Have You Always Wanted To Write?

Hello out there.

Welcome to another question and answer video. We received a lot of great questions for this and I’ve tried not to be boring. I’m starting to get my legs under me as far as being in front of a camera is concerned. So, thank you for bearing with us.

This video was taken in front of Brookland Cayce High School. This is where both Cate and I graduated. At the very beginning of this video, I was clearly being a goofball. However, it was because of Cate. Just a minute earlier, she messed up the introduction, calling me Jeff instead of A.J. (For those of you keeping score at home, my initials are A.J., but most of the non writing, non publishing, non reading world know me as Jeff.) She had done a marvelous introduction then out came ‘Jeff.’ Her reaction was hilarious, and no, I will not sully her reputation with telling y’all what was said.

Onto the next question, which is from Trish Cline. She asked a question I’ve received before, but she asked it in a different way:

“I know writing is a big part of your life. Have you always wanted to write? Did you make up stories as a child and develop them into full length books?”

Here is my response:

Wait, before you leave, don’t forget about my newest novel, My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert. We’ve all had to do that new school year report on what we did during the summer. I used to hate them. I’m sure some of y’all did, too. But did you ever spend your summer vacation in a boys institution? Check out the synopsis below.

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?

Doesn’t that sound like an awesome read? If so, please consider purchasing a print copy directly from me. Yes, it is on Amazon, but Amazon isn’t exactly author friendly, but that is a story for another day.

If you would like a copy of My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert, click on the purchase button below and don’t forget to leave your information so we can get it shipped to you. We’ll try to accommodate international orders as well, but that depends on the cost of shipping. I hate to say that, but shipping to international countries can be expensive sometimes.

Thank you for coming by for the video and promotion. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

My Summer Vacatrion by Jimmy Lambert

This is A.J. Brown's newest novel. Price includes shipping within the United States.

$15.00

I’m Not That Important

If you’re a writer, I want you to say something for me. You may not want to say it, but I want you to. Okay? Will you say it? I’m trusting you to do this for me. It is important.

Are you ready?

Are you sure?

Okay, say this:

“I am not important.”

How many of you saw that line and refused to say it? How many of you said, “I’m important” instead of those four words I asked you to say? 

So, let’s try this again.

Are you ready?

Go:

“I am not important.”

Come on. Really? There is a point to this. It’s not to make you feel lesser as a person. It’s about ego. 

I am a writer. I am a damn good writer. But I’m not important in the grand scheme of writing. 

You see, writing is only part of the equation. Being the writer, you are the vessel for words. You are the creator of sentences. You are the artist whose vision is the story. But you are not important. 

“If I’m not important, then who or what is?”

What’s important? Well, that’s simple. The story. 

Let me explain before everyone gets all bent out of shape with me.

47772c5da4e7eb8cd5204da5ae580bccYou can be the best writer in the history of writing, but if you can’t tell a good story, being a good writer means nothing. As a writer, you should take pride in penning a great story, but you have to be careful of making the story secondary to you. Yes, you wrote it. Yes, it’s great, but put that ego aside when talking about it. Because, well, it’s not about the writer, it’s about the story. But we make it about us, us, us. It’s like we’re all a bunch of Daffy Ducks running around going, “Mine! Mine! Mine!”

“I wrote this book. I had this idea. I created these characters. I connected this dot to that one and this is the result. I am great. This book is mine, mine, mine! Buy my book.”

Many writers have massive egos and they make everything about themselves, not about the stories they write. Sure, we need them to write their stories, because without them, we don’t have those stories. But hearing an author talk about how great he or she is, is a major turnoff for me. 

You penned the next great novel, but while you were penning it, did you know it was the next great novel? Did you know it would sell so well it shot up the New York Times and USA Today Best Seller Lists? Did you have any clue someone might read it and want to turn it into a movie? Sure, you might have hoped for these things, but did you know the story was destined for greatness? I doubt it. 

Great writers don’t always write great stories. However, a great story can make a writer great overnight, even if that writer never puts out another story. A writer doesn’t make a story great, but a story sure can make a writer popular. 

I feel like, as authors, we get in the way far too often, and we make this business about us, about all the great words we have written. What we fail to do so often is talk about the actual story. No, I don’t mean we don’t talk about the book. We do that in every promotional meme or flyer or social media post we put out there. It’s a buy, buy, buy my book world and we talk about that—about buying the book—more than we ever talk about the actual story that is the book.

There is a difference between promoting your book and talking about the story. 

Promoting a book usually talks a little about the book in a manner to entice you to buy it. Counting The Days Summer VacationOn social media, it usually involves a meme of an image that is directly related to the story and usually a quote from the book or the synopsis from it. The image here is a promotional for My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert. It comes complete with an image, a blurb from the book, the title and who it is by and a coming soon tag. It’s purely promotional and is not meant to be about the actual book, but about selling the book. It’s about catching your eye in hopes of you finding it appealing enough to, at least, make you think about the book, because if you’re thinking about it, the chance of you buying it increases. It doesn’t necessarily mean you will buy the book right away, but it is there, in your mind, even if deep within the recesses of it.  

Now, let me tell you about this story. I love the storyline that follows Jimmy Lambert from young kid with his entire summer in front of him, to a beaten and battered and broken child who survives a horrifying series of events. So many bad things happen to Jimmy, and I wasn’t really sure how he would bounce back from them. I mean, was it too much? Did these events do irreparable harm to him, both mentally and physically. I cringed in Chapter 18 when something happened out of desperation—something I don’t think I could ever do. This story, it has a touch of so many realistic elements, from bullying, to friendship, to the horrors of being wrongly accused of something, to being placed in a criminal youth facility, to revenge, to sorrow and guilt, to a touch of love and hope. It’s heart wrenching at points. 

When you consider Jimmy is twelve in this story, he’s not very big and he’s kind of a wimp, all the things that happen from beginning to end, I could only shake my head and think, ‘how is he going to survive this? Is he going to survive this?’

That’s talking about your story. It’s not selling it. It’s talking about it with a passion for people to know the story is emotionally charged. It’s not saying, hey, buy my book. It’s saying, hey, this is a great story, a story I love. The book is just how it is presented. And that’s really what a book is, isn’t it? A presentation in words. Kind of like a movie is a presentation in moving pictures, and a song is a presentation of music and words.

