Friday, November 28, 2008

Starting Them Young

Thanksgiving. What a blast. I love the food and the fun. It is, for the most part, a wonderful time each year. But, it is not necessarily Thanksgiving that I wish to talk to you all about today.

Today I would like to talk about the day before Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving Eve. Yeah, it’s lame. I know. More specifically, I want to talk about something that happened this Thanksgiving Eve.

Before I go into that I would like to tell you about one of my daughter’s favorite things to do. She likes to walk through the house talking in an automated-type voice. She says, “I am a robot and I am here to disturb you.” Keep that in mind while you read. That statement, in and of itself, is disturbing.

Now, onto Thanksgiving Eve.

Upon arriving home on Wednesday my children went outside and I went in to the kitchen where my wife, Catherine, was preparing the turkey—her first. I’m sure she’ll remember her first time. Ba-dum-bum. Come on guys. Cut me some slack.

I looked out the kitchen window and what do I see? Guess. Okay, you’ll never guess, so I’ll tell you. I saw my seven-year-old daughter digging a hole with my shovel.

“What is she doing?” I asked my wife and then proceeded to head outside. I stopped near my daughter, mindful of how wide she was swinging the shovel as she tossed the dirt around the yard. “Chloe, can you put my shovel up?”

“I’m digging a hole, Daddy.”

“I know that, Sweetheart—I don’t want holes in the middle of the yard. So, let’s put the shovel away.”

She stopped digging long enough to look up at me and say, “Daddy, this is my grave yard and I’m digging graves for my animals.”

I stood silent for a minute as she went back to digging her hole—she actually did a really good job with it, too. Finally, I turned around and walked away, not sure what else to say at that moment. I went inside, no longer interested in the turkey but more preoccupied with staring out the window at my daughter and son.

“So, why is she digging holes?” Catherine asked.

“She’s not digging holes—they’re graves. And have you seen Pouncer?”

“Umm . . . no,” she said.

Pouncer, by the way, is our cat of eight years. I stood at the window as Chloe dug holes and my son, Logan, who is three, stood near her. After each hole was dug Chloe placed an animal shaped sand toy in each one. Logan then covered the animals and patted them down with the shovel while Chloe searched out bricks from a fire pit Catherine had made so we could roast marshmallows outside.

“Our back yard is turning into a toy graveyard,” I said as my wife seasoned the turkey.

Finally, Logan grew tired of planting toys in the ground and he said, “I’m done.” He came inside and my daughter finished the chore at hand. I walked outside and stood near the center of the yard. There were small mounds all over. Bricks sat either on or by the mounds. My daughter was placing her last brick in place.

“Hello, sir,” she said to me. “Would you like to take a tour of my pet cemetery?”

Just for the record, there is a difference between a regular every day tour and a grand tour. As my daughter has informed me, a tour is just where someone shows you things you can’t touch. A grand tour is where you can touch the items and do all sorts of fun things.

“Sure, I’ll take the tour of your pet cemetery.”

She takes me by the hand like a morbid mortician and leads me along a path of blocks and mounds. She told me which animals were in which graves.

“This one is a flamingo. That is a penguin. That is a seahorse. Over there is a lion and her baby. Poor baby.”

We came to the end of the tour and I looked down at my daughter in something that I guess was amazement. It may have been shock, but I am not sure. I do know one thing is certain, if she would have done her robot voice she would have succeeded in disturbing me.

“That is . . . very interesting . . . Sweetheart.” It was all I could think to say at the moment.

Chloe looked up at me with her eyes bright and her smile beaming from ear to ear. “Come back anytime, Sir—I’m always burying something.”

Honey, have you seen Pouncer?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Miserable Lot of Complainers We Are

Writers. We're a miserable lot.

It's true. We are. We moan and groan and complain and whine. It's what we do best. Well, other than write, that is.

We complain about the publishing world and form rejects. We complain about why people won't read our stories. We complain about markets going under. We complain about long waits and then complain when we finally hear back from a publication we have so impatiently waited on.

We complain about editing and rewrites. We complain when someone says you should workshop your stories. We complain when an editor actually takes the time to give out constructive criticism instead of sending that aforementioned form rejection. And, why? Because it wasn't what we wanted to hear.

Do you see a theme here?

Wait. It gets better.

We complain about a lack of originality but then don't do anything about it in our own writing. We complain about copycat writers but then turn around and copy them.

We complain about writer's block and them bemoan people when they tell us how they get out of that horrid gray area in most writers' lives.

We complain about guidelines. Double space or single space? Justified or ragged or tabbed? Do we have to use William Shunn's template for submitting stories? (No, but I recommend it—it truly has the professional appearance.) Bios or no bios? Contact information with the introductory letter or on the first page of the story? Headers? Funny—we complain about these things but then don't follow the guidelines, get rejected and then complain about why we got rejected.

Nag. Nag. Nag.

You see, writers are a truly miserable lot. And we love the company. So, let's go complain to all of our writer friends. Or anyone who will listen for that matter.

But, wait. There's more.

The biggest complaint I have heard recently is, believe it or not: How did that person get published? I write better than that person. I can't believe he/she got accepted and I didn't.

Oh, my head hurts.

What gives, people? Seriously. What gives?

Here's some advice from your Uncle AJ. Stop complaining. It doesn't get you anywhere and it makes people want to avoid you. Seriously. Stop complaining. To add to that, stop comparing yourselves to other writers. You are YOU—not King, Barker, Ketchum or Wilson. If you want to write like them, by all means, do so, but please, stop complaining when you can't capture their style. You HPL fans—he's hard to emulate, but it can be done. However, if it doesn't add up, don't whine about it. Try again. And KEEP trying, if that is what you wish to do or how you wish to write.

I like to view comparing ourselves to other writers in a similar way that Rick Warren views ministry. Bear with me here for a second and don't turn away.

"There are two reasons why you should never compare your shape, ministry or the results of your ministry with anyone else. First, you will always be able to find someone who seems to be doing a better job than you and you will become discouraged. Or you will always be able to find someone who doesn't seem as effective and you will get full of pride. Either attitude will take you out of service and rob you of your joy."
--Rick Warren
A Purpose Driven Life

Okay, now listen to me for a second. If you take the above quote and apply it to your writing then you may get more out of it than you think. For the longest time I wanted to write like—you guessed it—Stephen King. But, you know, I'm just not King. I am me. I write like me. It's that simple.

A couple of years ago I really sucked. I mean sucked big time. I had great ideas but when I put them to paper the stories were essentially ruined. Getting published was not even close to a reality.

After some long, thoughtful soul searching, I figured out that by trying to be like King I was actually hurting myself. Then I set out to discover if writing was something I wanted to pursue. There are so many great writers, both professional and amateur and I wondered if I even had a prayer in the market world. Again, I was comparing myself with others. No. No. No. No.

When I decided to be me and learn about the craft of writing I started to grow. I started to get that feeling that the stories don't suck half as bad as they used to. Now, the stories only suck about a third as bad as they used to. I'm happy about that.

There is always going to be writers out there that are better than me. Always. There are always going to be writers out there who are better than you. There's no need to get discouraged about that. There is this gentleman I know who is a much better writer than I am and every time I read one of his stories I think, 'Wow, this guy is good.' That gentleman is Ian Rogers. If you haven't heard of him, you are truly missing out. Look him up. But, I don't let that discourage me. In fact, I analyze a lot of his writing and look at the things at which he is very good at. Some of those things I apply to my own writing. It's a way of learning for me. Ian is just one example of someone who I KNOW is a better writer than I am. There are many, many, many more.

Ah . . . but there are those people I feel I write better than they do. But, I never say it or really think about it. Instead, I like to try and help them in the manner that I have been helped. Encouraging them, pointing out things that I have seen in my own writing that I see in theirs. It's amazing to see some of these people blossom right before my eyes. It's amazing to see them take to something and really work it until they get it right. They do NOT complain. As a matter of fact, one of these guys lets out a Yahoo or a Yippee every time he is rejected. His enthusiasm is contagious and his writing has improved ten fold in the less than a year I have known him. And that has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with him, his drive, determination, enthusiasm and willingness to constantly get better and better with each passing story.

Most of those folks are better writers than I am now!

What does it all boil down to? It's simple. Complaining isn't going to get you anywhere in the world of writing. Writing will get you where you want to go. Working on writing will get you where you want to go. An enthusiastic attitude will get you there. Not so much, however, complaining.

As I said before: Writer's are a miserable lot. We really are. But, if we stop complaining about the state of things in the writing community and start doing something about it, then maybe we wouldn't be so darn miserable.

For now, I'm AJ and I'm out.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Liquid Imagination Debuts and a Fran Friel Interview

Hey. Remember me. I’ve been gone for a short while. I had to take a break—my head was hurting. And, besides, I had to dig up my muse and bring her back to life. I missed her nagging. Oh and what she has me writing these days even disturbs me.

But, that is for another day. Today I am here to bring you some great information about a new publication that hits the online waves on September 26th. Yeah, I know you guys are probably tired of all the new zines popping up here and there and then going bye-bye after a few issues. But, you know, I think this new rag just may have staying power.

What e-zine am I talking about? Liquid Imagination. Just say the name and think about it for a minute. Liquid Imagination. Now that has a great ring to it.

