Saturday, December 18, 2010

Type AJ Negative

**Tap, tap, tap**

Is this thing on? It’s kind of dusty in here. I had to chase the mice away. They had eaten all the leftovers from the last time me and my staff was here.

I know the last time I posted here was way back in June, with a little piece titled The Vickie Special. For my few followers, I apologize for not coming around since then. However, I do have an explanation:

In July I created another blog of sorts, one that I thought would better serve my needs and act as both a website and a blog. I call it Type AJ Negative. I have been quite busy over there. Even with Herbie and Crashman Jack running the place it’s still a lot of work. A new interview series began in July as well titled Blood Donors. You can find them at Type AJ Negative.

Yeah, I know—I could have posted this information way back in July when I did this, but really, I had no intentions of abandoning The Odd Ramblings. Actually, I intended to cross blog between the two and My Myspace page (But, really, who looks at MySpace these days?)

At any rate, as time allows, I’m going to use both The Odd Ramblings and Type AJ Negative to cross blog, both for myself and friends. Certain things, like Blood Donors will remain exclusively at Type AJ Negative, but other things will appear here, as they had in the past.

Thank you for your understanding and I apologize for not informing all 14 of you sooner.

Feel free to head on over to Type AJ Negative and see what’s going on:

Type AJ Negative

For now, I’m AJ and I’m out…

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Vickie Special

There is an office building down on Lady Street in downtown Columbia. It's getting to be an old structure with its brick walls and windows that you can actually open. There are two elevators that hold maybe 6 people at most. In order to get to those elevators you have to go through two glass double doors and stand in a fairly dated foyer and wait for one or the other car to show up for your trip to one of the nine floors above you.

Do you have that image in your head? Okay, good. Now, turn around and look out those double doors and beyond the sidewalk and the small trees that should have grown a little taller in the last twenty years, but haven't. Look beyond the green and red parking meters that still make a whirring sound when you put a dime or nickel in them, that still have little plastic arms that pop up with an arrow on it pointing at lines that represent the minutes a parked vehicle has in that spot before the meter needs to be fed again (and before the dreaded 'meter maids' come by with their little tickets in a box and orange envelopes that tell everyone someone owes the city a couple of bucks). Keep looking across the two lane road and beyond other cars and meters to the cracked sidewalk and a building—much smaller than the one you are standing in. You'll see a gray door almost directly ahead of you. Two your left is the corner of the building, thus the street corner as well with it's myriad of lights and don't walk/walk signs that tick off the seconds you have before the possibility of getting run over grows significantly.

Now, look to the right of that gray door to the small eatery with its black tinted windows and solitary glass entrance. It is within that establishment that I would like to take you. For lack of a better term, it is a mom and pop eatery—not a restaurant, but a cafe dedicated to serving the business people of downtown.

If you step inside, you will see a clean space of not much more than a hundred square feet with a table to the left and one directly in front of the door. Beyond that table by the door is a glass refrigerator like you see in the grocery stores. There are various salads and fruits and the best banana pudding in the world sitting within that little refrigerator. To the far left and in the shape of an L is a counter that stretches maybe ten feet and L's out at about four feet. Behind it are the women—well, most of the time they are women—who work there, preparing orders with smiles and friendly conversation.

It is here, in this little establishment, that I met Vickie and her sister, Evelyn—the owners. Always smiling. Always a good word for people. I was maybe twenty or twenty-one the first time I stepped through the door to get a cup of coffee for my boss at the time. She—my boss, that is—referred to her coffee as if it were a woman. And, honestly, at the time I preferred the same type of women that her coffee was named after.

"How can I help you?" Vickie asked. She was short with light brown hair; a chubby woman with a grandmotherly smile. She was easy to warm up to.

I looked at her, maybe a little leery of what I was supposed to say. "I was told to order a cup of coffee, but to tell you that I want a tall, sweet blond."

Vickie smiled. "This must be for Sheri."

"Yes, Ma'am," I said.