As a writer, you should want to tell people about your story. You know that story better than anyone else. You know the characters and the settings and all the events that take place within it better than anyone else. Why not talk about the story? By talking about the story, we show potential readers how passionate we are about the story. 

It’s not about selling. It’s about that passion the story brings us. It’s all about the story. Not the book. Not the writer. The story is what matters. The story is important. The writer may be important in one way, but in the end, it is always about the story. Always.

Now, can you say it with me?

“I’m not that important.”

Now add this: “But the story is.”

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

A.J.

 

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. 

From Somewhere

For those who don’t know me, I’m a funny guy, as in funny ha ha. I like to tell jokes and I say quite a few inappropriate things at inappropriate times but draw laughs while doing so. There have been folks who have said I should have gone into comedy instead of writing, or that I should write comedy. When it comes to writing, the hardest two things to do (in my opinion) are to scare people and make people laugh. I prefer scaring people.

However, I love comedy—good comedy, and I don’t feel there is enough of it out there. One of my favorite standup comedians is Gabriel Iglesias, better known as Fluffy. If you’ve never seen Fluffy, look him up on Youtube and you’ll find a large sample size of his work. Netflix recently released a special titled, One Size Fits All, filmed in Houston, Texas. I watched this special recently and laughed—a lot.

Near the end of the special, Iglesias made a statement that made me pause the show. He was talking about the beginning of his career twenty years earlier when he said: “Everything comes from somewhere.”

That may not seem groundbreaking, but then he went into the beginning of his career, where he got his start. According to Fluffy, it was in this couple’s garage and then at a little club in California. The couple attended many of his shows, bringing friends with them. They were important to him—so important he flew the couple to Houston so they could attend the taping of the special. 

Though Fluffy used the term ‘comes from somewhere’ when referring to where he got his start, I believe he meant, everything has a beginning, or everything starts somewhere, or possibly, everyone comes from somewhere. 

As a writer, I remember very clearly the first story I wrote, where the idea came from and how I felt when I finished writing it. Here is my beginning:

Early in 1993 I began having a nightmare that repeated itself almost nightly for months. The first time I had the nightmare, I woke with the typical heart thumping, out of breath feeling of an especially bad dream. I remember not wanting to go back to sleep after I woke because I thought I would have the nightmare again. I eventually dozed and slept the remainder of the night with no issues. The next night the dream returned, followed by the one after that and so on. 

For several months, I had the nightmare and got to where I would go to bed later and later, hoping I would be so tired I wouldn’t dream at all. No dreams meant no nightmares. It didn’t work.

One day someone asked me why I looked exhausted. I explained the nightmare. She told me that next time I should write the nightmare down after I have it. Supposedly, on advice from his physician, a famous writer did that after having a recurring nightmare. The story goes that the writer had the nightmare soon after visiting the doctor and then sat and wrote the original draft. Long story short: the author supposedly never had the nightmare again. 

Chuckie Manuscript.jpgWith that in mind, that night I placed a notepad and pen by the bed. When I woke after having the nightmare again, I grabbed the pad and pen and spent the next several hours hand writing what I could recall. By the time I was done, I felt as if I had exorcised a demon. Who knows? I might have.

Though I’ve never been a great sleeper, I laid down and slept through the rest of the night and then slept well the next one also. 

A few days later, I sat at a computer and typed out the first short story I ever wrote outside of school. I titled it, Chuckie. When I was finished, I read over the story. I thought it was good. What did I know? 

But there was so much more to it than just thinking it was good. I enjoyed telling the story, creating the two main characters, Chuckie and Alex. I thoroughly enjoyed the cheesiness of it—it had the distinctive bad humor feel of A Nightmare on Elm Street. I found that for the first time in my life, I had enjoyed writing something. The writing bug had bitten me and it itched. I had to scratch it and scratch it and scratch it. 

I’m still scratching it.

I hand wrote Chuckie in June of 1993. I typed it a couple of days later. Since then, I’ve written over one thousand stories. No, you did not read that wrong. In fact, I’ve written 1060 stories. Honestly, I thought that number would be higher—it feels like it should have been. 

Let’s go back to Fluffy for a minute. “Everything starts from somewhere.” He is right. I began writing in 1993 while sitting in my bed on a hot June night. That’s the where and the when.

Two things before I finish. First, Chuckie is a bad story. It’s cheesy and poorly written. It’s lame and the action is typical horror movie action. Second, I warn you now: I am posting Chuckie at the end of this blog. Read it at your own risk. It is completely unedited and raw and … bad. Do you understand what I’m saying here? The first story I ever wrote is MASSIVELY BAD. You’ve been warned.

The point to this post? Everyone starts somewhere. Often, those starts result in an accomplishment that isn’t too great, but it is still an accomplishment, and that can lead to other accomplishments of much more significance. I hope my start, which was bad, led to something better you have come to love.

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

A.J.

Okay, last chance. You can turn back now, click that X in the corner and move along as if this post is over. Don’t blame me if you read the utter dreck that follows this sentence.

CHUCKIE

(completely unedited)

By A.J. Brown

A good night’s rest is all Chuckie Benson wanted.  Lately, though, it seems he can’t get a decent hour’s rest without dreaming about someone; someone who has been dead for seventeen years.  

Lightening flashes suddenly outside, interrupting the stillness of the night.  A loud clap of thunder follows quickly, shaking him from his troubled sleep.  As he sits up bolt right in his bed Chuckie screams.  

“Another nightmare,” he tells himself, “Just another nightmare.” 

The storm outside is a violent one.  The wind bending trees and snapping power lines to the ground.  The rain, coming down in the same direction the wind is blowing, is mixed with hail stones the size of golf balls.  The sky is pitch black with no sign of stars or the moon.  Bolts of lightening streak from the sky followed by the explosive sound of thunder.

Ring. . . ring. . . Chuckie jumps at the sound of the telephone ringing.  Standing up, he answers it quickly.  

“Hello.  Hello, is anybody there?”

“Remember me Chuckie boy?” came a cold and almost sarcastic sounding voice from the other end.  “Come on Chuckie boy, you’ve gotta remember me.”  

Chuckie sat on the edge of the bed, his tan complexion turning white.  He breaks out into a cold sweat, and his mouth begins to feel dry.  He hasn’t heard that voice in seventeen years. 