John Miller founded liquid Imagination and he has a staff of really nice folks who have worked hard at getting this debut issue out in a timely manner. I have been fortunate enough to watch this go from a simple conversation to a vision to a reality. I’m very happy for John and his staff of talented people. Let me introduce you to them:

Founder and Publisher: John "JAM" A. Miller
Editor: Kevin Wallis
Poetry Editor: Chrissy Davis
Art Director: Lisa Peaslee
Technical Advisor: Karl Rademacher
Workshopping: Sue Babcock

I’ve been watching these folks work at creating Liquid Imagination. Their ideas are great and the way they work together is refreshing to see.

But, wait, there’s more. I don’t just tell you this to promote Liquid Imagination. I tell you this to also promote a new interview with Fran Friel that debuts at Liquid Imagination. It is my second interview with the delightfully wonderful author of Mama's Boy. We discussed many things including her life since the Stokers, her new collection of short stories and going through a mentorship with Douglas Clegg. Not only that, but take a gander at my story “The Babes of Angels” while you are at it. It was written specifically for Liquid Imagination and it’s not like what I would normally write.

There are other stories and poetry in there as well by the likes of Chris Perrides, Lucas Pederson, Theresa Cecilia Garcia-Newbill, Erik Smetana, Sue Babcock, Tom Beck and several others. Heidi Heimler titles my personal favorite of the stories “The Hairdresser’s Nightmare”. Throw in an interview with Nene Thomas and some vivid artwork and you have a pretty cool debut issue.

Who knows what will happen with Liquid Imagination on down the road? They may go the way of many other zines, but they may end up having some strong staying power as well. The one thing I do know is that there has been a lot of enthusiasm and hard work put into this and I’m hoping they’re here for the long haul.

You know, there is only one way that can happen though: Go visit Liquid Imagination and tell them what you think. Check them out here:

Liquid Imagination

For now, I’m AJ and I’m out.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I Used To Lover Her...

I have a problem. Really, I do. No, it's not your normal, mundane, run-of-the-mill problem that every average person has. It is only a problem that we writers have. Seriously, I have a problem.

I know not everyone cares much for the term 'muse' but mine has been nagging me a lot lately. She has been telling me to write a novel. (Yes, my muse is female and she has a way of yammering at me when I am not writing, telling me that I am wasting time and I will never be a good writer if I don't do it with every free moment I have.) Keep this in mind.

Over the last few months I have started, stopped and started a novel or six. The idea would be really good—even cool—but, for the life of me, putting it together has not been an easy process. I seem to have developed a mental block when it comes to the novel writing process. I have even scrapped ideas just because the concept would mean it would be a novel. When I say scrapped, I mean I wrote it in my Great BIG Book of Ideas and have pushed them as far out of my mind as possible.

This got to the point of utter frustration. I have several novels "in progress," but none of them are near complete. Why? Because I almost loathe the novel writing process. If you know me at all, then this is way out of character. I love to write. I write everyday. I breathe it, talk it, dream it. It's what I want to do when I grow up.

But, for now, I'm stuck. Or, I was stuck, but that would be getting ahead of myself here and I do that too much as it is, so I will try to stick with the idea at hand.

I sat at my desk a few weeks ago, my outline for a novel sitting beside me. I read over it, leaned back and tried to envision the story unfolding. That was the easy part. Then I sat down to write. The first 3000 words were a breeze and I started to get all excited. There was a hook right at the beginning. It felt good. It flowed from my mind to my fingers and onto the computer screen.

The next day I started again and got about 5000 words into it. Then it happened. I lost interest. No, I am not ADD—though if I were, it would make sense. I saved the document and went online to one of the many forums out there. There was a prompt for a contest. I read it, wrote the story, read over it and put it aside. The story was just over 3000 words. I felt good, like I had accomplished something that night.

The next day I sat down to write on the novel and my mind drew a blank. So, I closed it and searched that same forum for ideas. I came across one in a discussion thread about things we used to do as children. The comment I got my idea from was . . . oh wait, I can't tell the comment yet because I am in the middle of that story. Now, here is where it gets a little odd. I started a short story with the intent of it being between three and five thousand words. That story has morphed and is now sitting at just over 12K words and there doesn't appear to be an end in sight. It may well end up as a short novella.

After the story reached the 6K word mark I sat back and read over it. It's actually decent. I made notes in a book by my computer on things to make sure and add or clarify or bring back into the story later. While I did that I noticed that the story wasn't going to be no less than about 15K words. Now, sitting at 12K, I don't think it will be less than 20K.

And you know what? I'm fine with that.

I took a break on that story to work back on my novel. I figured with the creative juices flowing, I would write on the novel, get a few thousand words out and make my 'muse' be quiet for a day or two. Ummm . . . no. The thoughts dried up, my hands couldn't seem to hit the right keys and my frustration mounted.

My muse was not happy with me when I shut the program down and got up from my desk. I needed to work on something else or at least go outside and get a breath of fresh air (if there is such a thing as fresh air anymore). I watered my garden and stood in the tranquility of elephant ears, four o'clocks, honeysuckles and wisteria. All the while, my muse complained that I was wasting time again.

"The plants must be watered," I calmly said and pushed her aside.

As I watered the plants it occurred to me just why I have a hard time writing novels. For me it's simple. I like the idea of completing projects. Most of my projects, including story ideas, have short term goals. I write between three and five thousand words a day, excluding weekends, so at a minimum of 15K words a week. I lean more to the maximum of 25K a week, but it's not the amount of words that count right now.

Well then, what is it? For me, it is the completion of the story that counts, that makes me press on and finish short stories so I can get on to the next one. That is my muse's fault—she got me doing flash stories and then working my way up to longer pieces, but she wouldn't let me stop writing for more than a day or two before she fussed at me again.

But, back to the thought at hand. Completing tasks is something that I try to do as quickly as possible. Writing is the same way for me. I start a story, I want to finish it. I can't say that always happens but I can say it happens over three quarters of the time. And what is easier to complete? A short story or a novel?

You guessed it: A short story.

I realized then that if I focus on the novel—the sheer size of it—then the task is daunting for me. It makes my muse happy, but the words are pure crap. However, if I approach it like it is a short story with a lot of information in it, it may work. Kind of like my novella about . . . oh, you almost got it out of me. Nice try. That novella was only going to be a short story, and look what happened. It is constantly growing. I love the character and what he went through and how he overcomes his adversity.

So, I thought I would try to write the novel without thinking about the big picture. I know where I want it to go and I know all of the main characters as well as the scenery and some of the middle story. I know the problem and the resolution. I know how to get there. Now, I just need to write the story. I started that this past Monday.

I took two other steps to try and get this novel process going and, hopefully, complete the book. The first of these things was to enlist some help. I have a few friends who I asked to stay on me about it, every day, excluding weekends. One of them has been totally faithful about it and the others have been on the ball as well. Each day I check in with them and tell them how far along I am. I have made myself become accountable for writing a novel by enlisting these Novel Buddies to nag me in the real world and not just in my mind.

I started the novel on Monday and now, here I am, four full days in and I have over 7000 words under the belt and I can feel the story living, becoming real in my head. I think I am going to be able to do this. I haven't written my minimum of 1000 words yet today but I will soon. I feel confident that I can finish this novel now and I can honestly say I haven't felt that way about writing a novel since I wrote Unbroken Crayons in 2006 for NaNoWriMo.

I'm AJ and I'm . . . what's that? I said I took two steps to get the novel process done and I only mentioned one of them? Well, I guess you are right. What was the other one? Oh. I killed my muse because she wouldn't stop nagging me. :)

I'm AJ and I'm out.

Now, out of good fun, I give you this video, in memory of my muse. May she rest in peace.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Enthusiasm Can Only Carry You So Far

If you are a writer you want as many venues to submit your stories to. Literary writers seem to have plenty of them. Genre writers, however . . . well our publications are folding by the handfuls.

Before anyone gets all angry with me for saying that, read on and understand my words. There seems to be a wealth of literary magazines out there, both in print and online. Sometimes I feel like there are more literary print magazines than there are total genre magazines both in print and online. That is probably just perception from a guy who likes to write horror stories.

And here is the thing with this perception: it could be accurate. I've noticed that for every literary magazine that pops up it seems a genre magazine shuts down. This is frustrating for me, a horror writer.

Over the last few months several genre publications have folded. I'm not mentioning names right now because I don't think it is fair to those publications. I've heard quite a few writers complaining about it and even bashing some of these publications. I'm not so sure that is fair.

Do you want to know my take on this? No? Tough. This is my blog and if you are reading it, well, you're going to get my take on it.

The way I see it is this: It doesn't take much to fail at something, but it takes a LOT of work to succeed.

Go ahead, read it again.

It doesn't take much to fail at something, but it takes a LOT of work to succeed.

For these publications the work that goes into it to make them successful is unbelievable—especially when you are talking about a print publication. For the moment let's stick with online pubs.

I have a friend that just recently formed an e-zine. His enthusiasm is unbelievable. He got together with a young woman who is pretty good with artistic things and they began hashing it out. The name came to him in a dream. Yeah, that's right. The name came to the founder in a dream. It's a cool name. He sought out an editor with the same enthusiasm as he has. Next came a poetry editor. Again, enthusiasm.