And that was that. My first meeting with Vickie was for a cup of coffee for my boss. Over the next few months I ate there almost everyday. Not really knowing downtown that well, I didn't venture out that much. Besides, the prices were pretty inexpensive.

It was during one of my visits for lunch that I noticed Vickie sitting at one of the two tables. The newspaper was spread out in front of her and, I think, she had been reading the comics section. But, the antics of Garfield and Snoopy and Hagar the Horrible aren't important, just an added detail to the story at hand. In front of her sat an odd looking sandwich, one like I had never seen before. I puzzled over it for a minute, looking at it, but not wanting to get down and inspect the ingredients. After all, how inappropriate would that have been?

"What is that?" I finally asked.

"A Vickie Special," she said, took a bite and chewed. A moment later, she swallowed. "It's my own creation."

"It looks really good."

"Would you like one?" she asked me.

I must have smiled wide. She got up, walked behind the counter and began to prepare me a Vickie Special. She sliced a hoagie down the middle, spread mustard on one half, mayonnaise on the other. She sliced two hotdogs down the center and placed all four pieces on one slice of hoagie. Then came shredded cheese and crumbled bacon, topping it with chilli before putting the other slice of hoagie on top. Honestly, it was nothing more than a hotdog with chili and cheese and sprinkled bacon bits on it. But, in reality, it was so much more. It was a special creation that wasn't on the menu that the creator shared with me, a kid she barely knew.

It also became my favorite sandwich. I only ordered it when no one else was around, mostly because I was being selfish. I wanted the Vickie Special for myself. Over the next couple of years I had it at least three or four times a month. I felt honored that Vickie had allowed me to partake in her own creation, something, as the name of the sandwich implies, was special.

And this is where my story takes a decided turn. Vickie became ill and her trips to the eatery became less and less frequent until she was finally hospitalized. She passed away, Cancer taking her life, her friendliness and her smile away from the world forever. Along with her death went the death of the Vickie Special.

Many folks mourned her passing. As I said, she was a nice woman, a friendly woman, someone anyone could talk to and feel at ease with. Though I still went to the little eatery, I never ordered another Vickie Special. It just didn't feel right.

Eventually, I moved from the office across the street to a building two blocks away. My trips to the little eatery dwindled. I guess that's partly why I am writing this. You see, like most things in life, out of sight, out of mind and I forgot about the Vickie Special.

Until recently.

I was hungry for a hotdog one day and thought to myself, "Self, I think I would like to eat at this place today."

Self said back to me, in his usual dry tone. "You are telling me this, why?"

I shrugged a goofy shrug. It's not like Self really has a say so in this. If I want to go somewhere I do, Self be damned. So I went. Halfway there I remembered… I remembered and my heart kind of sank. Yet, my stomach growled.

Let me stop for a second and explain something to the younger folk out there. I can't expect you to understand how little things trigger memories, but the older you get, the more those little things become apparent and the more the things of your youth come back to you; the more they knock on the doors of your mind and say, "Hey, remember me?"

The little thing that triggered the memory is simple: a woman carrying a tall cup of coffee. There was no lid on the cup and I could see the coffee inside had been creamed down, making it a tall blond (whether it was sweet or not, I'll never know). I stopped on the corner and stared after the woman. Get your minds out of the gutter, she looked nothing like you are thinking and there was no lust involved. Sheesh…

My stomach growled and I immediately thought of Vickie and her special sandwich. My mouth watered. Not that, oh-I can-smell-that-burger type of watering, but that Oh-my-goodness-I-gotta-have-that type of watering.

I made my way passed the gray door and to the black tinted glass one that separated the outside world from the eatery. A woman opened it, stepped out and I grabbed the door before it could close. Inside the temperature was considerably cooler and there were several people in the cramped space that was the patron's side of the counter. The four workers—yes, all ladies—were busy taking orders, making sandwiches and taking money for the meals they served.

Evelyn wasn't there.

