the overdone genre. I disagree. I believe Dredging Up Memories is original. Again, the main theme is Hank Walker’s descent into depression, not the gnashing of teeth.
  • Brains. Okay, I have to bark at this for a second. Have you ever seen a zombie in any movie actually try to get to a person’s brain? No. You see them tearing into their stomachs and faces and arms and legs and necks, but you never see them actually going for brains. Besides, how would they get to it?

Here’s the thing about Dredging Up Memories: it’s human. It’s real. It has a certain mood to it that is not like other zombie stories. It doesn’t focus solely on the swarming dead and their insatiable hunger for flesh.

It is, in my opinion, a breath of fresh air from all of the action only, blood and gore zombie stories that are all pretty much the same with the exception of location and character names. It is different.

If you don’t mind I would love to share a couple of reviews with you.

The first one:

Honestly, I don’t like reading zombie books.  This book however, was SO much more than your typical “zombies attack” story. This book was about the main character, Hank Walker, and his journey to survive.  It’s not just about a bunch of zombies eating people. This story is well written, with just the right amount of detail.  The story has emotions, in the characters and emotions that you yourself will feel.  I also like that there are actual towns mentioned in the book that are familiar to residents of South Carolina.  It’s easy to feel like you are there, in the town with Hank.  For me, Dredging Up Memories was a book that once I started reading, I didn’t want to stop.  I just had to know what was going to happen next.  For me, I despise reading a book all the way through just to finish with a terrible ending.  I know books don’t always have the ending that we want, but it still needs to finish well.  This book I’m happy to say has a complete ending.  I won’t spoil it for you and say it was happy or sad, just complete and well finished, and I’m happy with that.  I like that this story can be a stand alone book, but I’m excited that A.J. is planning to continue Hank Walkers journey.  I definitely look forward to reading more works by the incredible author A.J. Brown.

The second one:

This book is an immersive experience. There is plenty of action, but it really puts you into the mind of a survivor. It goes heavily into the headspace and emotions of navigating a world decimated by monsters.

Those are just two of the reviews that have been written for Dredging Up Memories.

The World Smelled CleanHere is something else: Humphrey.

Who is Humphrey? Well, he is a teddy bear dressed in a bunny pajama outfit. Yes, he is a stuffed toy, but he plays a huge part in this story. How can you not want to find out how a stuffed bear becomes a central figure in a zombie apocalypse story?

So, are you interested in reading it yet? I hope so. I believe you will not be disappointed.

Come on. You know you want it. Go get Dredging Up Memories here.

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

A Piece of the Audience…err…Pie

Back in 2007 Stephen King wrote an article for the New York Times called, ‘What Ails the Short Story.’  I think it was a small way to promote “The Best American Short Stories 2007,” in which Mr. King edited.  Aside from that, it is an article I read several times a year when I need to be reminded why I write mostly short stories instead of focusing on novels, like so many other writers.  It also makes me wonder, ‘why do I write short stories again?’

After reading the article, there are things I take from it each time, and usually they are the same things.  Occasionally, I find a little nugget I may have missed the last half dozen times I read the piece. 

The biggest thing that stands out to me (and which is the one thing I get from it each and every time I read it) is the readership of short stories is dwindling.  And all us writers and wanna-be writers have to compete for those readers.  It’s not just the case of getting a reader’s attention.  It’s also a case of getting the editors and publishers to take notice, which is as hard as getting readers.

With that in mind, a lot of writers tend to write for editors and publishers, not for themselves, and certainly not for the readers they seek.  This is where we, the writers, tend to lose the most readers.  When we stop writing for them, then we may as well stop writing altogether. 

As a writer who scours the Internet looking for places to submit my work to, I often find some of the craziest submission calls.  Zombie Cheerleaders in Death Cheer.  Radioactive hair follicles.  What happens when a werewolf falls in love with a zombie?  Find out in Love Bites.  Honestly, these are not stories that I think a lot of readers would care for.  I certainly have no desires to read these things.  Or to write them.