After he had most of his staff onboard they began working on big issues, and little ones, as well. They developed a website, sought out art and stories. They created a forum to discuss things over with other folks who may be able to help them in pursuing the dream of seeing the publication come to life.

Enthusiasm abounded.

Now, it's time for them to get to work, really start doing the hard stuff. They have a base idea, they have a website where they can post the stories and artwork, they are developing submissions guidelines, art guidelines, they have contacted people for advice on how often they should publish, print or online and all the other good stuff that goes with it.

They've done some marketing and research.

None of these folks live in the same area. They are spread out all over the place, so they rely on e-mails, phone conversations, and the forum they have to get things done. I don't know how many publications are done this way, but I venture a guess that many of them do.

But, wait, there's more. All of the people involved with this publication have full time jobs, children to look after, lives to live. Time is of the essence when putting together a publication of any sort. It becomes even more precious when LIFE gets in the way.

They are still very enthusiastic. I think enthusiasm is a huge key to being successful. If you aren't stoked about something, you aren't going to work to make it successful.

Now, say it is a print magazine instead of an online venue. For that you have to have money. Money to pay the printers, money to pay shipping costs, money to pay artist and writers (if you weren't doing that with the online magazine). Deadlines become stricter—you miss a deadline by even a day and it could set you back upwards to a month. The marketing takes on a different meaning. It becomes a necessary evil in order to get subscriptions which help with the costs of the publication. There are ads that must be sought out.

The print magazine is a beast, to say the least. Even when you are full of enthusiasm.

The work is a huge aspect of putting together a publication.

When you do things mostly online you are taking a huge risk, either with submissions being electronic or contact info being all through e-mails or even the magazine on a server that is very reliable. Things can go wrong at any point. Your server could crash. Your e-mail could go kaput. You could get a virus that wipes out your hard drive. Then you are out a LOT of work, your contacts and your submissions. This can be fatal if not addressed immediately. Even then, it can still kill a publication.

Enthusiasm can be drained quickly with such an event.

I don't know why good magazines go under or why other magazines fail to get off the ground. I do know, however, that there is a ton of work that goes into it. Coordinating a magazine of any kind is not easy work, and most of the time the people working on them are not getting paid. They do it because they want to, not because of the money.

If you don't want our markets to go under, support them, read them, pass the word that the publications are worth your time and money. Word of mouth can go along way in the survival of a magazine. With MySpace, Blogger, Linkedin, Facebook and who knows what else out there, we can all help these publications get off the ground and stay up and running.

But, AJ, what if they are not a paying market? I can't answer that question for you. I believe that is an individual decision on whether to support or submit to nonpaying venues. But, just remember what it was like when you were an unpublished writer and you wanted a publishing credit under your belt. Many of us sent stories to these nonpaying venues just so we could get published.

Those folks work just as hard at putting out a publication as the ones who pay you. They can't get anywhere if no one subs to them. Enthusiasm can only carry a publication and those working on it but so far. You never know, maybe one of those nonpaying places could get a Stoker nomination. We can all dream, right?

Now, I mentioned earlier that literary writers have a larger selection of places to submit to. I stand by that, though I have no research to back it up. However, I feel this way because you don't hear of a lot of literary magazines folding, especially before their first issue. Some of these literary magazines get 'token' stories from some of the more established writers in the field just to help them get off the ground. No rewards for the writer in that, except to know they helped someone out.

A lot of our genre magazines are folding, even as you read this right now. Many more will follow. But, please, for the respect of those who have put their love into the product, don't bash them, don't criticize them. If you think it doesn't bother them that they had to shut down or are pondering doing so, well, you're wrong. They are people after all, and a failed venture hurts regardless of what it is.

I'm AJ and I'm out.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Question of Motivation

An interesting topic came up in the Horror Library's main office recently. The question was asked, who in that particular setting, would be the next success story. Wow. That is a tough question and one I think some folks were hesitant to answer. Why? Well, if they didn't mention their friends then maybe someone would have some hurt feelings. But, you know, if you asks me, maybe NOT mentioning their friends could be a good thing.

What? I've lost my mind, you all say? No, no, I haven't. Hear me out, I say and if you still disagree with me then feel free to call me insane. It won't be the first time and most certainly won't be the last.

Yes, everyone wants high praise and a pat on the back, especially from their peers. Do you think it wouldn't do my ego good to have one of the name writers out in our genre say that I put out something decent? Of course it would. I would be elated if that happened. But, would that change things? Maybe, a little. I think hearing your work is good and that you have 'it' really stokes the confidence.

However, a question such as who, in your own opinion, will become a success from a group of people you know very well can be daunting to answer. You see enough of these folks and what they can do to kind of gauge them and their abilities, but overlooking someone, even though you do not mean to, could cause those hurt feelings that you don't wish to cause. If you're honest with yourself and with them, you will speak truthfully, but gently in some cases.

I sat back when I read the question and thought for a few minutes before typing up a reply. There are so many folks in there that I can see doing really well for themselves. There are also some folks I left off, simply because of participation—or the lack there of. But, as I sat back and thought about those I left off the list, I wondered what it could do to their psyche, their ego.

Well, let's see, it could have upset them that they were left off and then they would never talk to me again. Or they could shrug it off as it doesn't matter. Or it could make them try harder so someone would believe that they could be the next success story.

Hmmm . . . let's think about that last part for a minute. They could try harder so someone would believe that they could be the next success story.



Hmmm . . .

I've asked this next question when dealing with people I've trained in various jobs and I think it applies here: What is your motivation? What drives you?


True story: Not too long ago—maybe a year and a half or so—I was passed up for a position I really wanted. I knew I could do the job but I guess I was a little green under the gills. I didn't get the nod and I was bummed. No, wait, that's not right. I was BUMMED. Yeah, that's more like it.

I could have gotten discouraged, and to be honest, I did, for about ten minutes. Then, I told myself I wasn't quite where I needed to be for that position. I then set out to work harder and get better. About six weeks or so later, the person who had gotten the position I so coveted, abandoned it. Within a short time of his leaving, the position was offered to me. I was elated. Ecstatic. Excited and other E words I can't think of at the moment.

I've since moved on to other things, but I hold that feeling I had when I got bypassed that first time very close to me. It is not a good feeling, but I turned it into motivation. It made me want things more, made me want to work harder to improve myself.

Rejection has a way of doing that, but I'll save that for another time. In this case, being overlooked for something you feel you are capable of doing can be just as bad . . . or good, depending on how you look at it. I chose to use the feeling as a motivator to push myself a little harder. Did it work? Oh yeah, it did.

So, do you see what I am getting at? If you want to be on the list as the next big thing, you have to work at it. But, if you aren't on that list, don't get too discouraged. Instead, turn it around and use it as motivation. A lot of athletes do it. So do business people. And singers. Why not writers? Why not editors? Why not publishers?

Think about what discourages you when it comes to writing. Take that and let it motivate you. But, not just in writing. What discourages you in life? Use it for motivation.

I leave you all with this:

Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.
--Og Mandino

I'm AJ and I'm out.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What is Success?

What is success? Is it making lots and lots of money? Is it name recognition? Is it being able to live comfortably or even have a lavish lifestyle? For us writers, is it getting a story published for the first time or the thousandth time? Is it a book deal that makes you a good bit of money? What is it?

Define success?

In some respects it is defined as the achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted (American Heritage Dictionary). But, is that really a good definition of the word?

I don’t know.

If you ask Stephen King or Gary Braunbeck or Brian Keene if they were successful, what do you think they would say? Well, I think they would say yes, they are. But, what if you asked that same question to someone who only has a handful of publishing credits under their belt? What do you think they would say? Most of them would say no or not yet or I’m getting there or something to that effect.

So, I ask you, what is your definition of success?

Do you want to know mine? First off, I would love to make a living writing. I would. I really, really would. But, if that doesn’t happen, would I consider myself a failure? Not even close. Have any of you seen my wife? She’s beautiful. How about my kids? They’re attractive and smart. My son is a pistol and my daughter is darn near brilliant sometimes. I’m successful already.

I know, I know, I’m stretching what this is all about, but it is important to understand what success really is. Sometimes success isn’t about the dollar sign or how many cars you drive or how big a house you have. Sometimes success isn’t measured by your name and how many people who know who you are. Honestly, right now, how about a show of hands from those who know who I am. Not a lot of you, I see.

I have a firm belief that if you believe that you can do something then you can do it. It may take you a little longer to learn how to do these things, but eventually, you will be able to do them.

For me there is a certain amount of satisfaction when I see improvement in my writing. It may not be something that leaps out at someone, but it is something I notice. And, when I notice the change, I feel like there is a touch of success in that—all the attempts at correcting a flaw or learning how to do something finally coming to fruition. To me, that is a type of success.

I measure success on how satisfied I am with the outcome. If I feel I have done everything to my ability and it still doesn’t work, well, it’s time for me to start over on that and try again. There is a measure of satisfaction in trying and trying again until you get it right. After that, it usually stays right.

I also gain a lot of pleasure from writing a story. Pleasure. Did you read that word? Read it again. Pleasure. I write a lot—sometimes too much, but I love doing it. It is my addiction and not one that I am willing to kick. When I write something that is good and I know it is good, then the pleasure is amplified and that leads to satisfaction of a job well done. Which, hopefully, will lead to getting paid for the stories on a regular basis.