The older blond, her cheeks rosy, a smile on her face, spoke. "Hey, it's been a while."

"Yeah. Too long," I responded, taking in the menu on the wall behind her.

"What will you have today?"

"A Vic—" I stopped. We stared at each other for a moment, my mind on shutdown mode until it decided to kick back into gear. "Two chilli-cheese dogs, please. With mustard, if you don't mind."


"No, thanks," I responded and tried my hand at some witticism, which I am usually quite good at. "I have to drive." Yeah, cheesy, but it was all I could think of at the moment. For those of you who don't get it, well, it just may be an inside joke shared with only a handful of folks.

I paid for my hot dogs and went back to my office, somewhat bummed out. For several minutes, I sat, staring at the deliciousness before me (they had loaded the dog down with chilli and lots of cheese) and thought maybe I should have went ahead and asked for the Vickie Special. Maybe I could have explained it to them and they would have made it. Maybe…

Or maybe I should just let it go.

The next day, I passed by the little cafĂ©, continued along my way without going inside. My memories tugged at my shirt sleeves, saying to go inside, see if Evelyn was there and talk to her about it. But, the other part of me said to keep going, to just let the Vickie Special fade, to let it die… I stopped, looked back at the entrance, even took a step forward as if I were going to go inside and chat with Evelyn.

"Hey, can you make me a Vickie Special?" I would ask.

And she would cheerfully say, "Sure, I will. Anything for a customer."

Or, maybe, her smile would falter, her eyebrows would raise and she would look at me in shocked disbelief or sadness… or both. And maybe it would bring up old memories of her sister, dead these many years. And how selfish would that be of me?


I turned around, made my way down the block. I haven't been back since.

Some things are better left in the past with only memories to remind you that they were even there to begin with.

Maybe one day I'll go back and have a couple of hot dogs, heavy on the chilli and cheese, please. I may even pick up a coffee, describe it as a tall sweet blond. But, I think the Vickie Special should be just that: special because of who made it and that she shared it with me. And, I think it should remain in the past, buried with its creator…

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Zombie Luv Contest: At the End

We met by the merry-go-round when we were both five, she a month older than I. Her brown hair was in pigtails, white socks rolled down, pink dress that went below her knees. She had rosy cheeks. Tamela had lost her grip when Bill Breathington pushed the merry-go-round just a little too fast. She spun off, her feet connecting with the ground first, breaking both ankles. I remember her scream, even now, so many years later and with many… of life's events long gone. I held her hands as Mrs. Marjorie ran inside and called emergency... and I never let go.

Not even now, as we both rot away, the heat of the summer sun cooking our decaying flesh.

Tamela walked with a limp long before she became a zombie. Even after setting her ankles, the limp was there, her feet pointing inward like a pigeon's. I guess that is one of those things that endeared her to me, that crooked hobble that was more graceful than most could ever know.

Sadly, we died before we could marry, the sickness claiming our bodies, but not our lives, our souls. You see, we zombies still feel, both physically and emotionally. I can still think, can still hurt; I still have memories, like the first time I kissed Tamela under the wisteria in her mom's yard. Those moans, that isn't hunger surfacing, it's our begging for someone to understand that we're trapped in our bodies, no escape, except for maybe a bullet to the head or possibly an axe or bat or…

Through death and resurrection, we remained together, my Tamela and I, two lovers having not been apart for more than a day or two at a time since we… since we met that day when she broke her ankles.

Hunger burns worse than anything. Well, almost and Tamela was hungry. It's not that she meant to attack that kid, but he was there and we could smell the blood flowing through his veins, could sense the fear exuding from his pores. I tried to stop her, but she was quick—faster than the living may have thought us zombies could be—and she latched onto that boy and sunk her yellowing teeth into his cheek before he could react, let alone scream. She tore into him and before he stopped squirming, he had attracted all the wrong type of attention.

I shambled out of the shadows, hands outstretched, not for food, which my stomach grumbled for, but for Tamela, to pull her away before…

The others left the sanctity of shadows—the one thing the living feared more than us were the shadows we could lurk in—and swarmed in on the kid.