“Who. . . who is . . . is this?”

“Ah. . . Come on Punkin, you know who I am, or has the last seventeen years made you forget?”  

Chuckie tried to keep from screaming from the fear that was overcoming him.  He put one hand over his mouth, and his eyes grew large as tears swelled up in them.  He tried to muster up the courage to speak but could only manage a few slight whimpers.

“What’s wrong Chuckie, cat got your tongue?  You know what tonight is don’t you Chuckie boy?” the voice was growing meaner with every word.  “Look out the window, Chuckie boy, I’m coming to get yah.  This time I’m taking you with me.”  

“Alex!  Alex, wait!  What is tonight?  Alex?  Alex?” Chuckie cried as the receiver went dead.  He stood up in a panicked hurry, dropping the receiver to the floor.  Quickly he ran to the window of his apartment.  The complex overlooked the J.C. Recreational Center in which there were half a dozen phones by the building.  Pulling the curtains back, Chuckie looked down toward the phones, only to see all six of them on fire, and what looked like a person trying to get out of one of them.

Chuckie hurried to put on a pair of socks, and blue jeans.  He stepped into his slippers, ran out the door and down the eight flights of stairs to the lobby.  He ran out the main doors and out into the storm, which had calmed down to a steady rain.  Chuckie stared at the phone booths by the recreational building.

“It’s impossible!  They can’t be on fire, it’s pouring out here.” he says aloud.  The man in the phone booth was slouching in the cramped area.  He was no longer trying to get out.  Chuckie picked up a rock by the road and threw it at the phone booth, shattering the hot glass.  Pulling off the shirt he had slept in, Chuckie ran to the phone booth, and grabbed for the man, pulling him out and away from the fire.  He patted the man down with his shirt to distinguish the fire, and hopefully save the man’s life.  

“He’s dead.  Damn it, he’s dead!” Chuckie yelled in an agonizing voice.  

“Run, boy.  He’s coming to get you.” the man surged upward as he spoke in a haggard voice, grabbing Chuckie’s arm with his burnt hands.  Chuckie tried to get free, but the man’s grip was too strong.  “Run Chuckie, run.  He’s coming back.  He’s. . . coming back.”  The man’s grip loosens as he lays backwards, dead, on the concrete, his eyes still wide open.  As Chuckie went to close the man’s eyes he sees a face in them.  It’s the face of another man; it’s Alex’s face.  

As he ran back to his apartment the storm began to pick up again.  The winds were getting stronger, the rain fell harder, and the lightening seemed to touch ground with each flash.  

Chuckie remembers Alex Morrison.  Alex was known in town as a trouble maker.  He had been arrested several times for beating up the old folks in town and then setting them on fire, but since his father was the town sheriff, Alex always managed to get off with a probation of some sort.  He was a mean kid with an evil smile who liked to hurt those weaker than him.  He once bragged that they probably wouldn’t let him into Hell because he was too mean. 

Alex was nineteen when he died.  Chuckie was eleven.  Alex had tried to rob the Benson’s house one night, while they were away.  He didn’t expect them to come back while he was still there.  Mr. Benson confronted Alex.  Alex pulled out a gun and shot both of Chuckie’s parents.  He then looked at Chuckie with an evil grin.

“Go ahead, Punkin, I’ll give you a fair chance to run.”  Alex had said.  

Chuckie ran around the staircase and hid in a hide-away closet.  Trying not to cry he listened and hoped Alex would leave.  

“Come out Chuckie boy.  I got a surprise for yah.”  Alex had laughed.   Alex laid the gun down on the staircase as he went over to the back window.  “Well, if you won’t come out, I guess I’ll have to flush you out.”    

From the hide-away by the staircase Chuckie could see Alex walking away, without the gun in his hand.  He looked around and saw the gun sitting on a step on the staircase.  Running from his hiding spot Chuckie grabbed the gun and ran back to the hide-away.

“Hey Chuckie boy, you know what we’re having for dinner?  We’re having roast beef!”  Alex yelled as he set fire to the back room curtains.  He turned to get the gun and Chuckie was waiting for him.  He sprang from his hiding place with the gun pointed at

Alex.  Bam!! Bam!!  Two bullets plunged deep into Alex’s chest and he hit the floor.  Chuckie dropped the gun and ran out the house.

Alex struggled to stand up.  He kept yelling at Chuckie to come back and help him.  Alex never made it out of the house before it was engulfed in flames.

The whole town mourned the death’s of Bill and Maria Benson at their funerals, but no one appeared at Alex’s funeral, not even his father. Thunder snapped Chuckie out of the past and back to the present.  He went to the bathroom and started to wash his face in the sink.  “This is to unreal.”  he whispered to himself. 

Glancing up into the mirror Chuckie was faced with the gruesome sight of Alex’s face staring back at him.  

“Don’t put the coffee on, Chuckie, we’re not staying!!” boomed the evil reflection in the mirror.  

“Ahhhh!”  Chuckie yelled as he stumbled backwards out of the bathroom and into the hallway.  He grabbed his keys and ran out the door slamming it behind him.  

Chuckie was panic stricken as he cranked up the car.  “The cemetery.  His body is in the cemetery.  I’ll find his tombstone and prove he’s dead.”  He proceeded to drive to the Greenlawn Cemetery with the eerie feeling of someone watching him.  As he approached the graveyard, he looked into the rear view mirror; Alex was in the back seat.  Chuckie swerved off the road, crashed through a gate, and into the cemetery, where he came to a stop at a grave that had been recently dug.

Chuckie scrambled to get out of the car, falling forward as he opened the door and landing in front of the tomb stone that was in front of the newly dug grave.  Looking up, Alex was standing in front of him.  

“Take a look Punkin; look at the tombstone, it’s yours.”  Alex sneered with an evil laugh.

Chuckie looked around.  The cemetery was dark and there were no lights to be seen.  Haunting trees overhung throughout the graveyard.  The night was pitch black and the storm had ceased.  The ground was wet and muddy from the rain, and there was a very distinct odor in the air.  

Chuckie mumbled under his breath “What’s that smell?”

“That’s me. . . ” Alex said “We don’t have deodorant in Hell, Chuckie!”  Alex’s tone of voice was now sadistic, and very evil sounding, and his laugh was as cold as any Chuckie had ever heard.  “Now look at the damn tombstone!”  Alex yelled angrily.