But, if this life of writing never makes me successful money or name wise, then I will always have the pleasure of creating a story, enjoying the ability to do so and being successfully happy. That’s what it’s all about anyway, right? Being happy.

I’m AJ and I’m out

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Interview with John Miller of Liquid Imagination

Liquid: A substance in a condition in which it flows…

Imagination: The ability to form images and ideas in the mind, especially of things never seen or experienced directly.

Hmmm . . . with those definitions one could say that Liquid Imagination is the ability to form images and ideas in a manner in which it flows; fluent thoughts, lucid ideas.

Is it possible to fill the world with yet another e-zine?

Is it needed?

Who cares?

What if we made the world need it?

What if we made the world want it?

These are the questions that abound for the upcoming e-zine Liquid Imagination. Do we need another e-zine? Is it needed? Is it wanted? Well, that answer is really up to you, the reader. For me, the writer, I would like to introduce you to John Arthur Miller, founder of Liquid Imagination. Let's sit down with John for a brief moment and talk with him about his new endeavor.

Tell us a little about yourself, John, and then we'll dive on in.

I’m a single father with three beautiful children, all boys, ages 5-10—they are the source of much inspiration. I’ve had many jobs: police dispatcher (twice), salesman, manager of retail stores, telemarketer, worked in a refinery, and I work in a factory now. I thrive on change. The world is changing. Recession is causing a smaller market for novels and e-zines. We’re living in changing times.

Why another e-zine and what do you think will separate Liquid Imagination from the multitudes of e-zines out there?

Liquid Imagination isn’t just an e-zine devoted to fiction; it is devoted to fantasy in both art forms: the art of the written word (fiction and poetry) and the art of the painter’s brush. The goal is to meld the work of writers along with the work of artists so that, to those perusing Liquid Imagination, there is no distinction between the two. Each story must have at least two pieces of artwork. The artwork will enhance the story, and the story will enhance the artwork. There will be no separation between the artwork and the stories; a blurring of the two forms of art. Our goal is to unite followers of fantasy art and readers of fantasy fiction into one e-zine. Our target is AWE. If we miss our target, we hope to come close.

Liquid Imagination is a unique name. How did you come up with it?

I had two dreams in two nights. I don’t often remember my dreams, so this was unique to say the least. In the first dream I heard a song almost exactly like one by Finger Eleven. I don’t know the name of the song, but the lyrics go like this: "If your body matches what your eyes can do... you'll probably move right through... me on my way to you." It was the background music of the song, but the words were different. I woke with this type of song in my head, but the words were “Liquid Imagination is flowing. . . from me to you.”

The very next night I dreamed of an art exhibit. Beneath one of the paintings was the gold plaque with this title: Liquid Imagination.

What exactly are you looking for in submissions?

Kevin Wallis is the editor, and Lisa Peaslee is the art director. Together Kevin and I are looking for fantasy stories set in today’s world. Think of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Mythical creatures such as faeries and centaurs in the modern age. Other worlds coexisting alongside our own. Magical realism, surrealism, but fantasy. Not “high fantasy” like Medieval stories with knights and wizards.

We’re looking for three things:

2) AWE (we’re ALL shooting to awe the reader of fiction and the lover of art)
3) FORCE (we want it written forcefully, with as much clarity as possible)

Artwork is a huge component of Liquid Imagination. Tell us about it.

In the realm of fantasy, artwork has ALWAYS been important. Can you imagine a Conan the Barbarian novel without fantastic artwork on the cover?

We aim to do the same thing, only we hope to cement the two art forms. We want the artistic paintbrush to stroke the words of the writer. We want the writer’s words to build a foundation for the painter’s easel. We want both art forms to bleed into one: liquid imagination. From the reader to the editors; from the artists to the writers; all of us in one collective subconsciousness, something Carl Jung might call Liquid Imagination.

Help us tap into the flow.

Can you tell us anything about issue number one that may entice some folks into submitting to Liquid Imagination?

We’re looking for two interviews with powerful artists. One is, in fact, a traditional artist but we haven’t heard back from him. The other is our “mystery writer.” This person has won the Nebula and World Fantasy Award for fiction. It will be a very powerful interview, in-depth, from an author whose works have sold across America.

Briefly, can you give us some guidelines for submissions?

Fantasy set in the modern world. Surrealism. Magical realism. 12,000 word count. Microsoft word, standard format. No query letter needed or wanted; the stories will speak for themselves. 1st American Rites. We accept reprints as long as it’s fantasy. INTENSITY! AWE! Those willing to workshop at our Zoetrope Office will get additional consideration for their fiction/poetry.

Anything else you want us to know about Liquid Imagination?

The “Best of Liquid Imagination” will go into an anthology book every 1-3 years. We will also be getting into publishing novels, the best of fantasy. I’ve already been playing around with the first book, an experiment, to iron out all the kinks. I’m talking about Liquid Imagination as a publisher of novels and anthologies. Like the e-zine questions, with so many publishers out there, why another one? Because we will likewise meld art into the work of the writers’ novels.

We intend to fly without wings.

Thank you for your time, John and good luck with Liquid Imagination.

Feel free to check out their website here: Liquid Imagination

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Stymie Magazine, A New Place To "Putt" Your Stories

A new publication is emerging from out of nowhere. It is simply called Stymie Magazine. I’m not sure what it is all about yet, but I know it involves golfing.

Hold on a second here. Don’t click off just yet. Hear me out. I’m not big on golf. I’m like most everyone else here, just wondering how Tiger Woods is doing, but all things should get a fair chance, right? That includes this up and coming E-zine, Founded by Erik Smetana.

Like I said, I know little about this publication, so we are all in for a treat as we tee it off with Mr. Smetana. So, let’s get down to business.

Hole 1, Par 4: Mr. Smetana, first off, tell us a little about you.

Let's see if I can do this without referring to myself in the third person. In short I am a writer, having seriously taken it up about four years ago. Since then I have been amazingly fortunate to see some of my stories published in genre magazines, nonfiction venues and in literary journals. Another area I have been lucky in was finding a great community of writers on the web with whom I have had the chance to build friendships and professional relationships. Some of those relationships have landed me editing gigs in the past with several lit zines and more recently assisting in the editing of two anthologies for Cutting Block Press.

Outside of writing I work in the corporate world as an HR executive, am married to an amazing woman (we just had our fourth wedding anniversary) and have a fascination with all things golf -- an affliction if you will since the age of 14.

Hole 7, Par 5: Why did you decide to start up a publication involving Golf?

Like I said above, I love golf. Since picking up an old rusty set of irons my freshman year of high school and subsequently getting my ego handed to me on a silver platter eighteen holes later, I have been hooked. After that first drumming by my high school buddies, I went on to develop a bit of game and nine months after that first outing I made my school's JV team. My senior year, I was captain of the golf team.

Through high school I worked at a golf course shagging range balls, cleaning carts, etc. During college I worked in pro shops of several different courses, interned with the PGA and even considered becoming a club professional before deciding to follow a different career path.

But regardless of what I do nine-to-five, I have continued to love the game. Over the years, I read various how-to books until I stumbled upon a novel titled Golf in the Kingdom. After that I wanted to read more golf related fiction and over time discovered the likes of J. Michael Veron, Turk Pipkin, David Feherty, Troon McAllister, John Coyne, John Updike, Roland Merullo and many others.

When I had finished with all the golf novels my local bookstore carried I became curious about what sort of short fiction was out there. I devoured Golf World's annual fiction issues and Otto Penzler's anthologies, but then the well ran dry. There didn't seem to be any market for golf related short fiction. And Stymie hopes to remedy that.

Hole 13, Par 3: What is Stymie Magazine?

Stymie Magazine is a lit journal of sorts. We hope to publish well-written fiction (including flash), poetry and creative nonfiction. The catch is that we only publish material related in some way to golf. But before anyone gets scared off by that, we are pretty broad in our expectations. A story appearing in our pixilated pages could be a straight golf story like something one of the authors I spoke about before might write. It could be a mystery like Roberta Isleib might pen. It could be about a guy who lives alone and talks to his appliances all day until he discovers a single golf tee lost in his couch cushion, after which he only talks to the tee -- doing its every evil bidding.

In short, we want stories (and poems) that strive to incorporate golf in some way. We love all genres -- literary, humor, science fiction, horror, and on and on.

Hole 17, Par 4: What are the types of things you are looking for as far as submissions are concerned?

We are open to just about anything so long as golf plays a part in some way. We prefer fiction and nonfiction under 3000 words and we have a soft spot for flash fiction. Stymie would love to get some golf poetry, maybe a haiku or two, but like our guidelines state: "We don't hate poetry, it's just that we have never read any really great golf poetry. If you think you are up to task, send it in. We might surprise you if you surprise us."

Hole 18, Par 5: Anything else we need to know?

There is so much more I could say, but I will keep it simple. Our website is located at Stymie Magazine

We have a great editorial team on board including the likes of Todd Banks and Kristi Stokes -- both of which come with wonderful experience. And maybe most importantly, Stymie Magazine is still in need of submissions for the premier issue, so please keep those stories and poems rolling in.

Sudden Death: One last question: What’s your handicap?

I'm going to have to sandbag you a bit on this one, let's just say I play to about a 15. Wink, wink.