Gun shots rang out through the air and I saw Tamela drop. She just crumpled forward, her body landing on the kid's as the other zombies lurched forward. There were so many of us—no way they would be able to save the kid, but they took out as many of us as they could before the resistance gave way to panicked running.

You ever hear a zombie scream? Well, I did… as loud as I could. My stiff joints made it difficult to pull the other undead off of her, their bodies heavy and void of life, just as I knew Tamela's was. At the bottom of the pile lay Tamela and her last meal, still ripe with plenty of flesh for the hungry. My mouth watered and my stomach bellowed, knotted, but Tamela…

The bullet went in just above her right eye, exited behind her ear. It was a neat little hole that left her skull intact while doing enough damage to kill her once and for all. Her once brown eyes stared into nothing. I tried to close them, but the lids just popped open.

It was a struggle, but I bent, and eventually lifted her in my arms, her body less still than before, as if the bullet had rendered the tissues soft again, at least for a while. Then I disappeared back into the shadows, Tamela dead, me heart broken. I cried… I still do, even now…

Just ahead sits a brick school building, the children long gone. Around the back is a playground complete with a slide and swings and monkey bars and… a merry-go-round. The sun is hot and I'm not sure I can make it much further, but I have to.

The merry-go-round comes into view and my heart—yes, it still works, even if it doesn't pump blood—quickens. Thank goodness the gate is still open. Not like anyone would have thought to close it when the world went to hell. I shuffle through and stop near the rusted out merry-go-round, its reds and blues and greens replaced with weather worn metal and rust. Gently, I lay Tamela on its hot surface, her brown hair, though brittle and dirty, forming a halo around her head. Her feet still point inward.

I sit down and heat rises through my tattered pants. Lying back, I place my head next to hers. My feet dangle off the merry-go-round, one of them touching the ground. I try hard to push off with the one foot until finally, the merry-go-round is moving slightly. The sky above us is blue with white cotton ball clouds blowing by with the wind. I fancy one of them to be a heart.

I smell the blood—someone living is near by. I hear the click and long to close my eyes. A shadow falls over me. I reach for Tamela's hand for comfort and await the gunshot that will end this whole mess…



Word count: maximum 1.000

The story must be a romance between two zombies. Make it as horrific as you like. ;)

Stories containing animal cruelty, torture, graphic sex or violence, any form of exaltation of violence, racism or other forms of prejudice will be immediately disqualified.

Post your entry on your own blog, with a title resembling this:
Zombie Luv Flash Fic Contest: Story Title

Leave your story title and a link to the story entry post as a comment at mari's randomities:

Copy and paste the contest logo and the guidelines at the end of your entry post.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Real Life

I want to talk about real life for a minute, not this game we call writing, this world of make believe that many of us writers live in. I want to talk about real life. Can you bear with me for a few minutes and let me ramble about something that's on my mind?

In his collection, Just After Sunset, Stephen King writes in the story, Rest Stop, these words (and I hope this is not copyright infringement since I am not selling this to a publication or making any money off of it):

"Had he thought there was no place for the Dog out in the big empty of the American heartland? That was narrow thinking wasn't it? Because, under the right circumstances, anyone could end up anywhere, doing anything."

This brings me to reality. I read that Friday evening, after leaving the courthouse where a married couple in their sixties was in a hearing to adopt one of their children's children. Let me see if I can paint a picture for you.

The courtroom was small, with the viewing gallery just as you enter the wooden double doors. The gallery itself was made up of long benches, much like church pews but not as comfortable. The plaintiff's and defendant's tables sat up front, near the judge's chair, or throne, as I like to call it. To the left was a table where the Guardian Ad Litem sat, a nice young woman, blond hair cut short, dressed in one of those nice dress suits that women wear to such gatherings. The court reporter was an elderly woman, who moved a little faster than a turtle but not so much. To her, this was probably a mundane, everyday process, a ho-hum experience, if you will.

