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