Stymie Magazine, coming to an online golf course near you. Stay tuned and have your scorecards handy. Time for me to sign my card and get to the clubhouse.

I’m AJ and I’m out.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Chapiesky" Reviewed at the Fix

Cool Review at the fix of "Chapiesky." This appeared in Hub #54.

A.J. Brown’s “Chapiesky” in Hub #54 is a brief but well wrought ghost story, the sort that could be told by children in a darkened bedroom with no more assistance than a flashlight and a creepy voice. The standard elements are present: an unsolved multiple murder, a child who sees things adults will see only too late, and of course the requisite ghosts. Everything gets wrapped up in a not-too-surprising ending. Brown’s tale breaks no new ground, but the technique gleams, and the result is an entertaining diversion.

Here's the link if you want to check out more of their reviews.

The Fix

Friday, June 20, 2008


Have you ever met someone and within ten minutes or so of talking to them you knew what they enjoy doing the most? I have, several times. When you have the gift of gab sometimes you can bring stuff out of people and you don’t have to try very hard. These things that you find out about someone in that first ten minutes are their passions—or better put, it is what they are passionate about.

Take a moment and think about what you are passionate about. Okay, okay, other than sex. Think about something else for a moment here. What is it that you are drawn to the most? What is it that you have loved since you were a child and still love now? What is it that you find time to do no matter what is on your plate?

Do you have one thing in your mind, yet? Okay, that one thing is your passion. It is the one thing that you will do with your free time—or the one thing you will make free time for. What is it? Working on cars? Playing basketball? Drawing? Knitting? Photography? Writing?


Hmmm . . . yeah, that is where my passion is. I love to write. I write more than I probably should in most people’s eyes and not enough in my own. For me, finding the time to write is not an issue. Is there a television show that my wife is watching after the kids go to bed on the nights she doesn’t work? Well, there’s an hour right there. How about on the nights she does work? There is anywhere from one to three hours, depending on when the children go to sleep.

I'm fortunate to have a job where I can write during the day on my down time. It is truly a blessing and is one of the things I really love about my job. There is usually no less than two hours or so for me to write. Then there's my lunch hour. So I have, potentially, six hours of a day to spend writing. Realistically, I don't spend six hours a day writing—I have other responsibilities that I must fulfill and these things take part of that time away, but they are things related to, you guessed it, writing.

Fran touched on finding the time to write, even when you work from home when time seems to be at an optimum for someone to write. Unlike a lot of writers, I have to have some sort of distraction throughout the process. This is not a joke—I am serious here. If I write for three hours, I stop and check my e-mail or go to online forums or get up and get a drink or something, but it is very important for me to move around a little or shut the brain off for a minute or two in order for me to complete a story. It's kind of a refreshing or recharging of the mental batteries.

Just in the last fifteen minutes I have goofed off on Youtube twice, looking up Video Killed the Radio Star and found this really cool version of the song by a group called The Wrong Trousers.

The other thing about my passion is this: It's not a job for me. Even when I have a deadline to meet or some sort of time crunch, it still doesn't feel like a job. I write because I want to, I desire to, I need to. Not because someone wants me to have them a story by tomorrow morning at eight a.m.

No, it's not a job. It's more like an addiction. I have to write. I have to get all of these words out of my head and onto paper or the computer. If I don't, I fear my head will explode. Well, not really, but I wrote a story once about that very thing. However, I do get cranky when I don't write. It is my drug of choice—words and putting them together.

So, back to this passion thing. It is described one way as an intense enthusiasm, a strong liking for a subject or activity. Yeah, that really sums up my feelings for writing. But, what about you? Where does your passion lie? What is the one thing you find yourself drawn to (other than sex—come on folks)? If it is writing, you will find the time to do it. After the kids go to bed or when the spouse is on the phone or outside working in the yard or whenever.

Passion equals time—if you're passionate enough for something you WILL find the time to do it. If you were to walk up to me right now and start talking, asking me about my life, you will come away knowing that writing is my passion.

For now, I'm AJ and I'm out.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Like Father Like Daughter

There are moments in a parents life that make you wonder about your children. They either say or do something that make you question whether you really are the parent of that child of if they are some alien from another planet, not just another country. They make you want to look at your spouse and asks, “Whose kid is this?”

Well, this is not one of those moments.

A couple of nights ago I was playing with play dough with my daughter and son. I looked down at what my daughter was making and I frowned.

“What is that?” I asked.

“A bed,” she responds.

“It’s really small,” I say. “Are you going to make a really small person and put on it?”

”No,” she says: "I am making a girl whose head spins around and she throws up."

After taking this in for a few seconds I asked my daughter, "What did you say?"

"I am making a girl whose head spins around and she throws up."

I shake my head, not sure I have heard correctly and asked her, "Sweets, where did you hear that?"

"On Ace of Cakes. A woman made a cake where a girl's head spins around and she throws up." This just happens to be a show where people bake cakes according to a theme and the winner takes home a lot of money.

"But, how did you know that?"

"I asked Mommy and she told me it was a movie about a demon who was inside this girl and made her head spin around and throw up. Do you know what the movie is called?"

"Yes, honey."


"The Exorcist."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Chloe--I've seen the movie several times. The girl's name is Linda Blair."

My daughter looked up at me, eyes wide and says, "YOU mean she’s REAL?"

I couldn't help but laugh out loud at that comment. Leave it to my daughter to pick the vomiting Linda Blair to make a play dough figure out of. She’s just like her daddy. It makes me so proud . . .

Friday, June 13, 2008

Old School and Competition, What A Combo

A few weeks ago I wrote about the old school writers, about how their writings were so much more elegant than that of today's stories. The evolution of writing has created our McDonald's Mentality to the point to where we have to devour a quick story so we can get back to the tasks of our lives. I complained about not seeing more stories written with the scenery and mood of the story being set like back in the 'good ole days.'

Part of me will digress a little here. Not all of me, and no, I'm not saying I want the quicker stories. What I want is the stories that go from beginning to middle to end and where it is not just useless nonsensical drivel in between 'Once upon a time' and 'The end.' I want stories that are going to teach me something. Again, I go back to the classics for this one.

Just recently I read Phillip K. Dick's The Father Thing. I found it entertaining, short and every word had a purpose. The setting was complete but not overly done—just enough words to get his point across. The story was straight forward and had that Invasion of the Body Snatchers feel to it. Which is even more interesting—I could be wrong here, but I think The Father Thing was written before Body Snatchers.

At any rate, the story was short, yet complete with few wasted words and extremely enjoyable. Just the way our McDonald's population likes it.

Ah, but wait, there's more. I then turned around and read a couple of H.P. Lovecraft stories. The one that sticks out was The Nameless City, which was also the basis of a prompt for a writing challenge I've been involved in recently. I had never read this story before and even with Lovecraft's love of words which I have know idea what they mean, I found the story very engaging and I couldn't put it down. The setting was there, the mood was there, the slow descent of the main character losing his mind was there. I could picture what was going on, even if I had to look up a couple of the words for good measure. It was another complete story—a classic in every way, shape and form.

Wait, still more to come.

I had never read I Am Legend by Richard Matheson until a couple of months ago. I also read the other short stories in the collection that I had borrowed from a friend of mine. I found most of them delightful to read and I Am Legend left me breathless and maybe even speechless for several moments. Those of you who know me personally know that I am NEVER speechless and sometimes you probably wish I would just close my mouth. The detail given in I Am Legend was vital to the story, to the main character and how he managed to survive through everything that had happened.

What I found most revealing about the story was when Robert Neville's old friend turned vampire, Cortman, is killed near the end. (I hear in the movie it is not like this) Cortman was really Neville's last link to the previous world, to the way things had been and the heart felt sadness he goes through when seeing Cortman die gave the story so much more impact in my eyes.

So, having read several of the classics, I still find myself longing for more of this, even a little Lovecraftian style wouldn't hurt so much.

Speaking of Lovecraft, I think it is interesting that so many writers try to emulate his style, which, to me, is hard to do, but not emulate the styles of other great writers who today would be considered wordy.

Now, this week, as per the challenge I am involved in with several friends of mine, our prompt was, as I mentioned above, an H.P. Lovecraft prompt. It was an homage to The Nameless City. So, what did I do? I had to come up with a story in order to stay in the competition. I plotted and planned and wracked my brain for several hours before almost giving up. Then, a song by System of a Down and a thought I had had a couple of weeks earlier kind of merged at the same time.

The idea began formulating and I took out several sheets of paper and started jotting notes down. By the time I was done, I had a two page outline of a short story titled Where Angels Fear to Tread.

Then came the daunting task: write the story in the vein of Lovecraft. Oh, this is not going to be easy—I'm not all that smart and I don't know a lot of really big words. Well, I have to say I steered clear of a lot of the big words, but I did use a couple and had to look up quite a bit of them.

I sat at my desk and began writing. The first line flowed into the second and then the third. I thought the story out as if I was talking to someone about it and before I knew it, I had pounded out 2200 words. The next day I typed on it again and typed out another 3500 words putting me near 6000. I finally finished the story up at just under 7300 words. When I was done, I was exhausted but elated—I had written a story somewhat in the vein of Lovecraft but probably more so in the vein of other old school writers.