At the plaintiff's table sat the grandparents of the children in question, he with the silver hair and worried eyes, she with the dyed brown hair with hints of gray peeking through. She wore nice slacks and a top, maybe a church outfit at one time, which she may not wear again because of the association with the event at hand. An attorney—an older gentleman, who I later found out is blind—sat to their immediate right. Behind those three were three other folks, a woman, who was the attorney's wife and eternal right hand woman, and two other folks, younger, maybe even a couple. I have no idea the relationship between attorney and the couple but I'm gathering they were part of the same practice.

The defendants' seats were empty. The parents weren't there. There was no attorney. There was nobody at all in those seats. If there were ever a chance for tumbleweeds to roll by, this was it.

In the viewing gallery behind the six folks at the plaintiff's table, sat a slew of folks, maybe twelve, maybe fifteen. Maybe less. I was smack dab in the middle of these folks, mostly older church goers, a family of God there to support and bear witness for the grandparents if need be.

The judge, a gray haired gentleman with glasses hanging off the bridge of his nose, sat in his chair (remember, I like to call it his throne). He shuffled some papers and then began with the proceedings, going through the same old same old for him, but every word he said was critical to the plaintiffs, to their case for adoption of their three grandchildren. His voice was easily a southern drawl laced in monotone dryness. He seemed like he was in no hurry, and for all involved, I'm not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. I guess it just depends on how you are looking at it. Me, I like to look at things with my eyes open. To the plaintiffs every word probably echoed in their ears, every ticking second probably like minutes.

At one point the judge stated, maybe not so clearly at first, that the parents had signed away their parental rights to the children.

Stop there for a second.

As a person with two kids of my own, this struck me. Hard. My stomach sank. But me, with my writer's mind, could picture the couple, the mom and dad of three children, sitting there, a shark of an attorney by their side, maybe a slick talker with a way with words and an ace up his sleeve. Ah, but again, that was just my writer's imagination working.

At any rate, the parents had signed away their rights. Why? Does it matter, really? Maybe they didn't want the kids any longer. Maybe they owed a ton of money in child support and would have been in a world of trouble if they didn't. Maybe, one or both of the parents realized that the best thing for these three kids, all ten years of age and younger, would be to let someone have them that could take care of them, provide for them, love them. Maybe the father cared about his kids just enough to say, 'this is what is best for them,' and maybe he convinced the mother of the same thing and maybe . . . yeah, I'm hoping here that last part is true. Even if it isn't, it is my hope that it is.

With my stomach suddenly hanging around my thighs (if this were a story, my stomach would have been hanging around something else in the general vicinity), the judge continued on, asking if the plaintiffs were there. They each acknowledged and he acknowledged their attendance, for the record, I guess.

Then he asked if the mother of the three children were there. He looked up, said 'No,' and proceeded to ask the same of the father. Again, he looked up, said, 'No." This time, my heart jumped into my throat, joining my stomach in trying to occupy a place it didn't belong. I bit my bottom lip and stared, not at the judge or the plaintiffs, but at the empty seats where Mom and Dad Defendant should have been, the parents of these three children. I admit now, this saddened me.

Maybe it was just me, but the judge seemed, I don't know, disgusted, maybe. Maybe that's not even the right word. Maybe, he felt disappointed. I know I did, but only briefly. Maybe, and this could be more true than I think it is, maybe the judge was a little disheartened by the lack of the parents being there to defend their actions, to fight for their children. But, then again, they had signed their parental rights away. So, why would they be there? Possibly, to be held accountable for their actions.


I listened as the grandmother was called to answer questions on her behalf. The grandfather was next. The Guardian Ad Litem followed, her words rehearsed, as if she had done this a thousand times. I venture to think she has.