Chuckie slowly stood and turned toward the grave site while watching Alex.  Looking down he read the tombstone, and then fell to his knees again.  “Charles Alen Benson.  Born February eighth,1963; Died September 13, 1991.”  Tears streamed from his eyes, as he looked at the tombstone then at Alex.

“Ah, you’re not going soft on me, are you Chuckie?”  Alex sneered.

“But you’re dead.” he cried as he stood up.  “You’ve been dead for seventeen years.  I can prove. . .”

“I know you can prove it!” Alex interrupted.  “All you have to do is find my grave, right?  Well, go ahead and look for it. It won’t be hard to find, Chuckie–it’s the one on fire.”  Alex was yelling and pointing toward the south side of the grave yard.  “You know what’s over there, don’t you, Chuckie?  That’s where they bury the people like me.  On the Darkside, Chuckie.  Nobody goes over there, not even the dead.  I’m the only one over there, nobody else!  I’ve been there for seventeen years, rotting away, while you’ve been enjoying your life, Chuckie!  You’ve never even come to visit me.  Go ahead, prove to me that I’m not really here.”

Chuckie slowly walked to the grave that Alex had pointed to. The grave was on fire, just as Alex said it was.  Chuckie shielded his eyes as he got close enough to the tombstone to read it without getting burned.  The tombstone stated:  “Alex Vann

Morrison, August 22, 1955 to September 13, 1974.”  

“You’re. . . ” Chuckie started.

“DEAD!”  Alex finished.

Chuckie looked at Alex and for the first time that night he saw exactly what Alex looked like.  Alex was, indeed, dead.  What was left of Alex’s skin was charred a deep black and flaking somewhat.  The right side of his face was completely void of skin while the left side had patches of skin left on it.  He was missing his right eye, and his left eye was of a deep purple color.  He had no nose and no ears, little patches of hair on his

head stood out like a sore thumb, apparently most of it had been burned off in the fire.  His clothes were burnt but still intact, and his shirt had two holes in it, and what looked like dried blood.  There was a lot of decaying flesh still left on his body, with the exception of his hands and forearms, which were all bone.  The glow of the flames off of the grave made Alex look even more horrifying as he moved toward Chuckie.

“What’s wrong Chuckie, don’t you like my rugged good looks?” 

Chuckie stared at Alex in disbelief, as tears streamed from his eyes.

“It’s time, Chuckie.  It’s time to go home.”  Alex sneered as he moved closer.

“Please stay back.  Leave me alone.”  Chuckie pleaded as he backed away from the tomb.

“You still don’t know what tonight is do you?” Alex said in a childish voice.  “It’s the seventeenth anniversary of my death, Chuckie, and now you’re going to join me.  Tonight, Charles Benson, you shall join me in Hell!”

Chuckie started to run, trying to get away from Alex.  

“You can run, but you can’t hide Chuckie.”  Alex was laughing vehemently now.

Chuckie ran out of the cemetery and toward town.  He ran for what seemed like forever.  Finally, he stopped on the Dunbar Street Bridge, which leads back into town, and looked around to see if he could see Alex anywhere.  

“I must have lost him.” he said with a sigh of relief as he looked back toward the cemetery.  “No, he’s here somewhere. . . I gotta keep running. . . get some help.”

As Chuckie turned to head back toward town, there stood Alex.  Alex was on fire from head to toe.  Swiftly he grabbed Chuckie by the neck and hoisted him off of his feet.  

“Last time you saw me I was on fire, Chuckie!  It gave me a hell of a heart burn!”  Alex yelled as he held Chuckie in the air, his grip on Chuckie’s throat tightening, the fingers sinking into the flesh drawing droplets of blood.  Chuckie pried at Alex’s hands, trying to break the grip somehow, so he could breath.  The flames from Alex’s body were burning against Chuckie’s clothes and skin.  Chuckie’s eyes were growing wider as he felt faint.  “Say ‘Good night’ Chuckie, it’s time to go to sleep.”  Alex said as he tightened his grasp on Chuckie’s throat, sinking his long bony fingers deep into his flesh, and snapping Chuckie’s neck, drawing a flow of blood.  Chuckie stopped struggling and his body went limp and his hands fell to his side.  Alex stood and laughed as he held Chuckie’s lifeless body by the throat, blood running down his bony arm.

“I’m sorry to be such a pain in the neck, Chuckie, but I really must be going.”  Alex said as he threw Chuckie’s limp body over the edge of the bridge, then turned and walked off in to the night.  

The storm had picked back up and was worse than before. Lightening flashed and hit trees, splitting them in half.  Thunder boomed as if it was a bomb explosion going off.  

“Noooo!!”  Chuckie yelled as he sat up in bed, sweat pouring off of him.  It was eight thirty and the alarm on his clock was ringing; it was Saturday, September 13, and time to get up. Chuckie got out of his sweat soaked bed.  

“Another nightmare. . . it seemed so real.”  he said to himself breathlessly.  

Chuckie took a long shower to relax.  He looked in the mirror, still shaking his head and trying to figure out why the nightmare had been so real.  

Knock. . . knock. . . knock. . . knock. . . knock.

Chuckie jumped at the sound of the door; “That must be Jessica, she’s early.”  he thought to himself.  He finished drying off and rapped the towel around his waist as the knocking grew more insistent.

“Hold your horses, I’m coming.” Chuckie yelled as he opened the door.  

“Remember me, Chuckie boy?”

AJB

June 29, 1993

The Obligation of Words (and the Symbolism of Typewriters)

So often I feel like writing is a waste of time for me. I do it every day, sometimes very late at night when I can’t sleep or early in the morning when everyone is still in bed. Most days when I sit to write, it feels like an obligation, like something I am required to do—like homework when I was in school. To who am I obligated? To the readers? To the fictional voices in my head who love my work? To the characters, themselves, who wish to have their stories told? To myself?

Maybe it is none of those things. Maybe I am obligated to the words, or to nothing at all. Still, writing often feels like an obligation for me. And I don’t know why.

392550_412747505422764_855367895_nWith that obligation comes the feeling that I am an ancient typewriter, one that is missing all the vowel keys, and with every word I type, I have to go in and hand write in all the missing A’s, E’s, I’s, O’s, and U’s (and sometimes Y’s—let’s not forget the Y’s). The feeling is the keys are sticking and each time the type bar goes up, it does so slower than it should and it strikes the platen weakly, leaving only a faint gray letter on the paper.