Two friends of mine helped me with translating a sentence into Latin and another friend gave me points on Lovecraft's style and how he wrote at which stages of his life—things that I found vital in writing the story. A little research can go a long way in good story telling.

Now that my story is submitted and I can look back at it, I see a few flaws in it that need to be fixed and a couple of other places where I left things out on purpose to try and not overburden the judges with such a long story. But, even with its flaws, I look at the story as a triumph for me.


Well, I admit that I am not a great scholar of the classics, but by reading them over the last six or so months, I have found that they are such wonderful works of art that everyone should try and read at some point in their lives. I've also found that by trying to emulate the old school styles I am becoming a better writer. And that's what it's all about, right?

Now, I think I am going to go back over The Yellow Wallpaper—I have a story I started a couple of months ago using Charlotte Perkins Gilman's style and never finished it. I think it will be a good one when I am done. I will write and await the judges to either vote me off the island or let me into the final round of competition. But, for now, I'm AJ and I'm out.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Woodshed Reviewed...

Good morning folks. Time for a little review madness . . . or in this case, goodness.

As many of you may know my story, The Woodshed, appears in the anthology Dark Distortions, put out by Scotopia Press. Just recently the anthology has received two new reviews. The Woodshed was mentioned in both of them.

The first of these was in The Fix and done by Michele Lee. She reviewed the entire book, which was cool and she gave props to several really good writers that appeared in the anthology, including some close friends of mine: Erik Smetana, Petra Miller, Brandy Schwan, C.D. Allen, Dan Naden and Kim Despins.

Her words on The Woodshed delighted me and I couldn't help but smile and let out a whoop.

Okay, before I go much further, you must understand that The Woodshed was eight years in the making and I don't know how many revisions before it even got to Molly Feese. Then she and I edited it a couple of more times. So, this is a big deal to a small time southern boy trying to get out there in the daunting world of writing.

This is the blurbage from Michele Lee's review which you can check out in its entirety here: The Fix Reviews Dark Distortions

The Woodshed" by AJ Brown is one of the best stories of this anthology. Brown delves beyond the mere surface in this tale of a childhood survivor of abuse haunted by his abusers and presents an unflinching look at domestic violence. He refuses to shy away from the worst but also layers deeper effects, making the characters more sympathetic and believable.

So, that's pretty cool and I admit I'm just a little stoked.

Then yesterday, Jeff Cercone of Down In the Cellar reviewed Dark Distortions and, though it isn't much on the story, it is still a positive mention:

Other standouts include The Woodshed, by A.J. Brown, a haunting and unflinching look at child abuse.

Cercone also mentioned Pick by Erik Smetana and his comments are some of the best ones I've heard referring to the story:

You might want to take a muscle-relaxer before reading this one, because you’ll be cringing through most of it. But you won’t be able to stop reading.

I was fortunate enough to read Pick in its earliest stages of development and in Dark Distortions and I find Cercone's words are spot on.

You can read the full review at Down in the Cellar here: Down In the Cellar Reviews Dark Distortions

Okay, now for those of you folks who would like to read Dark Distortions all you have to do is go to Scotopia Press' website and order it. Scotopia Press Just follow the link. At 591 pages, I'm pretty certain you'll get your money's worth out of it. There is a story for just about every tastes in the collection.

Thank you for reading and letting me be joyful for a moment. For now, I'm AJ and I'm out.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Comedians and Writers Alike

I had a nice little article written up about Common Courtesy and how we should practice using it. It's a lost art form, you know?

Instead of posting it, I decided on something not as long and maybe that could hit home with a lot of folks. Writing, whether it is a hobby or a profession, is a personal endeavor. Much like being a stand up comedian, it can be sink or swim.

Here's the thing: You can be a good comedian and never get out of your home state. You can be the next George Carlin, but nobody other than the locals know your name. You can have the energy and imagination of Robin Williams and the delivery of Bill Cosby, but that guarantees you nothing.

Word of mouth can take you somewhere. But, more often than not, the right person at the right time has to be there when you are bringing the house down and people are doubled over in stitches from laughter. It's the Big Break Theory.

You could toil in the bars and the local theaters for years before someone of merit stumbles upon you. It's happened liked this many times for comedians (and musicians as well). It just takes that one moment in time when all the planets seem to be lined up and the stars are their brightest and the pretty blond in the first row REALLY is making eyes at you.

Just like that, you can become an overnight sensation.

But, what about all the work you've put into it; what about the many nights of sleeping in a hotel where the roaches may as well be paying guests; what about those nights of sitting up, writing jokes, hoping one day one of them will be your calling card, your 'Get er done'? Is the time spent honing your ability to write and tell jokes worth it? Is the time spent learning new ways to deliver the punch lines worth the wait?

I'm sure they are.

But, wait, I'm not done. What about those times when no one laughed at your jokes and your ten or twenty minute set feels like it takes a year? What about when you hear someone heckle you because they don't think you are funny? Is it worth it? Is it worth those near crushing blows to keep doing it, one gig after another?

Many successful comedians will tell you it is well worth it, even when no one thought they were any good. Pay your dues—that's what they'll say.

Writers, well that's different, right?

Nah, I don't think so. There are so many similarities to writers and comedians.

Comedians tell jokes, writers write and somewhere along the way, someone told them they could be good at it, that they should try to make it in the business, that they should do amateur night or submit a story to a small e-zine.

So, they did. Maybe someone thought they were funny enough to ask him or her back for another appearance. Just maybe someone thought that story you wrote was worthy enough to be placed in his or her magazine, even if it is a For the Love market, where you didn't get paid.

See the comparisons?

Let me take it a little further. Maybe you spent many nights staying up, writing that story in hopes that it will be the next big thing only to be rejected time and time again. It's like playing the clubs and not getting into the big auditoriums. It's kind of frustrating and disheartening. Yet, the people who came to the shows or read your stories liked it. But, how much can fanfare take you if the big time backers weren't willing to take a chance on them or you?

How many years and rejections are spent following the dream of being a well-known writer, if not well paid? How many frustrations and thoughts of quitting cycled through your mind after yet another 'no' on the resume?

But, then it happened. Someone somewhere read your story at just the right time and it was what he or she was looking for. Much like the comedian on stage caught the eye of someone a little more prominent in the business, some editor or publisher saw something in your story, in you, to give you a shot.

The next thing you know, you're a published writer and folks begin to ask you for stories. You may have even made some money at it.

Now, was it worth it? Was it worth the brain racking, the rejections (after rejections, after rejections), the editing, the re-writing, the staying up until four in the morning working on something because you don’t want to lose the groove you were in? Was it worth the folks saying you might want to give it up and try something else? Was it worth it all?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but if you want to find out, then put the pen to paper or put your fingers on those ASDFJKL; keys and get to typing. But, no matter what happens, promise yourself one thing for me. If someone says you can’t do it, don’t give up. If someone says that your story is utter crap, don’t give up. If someone says they wish they had two copies of your story so they could do some rather unholy things to the paper it was printed on, just smile and let it go.

Learn from your mistakes and move on, but never give up. Do you think Robin Williams gave up? What about Larry The Cable Guy? Eddie Murphy?

How about folks more to our liking? Do you think Stephen King gave up? Gary Braunbeck? Jack Ketchum?

I think you get the picture. It’s hard work and sometimes you need to laugh about it to keep from crying about it. But, if you persevere, you just may get somewhere.

I’m AJ and I’m out.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Children and Memories

Over the course of my life I have often paid attention to things that are interesting and odd. But, now that I am a father to two children, ages seven and three, I notice things a little different. Sure, the odd things stand out to me, but now, the things about their childhoods and my childhood and the comparisons stand out even more.

For the record, this article is not about horror or writing or promoting anything or anyone. It is just a dad watching his kids grow up and remembering his childhood in the process.

My dad taught me how to do a lot of things. How to be tough through rough times; how to laugh and joke around; how to play sports; how to work hard. With those lessons came some hard knocks. My dad, after all, is from the mountains of North Carolina and, though the boy may leave the mountain, the mountain doesn’t leave the boy. One of the things Dad taught me was how to play basketball and be a good sport.

First the lesson in basketball. I learned how to dribble by bouncing a ball against the wall and stepping back further and further until I could not catch the ball with one hand or it hit the ground. It was good for teaching me how to pass as well. But, that's not what this is about. It is about that my dad instilled in me not to be arrogant and to always respect your opponent.

The first time I picked up a basketball I was near 10 years old and my dad showed me how to shoot. After a few days of just shooting the ball and dribbling, Dad taught me the actual game.

“Okay, son, I want you to dribble this ball and try to get by me. If you get by me, shoot the ball into the hoop.”

“Man, that’s easy, OLD MAN.”

Yeah, that’s right—I called my dad an old man.

I dribbled the ball and continued to talk trash and then I tried to go around him. He elbowed me with his thick elbow. I hit the ground. He picked up the ball, shot it, scored.

“Two points for me. Try again.”

I dusted myself up, picked up the ball and still talked smack to my dad.

“You got lucky, OLD MAN.”

Then I tried to go around him. Elbow met shoulder, butt met ground, Dad scored again.

“Two points for me. Try again.”

The next time I didn’t talk at all. I was very wary of his elbow so I put my arm out and went around him. He let me pass, I shot, made it and learned quickly that talking smack to your opponent is a NO NO in Dad’s book. I never talked trash—ever after that.