I'm paraphrasing here, but I think you'll get the gist of her statements:

"Your honor, I visited the home (I can't recall the date at the moment, but that doesn't matter for this) of Mr. and Mrs. Goodparent and what I found was a spacious home where each child had their own beds, plenty of child appropriate toys and child appropriate clothing. The house was clean and, most importantly, your Honor, I saw three happy children. In my opinion, it is in the best interest for these three children to be awarded custody to Mr. and Mrs. Goodparent."

With that, she sat down, folded her hands one on top of the other.

The judge looked over several more pieces of paper. He spoke some words I didn't catch, but the ones I did were simple and to the point. "I find it is in the best interest for this adoption to be granted." He addressed the grandparents, his eyes noticeably softer than they had been for all of the ten minutes it took to hear the case and he said, "Now, go home and do what you've been doing and take care of those grandbabies."

Court was adjourned, but everyone sat still, quiet, possibly not even sure of what had just happened. Was it finally over for them? Were the children, after several years of living with the grandparents, finally a permanent fixture of their home? Yes and yes.

Outside the courtroom, hugs were given, a tear or two shed, out of relief and sadness all the same.

The grandparents went on their way, going to do what the judge told them to do and go take care of them grandbabies. In their early sixties, the time of their life where it should be he and she and the open road to travel, dreams that were put off for years while they raised their own children realized, yet once again, they were parents to young children.

It was a bittersweet verdict.

I sat at my desk that night, a long day having passed, my children in bed, my feet propped up by the keyboard, the thoughts of the day rumbling, bumbling, stumbling through my head. I had just finished up King's story, Rest Stop, and that passage ran through my head over and over and over again.

"…under the right circumstances, anyone could end up anywhere, doing anything."

My mind also kept coming back to the absentee parents at the courthouse. A quick note here and why this is so personal. I grew up with the father of the three children. He was a bright kid, intelligence beyond intelligence. Girls loved him. He rarely cracked a textbook, simply because he absorbed everything. He was the king of BS also. Someone whose charm could make you believe the most outlandish lie, even if you absolutely knew he wasn't telling you the truth. He should have amounted to just a little more than what he did. I guess, knowing someone for so long, you never see this type of thing coming. And, if you do, you pretend it's not real or you pretend that things will get better, though, deep down inside, you know they never will.

What can you do? Well, you can pray if you have faith in God. If you don't, then you harbor those angered feelings until it becomes resentment and then hate and loathing. Not exactly good for you, if you know what I mean. Or, you just let it go, chalk it up to life getting the best of someone and move on. That's just a little tougher to do.

If this were a story, a work of fiction, we would be nearing what some would consider to be a happy ending. I've left out a lot of this—it's not necessary to dwell on the entirety of this story. Only the plight of the children matters and the resolution to the plot was the adoption by the grandparents. Thus, the story book ending would be the celebration in the courthouse, or maybe the kids running up to the grandparents, jumping in their arms, smiles on their youthful faces. Someone go ahead and stamp The End on the back page for me and close the book.

However, this is no book, but real life. And, in real life, there isn't always a happy ending to the story. No, in real life, there are still struggles and pain and the all too real prospect of time slipping by; slipping through the fingers. The reality of this is simple: In ten, maybe fifteen years when the parents of these three kids are alone, probably no longer together due to their differences, they will want their children to come and see them. Come see your Ma, why don't yah? Come and pay a visit to your old man, please. Do you know what I believe will happen? Do you even want to know? Probably not, but I'm going to tell you anyway. After all, I'm the one telling this story, aren't I?

Harry Chapin once sang about Cats and Cradles and Silver Spoons in a song some years ago about a man too busy to spend time with his son. It's about how the child came into the world and lived his life while the father was away. Each part of the song, one many of you no doubt have heard, is about how the boy grows up while the father is busy tending to his own affairs. In the end, the boy is a man with his own family and he has no time to visit the father… the father who was never around when the boy was a child.

When you comin' home dad?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

--Harry Chapin
Cats and the Cradle.

