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.