I told you that story to tell you this one. I took my children to the park earlier this week and, lo and behold, they had put up a basketball goal. All we brought with us was a soccer ball. So, I walked out there and started shooting the soccer ball into the basket. I walked away and a moment later my seven-year-old daughter, Chloe, walked over, picked up the ball and started tossing it at the basket.

I watched her for a moment and then walked over and told her an easier way of shooting the basket toward the goal. For the next little while, my son played on the play set and my daughter and I shot baskets. Well, she shot the ball, I caught it and tossed it back to her. She took well over 100 shots. She hit the rim 3 times, the net countless times, but the ball never went in. I felt sad for her and my heart ached—Chloe had tried so hard and she said she couldn’t do it.

“Keep trying, Sweets,” I told her. “You’ll get it one day. You’re too small now but soon you’ll be able to make it on this goal and any other one.”

Encouragement. That’s what I was trying to do—be encouraging. I was proud of her, even though she didn’t make a shot, she tried her hardest, and that is all I asks of my children. Always try your best.

Growing up, I slept with my basketball. Not a joke. It sat by my pillow most nights (until my dad cut it in half and I had to get a new one later, but that is for another day). Rarely did my basketball end up on the floor. It always had a seat, whether on the couch or a chair or on my bed, it was treated well.

My three-year-old son, Logan, carries a baseball I gave him around. He doesn’t haul it everywhere like he does his Hot Wheels cars but he carries it around the house and often times you see it near him when he is playing, even if it is not with the baseball itself.

Tonight, my wife and I were putting our kids to bed and my wife told me:

“Lean down and look past Logan’s pillow.”

I did so.

In the corner of his bed, sat the baseball. I smiled. My wife smiled. I thought of my old basketball, long since gone some years ago.

I leave you now, my story told for today. I’m AJ and I’m out.

Friday, May 23, 2008

It's All About Commitment

It's all about commitment.

Bear with me today folks. I have a couple of stories to tell but I will get to those in a moment, but did you catch that first sentence? It is important that you do.

It's all about commitment.

Stick with me. You began reading this for some reason, right? You committed to reading it, just like I've committed myself to writing it. So, read on until the end. I hope you get something from it.

Last year I went through a spell where I didn't feel too well. It was right about the same time of the year as it is now and me and my body were not getting along. I was tired—extremely tired—a lot and getting home from work and resting was my only goal during that several month period. I slowed down on writing and stepped away from a few things I had made a commitment to. Then, one day I sat down with my wife and talked to her about . . . giving up on writing. Not that I was throwing my hands in the air and saying 'I'll never make it' type of thing, but more of a 'I'm tired and I'm thinking about quitting' type of thing.

I pondered it, prayed about it (yes, I am a praying man, though sometimes I don't pray as much as I should :( ), talked about it with my lovely wife, Catherine. Finally, she told me that I was starting to get somewhere and asked me if I would be happy without writing. Ummm, no, I would not be happy without it. We talked several times about it until I finally told myself I had made a commitment to a couple of projects and I aimed to keep those commitments.

I committed myself to writing and trying to take it seriously in 2004. Yes, I know, I wrote stuff long before then, but in 2004 I started really trying to get my work out there. One thing led to another and here I am, etching out a little name for myself (hopefully a good one). I made a commitment, much like a marriage, to my writing and the community I became part of.

Now that I am done with story number one, I will go to story number two and since I mentioned marriage in there, let's get to a bigger commitment.

I married my wife nearly eleven years ago. When I proposed to her I was willing to make a commitment to her. She said yes, so she was willing to do the same. We got married and, like most couples, we've had our ups and downs and our level playing fields. We committed to having a family when we had our daughter and then committed to a bigger family when we had our son.

I've never met anyone quite like my wife. She IS commitment. She puts her mind to something and she follows through on it. Often times I am amazed by her dedication to her job, to her hobbies, to her children, to me.

Often times it is her commitment that drives me. I probably don't tell her that as often as I should. Now, remember when I was tired and not doing so well, she encouraged me to keep going, to not give up and keep pursuing my dream. She's also committed to being a writer's wife. How lucky am I? :)

Over half of the marriages that take place this year will end in divorce. That's not an exact number but a fairly accurate one. A good chunk of them will split because they are really not committed to one another.

Like I said in the beginning, it is all about commitment.

What's marriage have to do with any of this? Several things.

1) As writers we commit ourselves to our readers. We tell them, hey here is this story, read it and I promise I will get you to a satisfying ending. We give them characters to hold onto, plots to devour, words to marry. It is our commitment to the reader to make sure they don't feel like they've wasted their time reading our words. It's our 'I do.'

2) As writers, when we start networking and becoming friends with other writers, we take on a different type of commitment. I've often said that our little niche in writing, our genre, is like one big family. When you meet someone they become like a brother, sister, mother, father, cousins, or maybe the uncle you don't want anyone to know about. A couple of examples for you: Fran Friel is definitely like the Big Sister I never had. We call each other brother and sister and it fits. I look up to her like I would a smarter, wiser sibling. Bailey Hunter and Boyd Harris are like the cousins you only get to see in summer time or on holidays but you always look forward to talking with them. Erik Smetana is like the adventurous brother who creates the diversions so you can get in and steal the apples off of Mr. Grover's farm. Chris Perridas is the wise uncle who can point you in the right direction when you are heading down the wrong path. Estaban Silvani, well he's that uncle, but it's okay if people know him and his sister, Hazel McHarlot. There are others, but you get the point.

Being a part of the writing community is like being part of a family. You are committed to each other even if you don't get along from time to time. Most things are reparable within a family—it is our jobs as writers within that family to fix things between each other. Again, it is a lot like a marriage. Talking things out and working together will carry you a lot further than going at it alone.

3) As publishers and editors you are committed to putting out the best work possible for the readers (remember you are committed to them, as well) who take the time to browse your publications. Our editors and publishers are much like our parents. They tell you when you do good (good stories) and when you do bad (not so good stories). They are committed to both the readers and the writers.

Yes, the writers. You see, if an editor or publisher is kind with their rejections there is a good chance they will get more submissions from writers who remember how they were informed that their story would not be accepted. Now I'm not talking about giving full out critiques of why a story wasn't accepted but more of an honest feedback of what wasn't liked about a story. Not a lot of detail but nothing too vague either. The problem with that is it takes a lot of time to do this sort of thing. And, we all know that sometimes parents don't have that type of time. But, it is a commitment.

One more story and I'll leave for the day. Lately, I've mentioned my story, The Woodshed, a lot. Part of that is because of the experience I had with dealing with the editor in chief of Dark Distortions, Molly Feese (who wrote a wonderful article on Rhetoric just yesterday). After submitting the story and receiving their acceptance, she and I worked diligently on it, whipping it into proper shape until we both were happy with the outcome. We had a commitment to each other and we both worked hard on it. I don't know about everybody else's experience but mine was wonderful.

When Dark Distortions came out and I received my contributor's copy I was surprised to see a card in the package with the book. It was a thank you note. A thank you note. Let me say that again: a thank you note. Through the entire process of creating Dark Distortions, going through the submissions, dwindling it down to the acceptances, getting it ready for print, printing it, shipping it out and the whole nine yards, Molly also made thank you notes that went to the authors. Now, that's commitment. And that is certainly not something I will forget anytime soon.

Here lately I've noticed a decrease in the efforts and output of a lot of my friends in my writing circles. Things have stepped in the way of writing, editing, publishing or what have you. People have grown tired in some respects. Other folks have become frustrated. Still, others have had life step in the way. That brings me to my final point and I promise I will wrap it up.

Life is a commitment. Whether at your job or with your children or your spouse, life is a commitment. It is a 24/7 commitment. There are planes to catch and bills to pay as Harry Chapin put it. The song is kind of sad, but the commitment for Harry in this song was not to his kid and before he knew it, the kid was grown and just like him. My final point is, yes life is a commitment, but don't forget to take the time out of your busy schedule to enjoy part of life, enjoy your family, make a commitment to enjoying life as well.

For us writers juggling writing and work and family can be difficult but if the commitment is there then it is possible. It's all about commitment.

For now, I'm AJ and I'm out.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dark Distortions and The Woodshed


Hello out there . . .

Well, where did everyone get off to? They were all here earlier. Oh well, I think I'll just place this poster up on the wall and go ahead and leave.

Well, hello there. Someone stuck around for the nightcap. I'm glad to hear that. I was afraid I was going to leave without having to perform.

What's that? What am I hanging? It's a poster. Oh, you know that. Yeah, I guess so. Umm . . . well, it's a poster for Dark Distortions, an anthology put out by Scotopia Press.

Why would I do that? Simple--there are a lot of good stories in there. Dan Naden's Last Word, Petra Miller's Shade, Pick, by Erik Smetana, Onus by Kim Despins, 18 Wheels of Hell by Mark Deloy and the list goes on and on and on.

That's it? Oh no. There are so many more that I haven't mentioned.

But, why advertise for this book, you ask? Well, I have a story in it as well. It is called The Woodshed and it was eight years in the making. Don't look at me like that. Yeah, it took a while but when I wrote it, I really didn't know anything about writing. But, in all honesty it is a really good story.