It is during those times that writing can be a struggle. The words don’t come out right. The sentences sound off or awkward or just plain weird. That is when the same word gets used over and over and when an hour can pass with only 32 words having been written—do the math, that is one word for almost every two minutes. Though it is a struggle, I continue to write on. After all, bad writing is better than no writing (because, you know, at least I’m writing).

Yes, that is the obligation speaking. Any writing is better than no writing, even if the words I pen are mere shadows of stories I’ve written in the past.

Still, I don’t know what the obligation is or where it came from or why I feel so strongly about it.

Here is a truth as I know it: If I’m not writing, I feel like I am wasting my time. It is a damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation. Again, that obligation to put words to paper or on the screen comes heavily into play. It’s a constant battle of what I should be doing other than writing, and what I should be writing. Here is an example to illustrate things a little better:

I have several books written, but they need to be edited. Editing is not writing. It is part of the process of putting a book out, but it is not the actual act of writing. It needs to be done, but when I am editing, the voices in my head are yelling at me, YOU SHOULD BE WRITING! Unfortunately for me, when the voices start bickering, I can’t cover my ears and walk away. It’s impossible to get away from yourself and what is in your head.

But then when I am writing, some of the other voices (and in many cases, the same ones who bickered at me for not writing) yell, YOU SHOULD BE EDITING THIS STORY! IT’S NOT GOING TO EDIT ITSELF!

AHHHHHHHH!!!!

You see, I can’t win at this, but there is this obligation, this overwhelming feeling that I need to write. And maybe that is the problem. The need to write is so strong, it is almost an obsession. Or maybe it is an obsession.

I’m ripe with things to say. 

The words rot and fall away.

—Blink 182

Stay Together for the Kids

rusty-typewriterThose are powerful lyrics to a powerful song. Those lyrics, quite often, are how I feel when I wake in the morning or before I go to bed. I have all these words spinning around up in my head. They are alive and hungry and waiting for me to send them out through my fingertips. If I don’t write them down they will die and decay and be lost to me forever. It’s like losing thousands of friends a day. Most of them might not be all that close and might just be acquaintances, but some of them … some of them are like extensions of my family, parts of me that I love and cherish and … dammit, I don’t want to lose them all!

At this point it is easy to say, ‘hey, you’re losing it, bro.’ Maybe so. It’s also easy to say, ‘you are your obligation.’ Again, maybe so. Probably so.

I honestly think the obligation is tied to fear. Fear is a horrible feeling. Fear of losing a loved one, a job or getting hurt by someone or killed or whatever. Maybe your fear is of picking up kitty cats. Hey, it could be a real thing. Don’t judge! The fear is something so simple, so easy to see and dismiss, but so real: what if I take a break from writing—a week, two tops—and when I return to it, I won’t be able to write?

Sounds crazy, I know, but I think that is the problem I have when it comes to writing. I have tried to take breaks from time to time. The longest such break in the last couple of years has been four days. At the end of that four days, I had the hardest time sitting down and putting two words together, much less two hundred or two thousand. My fingers itched to put anything on the screen. When that didn’t work, I pulled out a notepad and pen and dated the top of the page (as I always do), but nothing came out. Nothing came out.

I forced myself to write on a story I knew I would never finish, but I still wrote some words—all of about three hundred of them. They sucked. We’re talking being stuck in a sewage drain up to your chest and you just dropped your phone and you need to retrieve it in order to save yourself suckage. It took another three days before I felt really comfortable with the words I wrote. That was after just four days of not writing.

I thought my head would explode from the frustration. Obligation fueled by fear.

But there is another fear that goes with it. It is something I was concerned with when I stopped putting The Brown Bags out in print form: if readers don’t see my words, they lose interest in me. If I don’t market, readers lose interest in me. If I am not constantly out there, readers lose interest in me. It’s just reality. Out of sight, out of mind. Obligation is still there.

Then there is this happy little contradiction: sometimes my mind screams in all of its many voices, WHAT ARE YOU WRITING FOR WHEN NO ONE IS READING YOUR WORDS? 

Okay, I may be able to count on both hands and maybe one of someone else’s hands, how many fans I really have out there, but there are still folks reading my words. It is hard to know who the fans are or if folks are reading your work. I can honestly say that these (non-writer) folks follow my work regularly: Joan Macleod and Mary Cooper and Frank Knox and Greg Crump. I didn’t count my wife in there, but with her and possibly my brother-in-law, Stephen, that puts my straight up, legit fan base at six people. (If you are a straight up, legit fan and I am not aware of this, drop me a note in the comments, just don’t throw a brick at my head. The brick will break and I will not get the hint.)

But what if I never had work published? Would I still feel this way? Would I still feel the obligation to write. I think so, but maybe it would be directed somewhere else. When I was a kid I had a need to constantly play or practice at basketball. As I got older, I began to draw and I had the need to constantly put a pencil to paper. But that was different. I didn’t feel I absolutely had to do those things. I didn’t feel that if I didn’t shoot five hundred free throws in a day I would forget how to do it, or if I didn’t draw a picture every day I would forget how to. I didn’t feel obligated to do it. And when I thought about quitting those things, they didn’t scare me.

With the exception of the last paragraph, I feel a lot of writers—probably far more than will admit—have the same issues. They have that obligation.  They have that need to write, that fear of not only not being able to write, but of failure, driving them to do so every day. They have a desire to be read, to know they are being read, and to know that  what they are writing is reaching people. They stress over writing time and having enough work out there. They stress over editing and marketing and putting themselves out there. Many of them also feel it is a waste of time, and quite a few of those folks quit all together.

Writers rarely reach superstar celebrity status like rock stars or movie stars do. Sure, we have Stephen King and James Patterson and J.K. Rowling, but the majority of writers (and I’m talking a fictional percentage such as 98%) don’t ever reach half of that climb to the top of Mt. Success.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if writers were treated like rock stars when it comes to our fan base? We could release a single (short story) and then another later on, and by George, if you like them, go get the entire collection at your favorite brick and mortar store or online. You could tell your friends how awesome the writer is that you are reading. I find this interesting: we listen to songs over and over, trying to learn all the lyrics (including those pesky background lyrics that are so hard to decipher sometimes) and we try to learn how to sing them and even play them, again, over and over. But when it comes to a story, we read it once and put it down. ‘I know how the story is going to end now.’ Yes, this is true, but don’t we know how the song is going to end, too?