Yeah, that's what's going to happen. When you think about real life, that is exactly what's going to happen. This has stayed with me since that day, sitting in the courtroom, a witness for the plaintiffs if needed. My heart sinks, even to this minute, knowing that on down the line—because in real life, there is always an on down the line—the parents are going to be alone, sad and wishing their children wanted to spend time with them, something they weren't willing to do for their children.

They say reality is often stranger than fiction. Reality is often times quite a bit sadder than fiction also. And, here we have come to the end of my story, which is not really a story at all, but real life, a reality check, if you will. But, I don't want to end this on a downer. I truly don't, so I'll end it with another tidbit from another song.

The Beatles sang some years ago about the sun coming, little darling. I tend to think, to hope that part of those lyrics can hold true to even this story of great sadness.

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it's all right

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it's all right

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it's all right

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it's all right
It's all right

For now, this is me and I'm out…

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Focus . . . errr. . . Refocus

Focus: a central point, as of attraction, attention, or activity.

I have a hard time focusing sometimes. Okay, okay. A lot of times. It’s always been a problem for me. Focusing, keeping my attention on things. I’ve become better at it over the years, being able to maintain my thoughts on tasks much easier than in the past. The problem, though, is that I often forget about other things that I should be doing because my mind is set on the goal at hand. And, that is just one of the problems.

In the perfect world I could sit at my computer for four hours straight and just write. Since I can pound out a good 2000 to 2500 words in an hour, that would give me between 8 and 10 thousand words in a four-hour period. An hour for lunch and goofing off would be followed by another four hours of disciplined writing, giving me anywhere from 16 to 20 thousands words of writing in a day.

In reality, my mind wanders, more often than not, something like every five or six minutes, I find myself stopping, checking the internet, getting a glass of water or something, anything to get me away from the story for about 2 minutes. If you figure there are 60 minutes in an hour and I stop every five minutes for a two-minute break, that’s about 16 minutes of wasted time, per hour.

But, it gets worse. After an hour of writing, I often find that I am getting up for a good ten or fifteen minutes. Let’s just call it twelve minutes and add it to hour previous total of 16. That puts me at 28 minutes per hour of wasted writing time, which significantly cuts down on productivity.

There’s more, though. Remember earlier when I said my mind tends to wander? When I say that, I am talking about wandering toward other story ideas and characters and settings, not necessarily if I fed the dog that morning or if I made sure the kids were dressed before they went to school. Often times, this mind wandering will lead me to stop the current story and start another one. And, herein lies my biggest problem as a writer.

I think Catherine put it best while we were talking earlier. She said something to the effect of: “I couldn’t write a story with all these other ones running around in my head.”

“Exactly!” I yelled (yes, yelled, but not in an angry tone). “That is exactly my problem. I have all these ideas running through my head and they get jumbled up in there and then I get bored with a longer project, and stop on it so I can write a shorter story.” I even waved my hands over my head in terrific dramatic form.

There you have it, my issue with writing is I cannot focus on any single story at hand before a thousand other, cooler ideas pop up in my head. What do I do when I have a cool idea in your head? That’s right. I stop and write on one of them for a while. It’s a bad, bad habit.

It’s such a bad habit that I pulled out a memory stick that has a bunch of stories on it and slapped it in the computer. Then I opened up a folder labeled, “Unfinished Stories.” I counted the file names and would you like to know what I came up with? A rather large number: 165 unfinished pieces, some of them upwards to 26, 000 words in. One of them, a novel I started, was sitting at just over 50,000 words.

My wife’s eyes grew wide, but that’s not the worse part. That was just on the memory stick. That’s not included stories I have on two different computers that I have started that are NOT on the memory stick. Add those stories together and the 165 number probably quadruples. Chew on that for a minute. 165 times 4 equals how many? In excess of 650 unfinished pieces, which is not as many finished stories as I have, but still, that’s a huge number.