I have, on many occasions, written stories geared toward the call for submissions.  I have, on many occasions, had those stories rejected.  Hmmm…so, now I have a bunch of stories based on some pig demon who likes girls who wear bacon undergarments (and other various oddities a well) and no home for them.  This is the danger of writing a story directed at a theme oriented publication.  Not only that, you are not writing for the reader.  You are writing for the editor and the publisher, and their opinions are subjective at best.  Most of them choose what they like to read, not necessarily what the every day, average Jane or Joe likes. 

Personally, I think that is a mistake.  I have a whole digital library of stories I have written for publications that have no homes, stories I wrote for specific themes that were rejected for one reason or other.  I didn’t write any of them for me or for the readers out there.  Sadly, that is the truth.  The results of writing for editors and publishers have lead to maybe five publications.  Probably less.

I haven’t written a story directed toward a specific publication in several years, and I don’t plan on doing it again.

How passionate can you be if you are trying to write a story for a publication just because you want to get in that publication?  Think about it?  Honestly, the stories I wrote for theme based publications lacked real emotion, real characters.  It lacked reality.  The stories out and out sucked. 

Passion.  Believability.  Realistic characters and emotions.  Yup, a lot of stories—short and long—are missing these traits.  I think that is why I don’t care much for many novels.  If those traits I mentioned are missing, then why would I want to read a 500 page story when I would barely be able to make it through ten pages?

And what about our audiences?  King states—correctly so—that a lot of the reading audience of the short story magazines and websites are other writers trying to figure out what the publication is looking for.  Of course it is.  That’s what these publications tell us to do.  Read a couple of issues of our mag before you submit to us.  The problem is not a ton of actual readers are reading this stuff these days. 

So, not only are the readers not reading short stories, but a chunk of those who are reading are writers who are competing for the same few spots with the rest of us.  That means the audience is even smaller than we thought.

This is crazy.

Where have all the readers gone?

Let me see if I can figure this out.  The readers haven’t gone anywhere.  They just turned their attention to other things.  Why?  Well, we are a society that is all about being entertained now—right now—and we’re not very patient.  A lot of writers no longer develop stories because, quite frankly, if the story doesn’t grab us by the end of the first page, we feel like we are wasting our time.  A lot of folks don’t get passed the first few paragraphs. 

Answer this question:

Why would I, a reader, want to read your work?  What sets it apart from everything else out there?  (Okay, so that was two questions.  I can count.  Really…I can.)

It has taken me a LONG time to figure this out.  Why would anyone want to read anything I have ever written?  What makes my work different than everyone else’s?  Maybe nothing, but maybe…maybe something. 

Are you ready for this?

I care.

Yup.  That’s my answer to why you should read my work.

I care. 

I care about the readers’ time.  I care about wasting that time—something I hope no reader ever feels they have done after reading something I have written.

Do I care about making money?  I’d be lying if I said I don’t. 

But what I care about the most is writing good stories.  What I care about are the readers enjoying those stories. 

I’ve often said without readers, a writer is nothing.  I believe that whole-heartedly.  Writers are only as good as the readers make them.  Sure, we can write something great, but if no one reads it then no one knows just how great it is.  But—yes, there is always a but—if one person reads it and likes it, the chances of them telling someone else increases.  And what if that someone likes the story?  Yeah, those chances of word of mouth marketing increase again and again and again. 

That does not happen if you waste the readers’ time. 

Care about your work, people.  Care about the characters you create, the situations you put them in, and the resolutions of those situations.  Care about your readers.  If you care about them, then, over time, they will care about your work.  That is one way to get a little piece of that fading audience of short story readers. 

Try and set yourselves apart—give the readers a reason to like your work, and in turn, like you.  Our audience is dwindling.  We need to give them a reason to keep reading. 

I’m still working on it, but I’m on my way. 

Until we meet again, my friends…