I apologize for going slightly off the beaten path here. The point to that last part is writers don’t often reach very high heights. That can be frustrating, as well.

Musicwriter June 5 2014 031Still, there is obligation. As real or in our heads as it may be, writers, authors, storytellers, struggle with this obligation. Whether it is to the readers or themselves or some other weird issue, it is there. It is immense pressure, especially when the writers don’t know anyone is reading their words, when they feel like a rundown typewriter in a field, the letters of each type bar fading, fading, faded.

I know only a handful of people will read this, and I’m okay with that. But for you handful, this is what you can do: turn your favorite authors into rock stars. Talk about them the way you would your favorite television show or actor/actress or band. Buy their books, but don’t stop there. Actually read them. Still, don’t stop there. Leave a book review on Amazon or on a blog or Goodreads (or all of them). Look them up, contact them and say, ‘hey, you did good.’ Find them on social media and follow them (but not in that stalkerish kind of way). Tell your friends about them with the same enthusiasm you have about Grey’s Anatomy, The Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones. And, no, that is not an obligation you have.

Now, to close this longer than usual post. For me, the obligation comes, not only from fear, but from chasing a dream. I’ve been chasing the rabbit down the hole of words for a lot longer than I realized until recently (I started writing in 1993). That’s a long time to see only a tiny bit of that dream become reality. Still, I’m obligated, and that rabbit hole seems to be getting smaller while the obligation seems to be getting larger.

Do you want to know why the typewriter is so beat up now? The typewriter is really symbolic. It is our hearts and our souls and our struggles. It is our doubts and confidence, our dreams and our reality, and they aren’t meant to go through rabbit holes.

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

A.J.

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.

 

 

A Moment of Silent Reflection

This morning I got up early, grabbed a cup of coffee and headed out the house. I made my way down to a baseball park behind the middle school. On my days off I usually drive there and I park in the same spot and I get out and walk my dog. We do three laps and head home. It’s always so serene and beautiful. With it being spring, the morning was still somewhat cool and there was a slight breeze blowing in.

Today, I didn’t get out of the car. Not right away, at least. I sat there, staring out the window at the world just outside. There was only one other person there, a black woman walking the track around the park. I watched her go until she was out of sight. I don’t know about other folks, but I always take a notepad with me when I go somewhere. Being a storyteller, I hate getting somewhere and not having something to write on if an idea is sparked. However, I sat there, no thoughts traipsing through my mind. I wasn’t even sure why I had gone there in the first place. My dog, Josie, was at home, so I wasn’t there to walk her.

So, why was I there?

I took the pad and a pen and I stood from the car. The breeze felt nice, but folks it’s going to be a hot day here in South Carolina. I stood in the parking lot for the longest time, staring at the playground, the walking path, then turning slowly toward the baseball fields. It was so quiet and peaceful in a way my mind has never been.

Then I started walking. It was slow and I guess I probably looked like a tired person trudging across the parking lot toward the baseball fields. Once there, I sat on one of the bleachers and just looked at the baseball field. It had been used in the last couple of days. I could still see chalk lines down the third and first base lines and remnants of chalk around home plate where the batter’s box was. In my head I could see the kids playing, one team wearing black jerseys, the other one light blue. The ump was in his usual dark blue uniform, catcher’s mask covering his face for protection. There were kids in each dugout, some paying attention to the game while most of them gabbed with each other. The coaches were serious-looking guys with potbellies with their team hats and jerseys on. They were constantly barking at the kids about one thing or another. And there were people in the bleachers and in chairs along the fence and…

And it was just my imagination.

Before I knew it I was jotting words on the notepad. Those words are as follows as written on the notepad:

Scott drove to the park. It was such a familiar place, one he had spent many days at as a youth. It was—always had been, he reckoned—the one place he had always felt the happiest.

No, it wasn’t the same as when he was a kid. Back then, when Mom and Dad brought him there when he was just out of diapers, there was only the one playground. There was no play sand or wood chips to make the place look nicer. There were no plastic, twisty slides or platformed play sets to spark the imagination and appeal to the parent’s eyes. And isn’t that what it’s all about these days? Appealing to the parents?

Not back then, when the playground was nothing more than a set of monkey bars, a teeter totter (or was it two? He thought it may have been two.), a bank of four swings with the hard wooden seats (not the rubber ones they had now), a tall slide of metal that in the summer it got so hot that if you slid down with shorts on you went home with burn marks on the backs of your legs. Scott could almost feel the sting as he sat in his car.

And there was a water spigot. No, not a water fountain, where the press of a button put out a rainbow arch of cool water. What they had was a straight pipe coming up from the ground, a hose spigot with a water valve you turned to get water to come out. Sometimes it was cool. Other times it was just as hot as the summer day was. At all times, though, it was sweet relief. Whether it tasted good or not didn’t matter. It felt good going down. On more than a handful of occasions he had stomach cramps from drinking too much water and going back and playing.

That was all that was there until Scott was around ten: one playground and a slew of trees opposite from it. Then the land the trees stood on was purchased by a construction company and a year or so later, a baseball complex stood where the trees had been.

How many days did he spend at the ballpark—no longer just the park—when he was a teen wishing he could play, but knowing he sucked at it? More than he could recall. Probably just about every day there was a game. But those weren’t bad days. They were good ones, back before Mom got sick and died and Dad…well, Dad never recovered from that blow in his life, and as far as Scott was concerned, he couldn’t have cared enough for his son to keep on keeping on. If he had cared, he wouldn’t have put the bullet in his head when Scott was only sixteen.

It’s not much and it’s very rough, but it’s the beginning of what I think will end up being the novel I’ve been struggling to write for about a year now.

I left the ballpark and headed home, my thoughts no longer centered on the first few paragraphs of a story, but on how a few moments of silence often leads to a story. This is the way it is for writers. This is real life and this is what we look for before writing a story. A story idea can come from anywhere at any time. And it’s a wonderful thing.