What's it about? Hmmm . . . well, I would tell you to buy the book but then that would just be rude. How about this:

In the backwoods of the North Carolina hills two brothers live in fear of a rundown woodshed at the end of their path.

Sheltering fuels to darker fires, their father awaits.

Years later they return to extinguish a smoldering pain.

What they find . . .

. . . could be the end of them both.

So, yeah, I guess I have a personal stake in this as well. What? Where do you buy the book? Oh that is easy. Just go to Scotopia Press and you can order the book. It's 591 pages chock full of great stories.

Will you like it? Well, there is something in there for just about everyone. The only way you'll know is if you buy one and read it.

Okay, well I'll be going on shortly, so if you want to sit back and grab a drink I've got a couple of more of these posters to hang up. Thanks for stopping by.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Some Fran Friel Goodness
AJ Brown

Good morning, class. Put the books away, the pencils down. No need to worry about any tests today.

On this early May morning we are not going to discuss hard work or determination; we're not going to delve into keeping the creative juices flowing or following guidelines; we're not going to discuss any of my normal topics, so for you folks in the back, don't worry about falling asleep from the mundane yada yada that I normally do.

Class, today we will talk about one thing, err, person. She is one of my closest and dearest friends within the writing community. She calls me Little Bro and I call her Big Sis. Though we are not related, our friendship is very much like a close brother/sister relationship.

Her name is Fran Friel and I'm sure she needs no introduction to the class.

I first learned of Fran less than three years ago when I joined the Horror Library workshop. I went to their website and saw some wonderfully delicious stories by the crew there. I happened upon a story titled Wings With Hot Sauce. Wings With Hot Sauce. I was amused by the story but there was something else, something intriguing. I read another story by her, though I am not sure what it was. That is when it dawned on me. There was so much confidence that went into her writing. Whether she was confident or not in her stories doesn't matter, they gave the appearance of confidence.

It gave me some renewed desire to really write with a little more confidence than what I had at the time. It's one of the main reasons I'm still around.

Then Mama's Boy came out. Though I didn't get to read it right away—it sold out before I had a chance to get my grubby little hands on it—when I finally got to read the story, I was blown away by it. As were quite a few people. Enough folks, in fact, loved the story to garner Fran a Bram Stoker nomination.

When I finally got to correspond with Fran, her words were gentle and encouraging, her thoughts provoking and her attitude infectious. Then when I joined the Horror Library as a contributing writer she asked me if I would consider writing for the HLBOR.

I loved the idea and I have been doing it ever since. To be honest with you, at that point, Fran could have asked me to rewrite the Canterbury Tales and I would have probably tried really hard to do it.

When Fran asked me to do the HLBOR I found it an honor coming from her. It instilled in me another level of confidence. The HLBOR was kind of her baby (I believe Chris Perridas had a lot to do with it, as well) but she trusted me to write on a regular basis and attach the HL name to it.

Confidence. The one thing every writer needs. She gave me a lot of that. Little did I know at that time that we would grow close and become like brother and sister.

Fran is like no other writer I have met. She has a kind and sweet demeanor about her. Her voice is soothing and calm and she has a wickedly good sense of humor. She also has a good head atop her shoulders. To talk to her, to listen to her speaking, you would never imagine this woman would write Mama's Boy.

Why am I telling you all of this? Simple: Big Sis has a short story collection coming out. It is titled, Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales. It is being put out by The Apex Book Company. By the title, it is clear that the collection will be anchored by the Stoker nominated Mama's Boy, a story that you want to read if you haven't already. The collection guarantees to be a wicked ride to the nether regions of your soul. And you might make it back, but you will never be the same.

Fran Friel has a genuine gift for storytelling. Her highly adaptable prose boils over with emotion: love, guilt, fear, and the myriad shades between. Mama’s Boy and Other Dark Tales marks the arrival of a stunning new talent.
– Michael McBride, author of the God’s End trilogy and Bloodletting

Would you buy a collection of stories based on that blurb? I most certainly would.

How about this quote from Jason Sizemore of Apex:

Fran Friel has a sweet, unassuming demeanor. People like talking to her. Her voice is soothing and expresses a sense of peace that is hard to describe.

Having read that, you would think she writes children's stories or romance novels. Ah, but you would assume wrong. But, Jason is absolutely correct in his assessment of Fran—the words ring true to her personality. But, you see I left off part of that quote intentionally. Here is the rest of it:

Knowing this makes reading something like Mama’s Boy all the more horrific.

Now, are you intrigued a little more?

Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales is scheduled for release at Hypericon in Nashville at the end of June. Pre-orders can be made soon. There are limited signed editions as well. It is very early May now. June is next month. Don't miss out on what I believe is going to be one of the greatest collections of the year. If you're especially daring, read it with the lights off under your cover with a small pin flashlight. Then, try to go to sleep.

And, to Fran, Big Sis, I'm so very proud of you and honored to call you friend and Big Sister.

For now, I'm AJ and I'm out.

Fran Friel's Yada Feast

Fran Friel's Yada Feast MySpace

NiNe QuestioNs with FraN Friel

The Horror Of Women By Jason Sizemore

Apex Book Company

The Horror Library

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Horror Library Blog-O-Rama: My Personal Soundtrack by Erik Smetana

My buddy, Erik Smetana has something on his mind. I think it is coincidental that the most recent installment of Theater of Nightmare has one of the characters thinking along the same lines.

Catch Erik's Blog here:

The Horror Library Blog-O-Rama: My Personal Soundtrack by Erik Smetana

Friday, April 25, 2008

It's In All Of Us

Clyde watched as Chamberlain died, his last breath squeezing through parched lips and bloodied nostrils.

This is actually the introduction to a story I’ve recently started. It probably won’t stay that way, getting tweaked a couple of times before I am finally happy with it. As it stands, one would think that Chamberlain is the one breathing his last breath, but others may think that it is Clyde doing this by the way the sentence is worded. For now, I will leave the sentence the way it is to make a point.

What’s the point?

Don’t you all love it when I asks questions, hoping someone will guess before I speak . . . err . . . type the answers?

Blank stares from the masses. Nice. Okay, on with the point.

By the time this story is finished it will probably be longer than I intended for it to be, simply because I have a desire to let stories play themselves out. Also, Clyde and Chamberlain, my two main characters should have developed some qualities about them. A plot should unfold and a reason given to why Chamberlain is the one that died and not Clyde.

Maybe—just maybe—someone will have grown to like Clyde or Chamberlain or both of them. Maybe someone will get mad because I killed one of them off and left the other one standing.

Ahh . . . but who is to say that Clyde will actually live through the end of the story? Remember, that sentence above is the opening to my tale, not the ending. Maybe Chamberlain gets some sort of supernatural revenge on Clyde. Okay, no that will not happen, so why BS you folks? But, I think you get the idea—the sentence is only beginning for Clyde and Chamberlain, even though one of them dies right off the bat.

This opening sentence is a product of someone mentioning serial killers to me this past week. Though I haven’t had much time to read or write in the last ten or so days, the thought has been in the back of my mind ever since the topic was mentioned.

So, do you think that Clyde is a serial killer now? What about Chamberlain? Is he/she a victim in this story, or maybe the killer?

No, neither in this case.

Yes, Clyde watches Chamberlain die, the latter breathing his last breath and winking out before him. But, Clyde is not the killer in this story. No, the killer is . . .


Huh? What? Huh?

Okay, think for a minute. I am a writer, right? I write horror stories, right? Hmmm . . . Still don’t get it?

Okay, simplified deductions here (more for me than for you). I create characters and scenarios and scenes and what have you. I give my characters life by penning their actions and having them move from place to place, interact with each other, get put in bad situations to either get out of or get killed. Many of my stories have the main character getting offed in the end or close to it. In some stories a LOT of folks end up with closed eyes and a lack of breath.

Now, do you see it? There goes that light bulb.

A lot of folks say that writing horror isn’t all that hard. They could be right. But, then to quote Billy Joel, “I may be crazy. But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.” I honestly think it takes special people to be horror writers. We delve into the depths of humanity; into the taboo areas of witchcraft, demonology and religious figures gone bad; into the minds of killers; into the eyes of monsters. Not a lot of people are willing to do that—to dive into the dark recesses of the soul and squeeze a character’s head until their eyeballs pop out and their skull shatters.

For each story a horror author writes, he or she puts themselves into a situation where they have to think of a way to either kill off a person or a way for them to get away, though by the skin of their teeth. Most of us choose to off the character and move onto the next scene or story. We put ourselves in the shoes of the killer. We become the killers and we don’t just do it for one or two stories.

Stephen King does it through entire books. Have you read Regulators or Desperation or IT? Lots of dead folks in those stories. I’m not saying King puts himself into a killer’s mindset, but he had to think of ways of killing so many people off in so many different ways. The same with Clive Barker. Or, really any horror writer of note. Anne Rice? Yup—she killed lots of folks.

So, at the end of the story, after Chamberlain has died and Clyde has watched it, I will have killed off one or both of my main characters. And, not for the first time, either. I will have watched as the letters appear on the computer screen, the events unfolding with each word. I will have written the scene and then moved onto the next one.

For horror writers, it’s in all of us. That innate vision to watch a character we create die; to kill them mercilessly. Yes, it takes a special person to write horror. It’s not as easy as you may think it is.

For now, I am AJ and Clyde is calling.