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

Hey, R. Scott McCoy…

Soooooo…

I took a break tonight from banging my head against the keyboard. Yes, my head has ten fingers attached to it. It is how I type. My wife thinks I look obscene when I write because of this. Go ahead, you figure that statement out. During that break, I took out my copy of The Best of Necrotic Tissue.

When I first received this collection of stories published during the 14 issue life span of Necrotic Tissue, I bounced around from story to story, picking and choosing which ones to read from the table of contents. You know, just kind of read it willy nilly. This time I decided to start from the beginning.

I made it as far as the forward, written by R. Scott McCoy, the owner of Necrotic Tissue. The forward wasn’t bad. No, it wasn’t bad at all. The truth is, if you actually read the forward you would understand a truth—the truth—of how great a publication the horror genre has lost.

No, this isn’t about the actual publication. It isn’t even about the stories. It’s about… Sunshine. Sunshine is… wait. Do you want to know what Sunshine is? Pick up a copy of the book.

I know. I know. That’s all sorts of wrong, but McCoy and his Staph deserves for folks to buy this collection. Again, it has nothing to do with the stories. Not in this case.

This has everything to do with love.

No, not that mushy stuff between a girl and a boy when they first discover each other. No, not that love you have for a car or an object that brings you pleasure—some of you really need to behave and get your minds out the gutter. Sheesh. No, not the type of love you have for a television show or a comic book character or a video game. No, not the love of a sports team.

It is the love for community.

No, not your neighborhood.

Hear me out. The horror community is small. It may seem large, but it’s not. There are few quality markets out there. And when I say quality, I don’t mean just in the writing and artwork departments. I also mean in professionalism. Necrotic Tissue excelled in professionalism.

In the time period that NT was around, I submitted seven stories to them. They accepted two of them, including my first professional sale. They rejected four of them and two others were shortlisted, one eventually rejected, and the other, well, the other one had been shortlisted before they closed their e-mail account forever.

They were every bit as professional as any publication could be.

Professionalism. Something that is missing in a lot of markets these days. Let’s see, they:

* Had quick turn around times with their submissions (both acceptances and rejections).
* Provided feedback on the stories that were rejected. And with that feedback, there was never, ever an insulting tone to their comments.
* Made payments when they said they would.
* Delivered a quality publication.
* Worked with the writers to make sure their stories were clean of errors, and helped make good stories better.

A few numbers for you:

In fourteen issues, Necrotic Tissue:

* Received 2975 submissions .
* Published 298 of those submissions.
* Sent 2677 personalized rejections!
* They received 266 of these __________ . What were they?

Let’s go back a step.

They sent 2677 personalized rejections. Personalized. Not a form letter, folks. Personal rejections. Do you know how long it takes to write a personalized rejection that offers feedback to just one story? It takes a while, because in order to write that personal e-mail, the editors would have had to read each story in its entirety. No, not skimmed over them. No, not read the first few pages. They had to read all of the stories from beginning to end. Eyes must have bled during this process.

There is a reason for this. You see, R. Scott McCoy is a writer. He has been on the other end of the submission process. He sweated bullets while he waited to hear from publications, sometimes three months later, sometimes six months later. Sometimes never hearing from a publication at all. A lot of times the rejections came in a form letter. All that waiting and nothing to show for it. Not even a ‘hey, this was crap, dude.’ Anything is better than nothing.

One of the things he set out to do when he started Necrotic Tissue was to give the writers a place to submit to, with quick turn around times and personalized comments. I guess that’s really three things, isn’t it? Oh, and he wasn’t rude about it.

McCoy did it the right way.

Why?

Because he loved—still does, if I’m correct—the horror community. He gave back to that community by putting out a quality publication that didn’t seek big names to fill the pages, but quality stories instead. He knew that in order for writers to get better, they have to know where they went wrong, what they made mistakes on, whether they were close to publication or as far away as another planet. If they know what they need work on, and they heed the words of the editors, then (most of the time) they get better. If they become better writers, that means more quality stories for other editors and readers.

McCoy got it—he understood what the community needed. He and his staph (yes, I know that is not the way the word is spelled, but anyone who has read NT knows the reference) gave of their skills and their time… and time is something you can’t get back. They put out fourteen glorious issues.

Necrotic Tissue was my favorite horror publication. I was saddened when I received the e-mail releasing my story from consideration because they were closing up shop. I miss it.

I’ve said all that to say this: Hey, R. Scott McCoy, in your forward you stated that you didn’t know if you helped any of the writers you sent rejections to, but if you helped one writer the way you were helped, then you would be content. Well, you can be content. You helped this writer. Not only with a rejection, but an acceptance (or two, for that matter) as well.

You see, McCoy, if you hadn’t rejected the first four stories I sent to NT, then I might not have been as inclined as I was to get better. Sure, other publications rejected stories, but the fact that you were willing to give feedback made me think about some of the things I did wrong. I tried harder—possibly the hardest for any publication—to make it into Necrotic Tissue. By doing so, my writing improved for other publications.

I’m certain I’m not the only one who you helped, but I feel this is long overdue.

Thank you for being willing to take the time to better the horror community. Thank you for your rejections. And, of course, thank you for your acceptances, as well.

R. Scott McCoy, thank you.

I hope this is a little Sunshine for you.

Which Way Do I Go, George?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. Like before, there is quite a bit of dust on the floor and furniture and cobwebs in the corners. Leave Herbie to take care of the place and look what he does.

First, I apologize for not updating Type AJ Negative much in the past month. Life has happened. I can honestly say this is the first time life has kept me from doing much writing and/or blogging.

Second, there is another reason for this. When I have sat down to write, I have struggled… mightily. I’ve never, ever struggled with writing the way I have over the last two months. I’ve completed one story in that time frame and have started only a handful of others.

Part of the problem is the conflict I have had between writing horror and my spiritual beliefs. No, the horror part isn’t the problem. The problem is the reality of storytelling. You see, in real life—the real life of the world today—things aren’t black and white and as easy to figure out as most of the fiction out there implies it is. They aren’t cut and dry and there are quite a few different shades of gray to fill in.

In trying to make my stories have a feel of realistic believability I’ve had to look at my characters from today’s standards. And that means a lot of my characters cuss and think things and do things that have become a direct conflict of my spirituality. I’ve been trying to rework that mind-think, but in doing so I lose some of the credibility of the characters. Once your characters lose credibility then so does the story.

When readers start saying things like:

Hey, that doesn’t make any sense.

Hey, he or she wouldn’t say or do that here. They would say &*$% instead of Golly whillakers.

For the record, I haven’t heard any readers say anything negative about my stories—I’m just having a hard time getting them to be realistic and keep all of the ‘nasty’ out.

I don’t like my characters to be one-dimensional cut outs of the real thing. I like for my characters to live and breathe just as if they were real. By doing so, many of them wouldn’t say darn or crap or any other non-profane word. And let’s face it some words just don’t have the same emphasis as a cuss word.

That’s only part of the problem, though. The other part is that writing has become so much like a business I haven’t enjoyed it as much as I used to. I remember a time when writing was enjoyable, when I couldn’t wait to get in front of my computer, my hands on the keyboard and I would listen to the little narrator in my head tell me wondrous tale after wondrous tale.

Now the narrator is tired. He sometimes yawns when I think about writing. That’s not a good thing.

There’s a reason for that.

Did you all know I used to draw and do the occasional painting? No? Well, now you do. When people discovered this gift or talent or whatever it is, they wanted me to draw them things and paint them things and they started putting deadlines on when they needed those things done.

I stopped having fun with art because it became more like a job. Here’s the thing about losing the joy of something: once that happens, you may as well hang it up, brothers and sisters.

That’s what I did with drawing and painting. I got tired of it and stopped doing it all together.

Then writing came along, showed me how much fun creating stories could be, and I was hooked. It was as much fun to create a character and put that character through some gruesome or life-altering events as it was to sketch a picture of a horse galloping along.

I’m not so much hooked right now.

Writing has become a business, and one I’m not too successful at. At least, based on publications and fans and being able to crack the big markets. If you base it on those things I’m pretty much a failure at it.

Now hold on a second, you say. Your book has received great reviews. Your zombie series has a lot of comments stating how good it is.

Yeah, I know. All those things are great. Ask the editors, though, and my stories are not as action packed as they would like. I get the same thing over and over again, right along with the rejection slips:

Not enough action. Not enough action. You need more action right at the very beginning of the story. Not enough action…

Action. Action. Action. That’s all the editors and publishers want these days.

Yet, the readers say just the opposite. The readers like the way I write—either that or they’re all lying to me. I would like to think that I am being told the truth.

Folks, I’m not an action, action, action sort of writer. I’ve tried it and I absolutely hate it. I’ve always let my stories develop themselves. I’ve always let that little narrator sitting in the center of the creative part of my brain dictate what I write and how the stories should go, even if some of them turn out a tad on the weird side.

There is a conflict of interest going on here. You see, if I want to be published on a much more regular basis (and believe me, I do), I need more action, less development—I need to get right to the point. Or so many of the editors say. However the readers—the people I want to reach—say just the opposite. They seem to like the dabs and dots of conversational writing—a style I enjoy—and character development. I don’t get complaints from the people who are most important: the readers.

I sat down to write this Sunday night—it was nearing midnight by that point and I was tired. I went to bed, having not finished it. When I got up today, I went through the same morning ritual I have on all of my days off. When I finished those things, I checked my e-mail. In it was one of those e-mail subscriptions that I, well, subscribed to. It’s called The Minimalists. Today’s topic? Too Much Branding These Days

Of course, this got me to thinking.

As a writer, if I force myself to write in a manner I don’t enjoy, then I’m not being true to myself or to you, the readers. If I try to write all action, action, action, then my stories will be flat, one-dimensional and just plain lousy. If I write for editors and publishers, then I’m no longer being myself and no longer writing the way I have come to learn the readers like. If I write to make money, then all I’m doing is branding myself.

I’ve always tried to be different in my writing, to not be like everyone else, to write the way I want to, to write the way I enjoy writing.

Where does this leave me?

Take a look, if you will:

Here I am, standing, not at a crossroads, but at a fork in the road. The one to the left has a sign on a metal post that reads For Editors and Publishers. It’s shiny and the sign itself is made of aluminum, and let’s say it has a green border and big black letters that seem to glisten in the sunlight. It’s definitely the prettier of the two signs. The road is paved and there are green dollar signs marking every few feet along the way.

The one to the right also has a sign, but it’s on a wooden post and the placard is a worn piece of plywood that’s seen better days. It’s painted in white spray paint by an unsteady hand. That sign reads, For Readers. That road is not paved, but red clay and there are very few footprints along it, as if so few writers were willing to go down that path. There are trees that line the road, their branches overhanging and blocking out the sunlight. There are no dollar signs; there are no brightly colored placards.

For most folks, they would take that sunlit path and run straight down it. They would do what the editors, publishers and agents say to do. They would listen when they are told to change your style or you’ll never get anywhere in this business, kiddo. They would sacrifice the truth and honesty that readers want.

Here I stand and that Y in the road tells me I have to choose or I can go no further. If I turn back (which I’ve thought of doing a lot over the last year) then I quit. I give up writing, shut down Type AJ Negative, let Dredging Up Memories become just that: a memory. I give up my dream of being, not only a published writer, but also one that the readers want to read.

I have to choose. I have to decide if I go left, right or turn back. There is no other way around it. Left. Right. Turn back.

Last year I submitted queries to several places about publishing some of my work. I received one response. It was a question, asking if I were the writer who wrote this, that or the other. I replied yes.

That’s it. End of conversation.

I never heard back from them. I’m okay with that, now. I’m okay with the editors and publishers saying, action, action, action. I’m okay with it because I’m not changing who I am, what I write or how I write for them. I write the way I do because I enjoy it. I write the way I do because you, the readers, have told me you like that style.

This also means I won’t be submitting much of my work to publications anymore. There are a couple of places I will still send work to, but not many. I’m not an action sort of guy and if they want action, then I’m wasting, not only their time, but mine as well.

While I’m here, let me say, keep an eye out for Southern Bones—it will be my first real foray into the self-publishing venture. And if it goes well, then there may be a novel to follow.

My stories will change some, simply because you’re not going to see as much profanity in them as before. It’s not needed. If my writing is good enough, then the words will ring true.

There’s a few other things that I want to write on, but I’ve already been long winded.

Thank you for coming along into the dusty halls of Type AJ Negative.

Until we meet again, my friends…