This brings me to a HUGE problem. You know it’s big if I use all capital letters. I have an issue with discipline. If I were disciplined better, then I could focus better. I had this issue in school as well. Funny, it didn’t seem to hinder my ability to learn how to draw or play sports, but when it came time to do my studies, I had the hardest time focusing. It would take me two hours to do a twenty-minute homework assignment. Granted, I would stay with the books in front of me until I was finished, but I often wandered away, my mind and I traipsing through the fields of wars or championship games where, you guessed it, I was the hero.

Can you tell that school was hard for me?

I sit here in front of my computer, typing this, with more words of wisdom spouted from my wife’s mouth dancing through the pea that is my brain. When I said I have a hard time focusing, that I lose interest with stories too easily and start on something else, she just kind of frowned her wife’s frown and shook her head. She held out a story of mine that she had been reading—one that needs significant editing—and said, “If you want to get anywhere at this, then you’re going to have to focus on ONE thing at a time.”

One thing at a time. This is not easy to do with a person whose mind tends to speed up when thoughts enter in and then slow down to a near stop when the thoughts are added to others, making so many things near impossible to decipher.

Sadly, Catherine is right, like she so often is. If I want to get anywhere at writing, whether it’s in the short story market or the world of novels, I’m going to have to put blinders on and seriously focus on the story at hand; to not let my mind wander and take over, leading my hands to open a new document and add a number to the ever growing Unfinished Stories folder.

This is going to hurt. I can just feel the ideas rapping on the inside of my skull, calling to me, begging me to write them next, their little lettered hands raised in the air, their bottoms coming from their seats. “Ooo Ooo. Pick me! Pick Me!”


As tough as it may be, it is what it is and I have to teach myself to focus, to be disciplined. As I embark on this treacherous road of ignorance and loneliness, I beg the fledgling stories that spin and twirl on the dance floor of my mind, to forgive me, but I must do what I must do, if any of THEM wish to be heard and not just live on my hard drive….

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Vampire Flick

“The Vampire Flick” is an online story, which will hopefully be written by many authors.

The idea is that you write your contribution based on reading only the preceding part, and at the end we will have an interesting (and strange!) story.

If you are interested in taking up the challenge and want to write the next part, then read Part 6 ONLY below and post the next part on your blog/website with a link to my part (#6). Also, post a comment at the the source (or @necol66 on Twitter, since he seems to know what's going on) if you are taking up the challenge to contribute to this story.

Here is Part 6 (it’s short, but a good set up, I think):

“No, thank you,” Scarlett said. She stood, her legs shaking. A rush of nausea swept through her and the world spun.

“Are you okay?” Sasha asked, steadied Scarlett with a hand gripping her sister’s elbow.

Scarlett nodded, jerked her arm free. “I’m fine. Why don’t you go ahead and get the humiliation over with, okay?”

A laugh tore from Sasha and she threw back her head. She calmed, level her stare at her sister, a smile tracing across her thin lips. “You’re not getting off that easy. I’ve got you right where I want you.”

Scarlett watched as her sister walked off, a hum trailing behind, a song from their younger days, when the animosity wasn’t so strong, the anger wasn’t so damning. Clenching her teeth, Scarlett went the other way, hands balled into fists.

“I need to kill,” she said and sniffed the air. Food stirred in the not so far away distance.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Living With Primary Colors


It's cold outside. You know it's so if I say it's so. Cold air doesn't normally bother me. I prefer cooler temperatures over heat any day. Record lows stretch across America and it's no different here in the south, where frigid temperatures have walloped us. And they are calling for possible snow and ice in a few days. I have mixed feelings about this. Snow would be nice—my kids would love it. Ice is a different story. Ice is bad. Bad, I say. I don't want ice.

That is a few days away, so for now I want to talk diets. Uggh… diets. Who came up with this word? It's appropriate: Diet, because you are dying to eat.

Catherine and I started a diet on New Year's Day. Yeah, I know, what was I thinking, right? That maybe it was time I got back into shape and . . . gasps . . . started eating a little healthier. I love cow and chicken and pig—they are just so delicious in all their variables, especially the nugget, finger and burger style. They're just not that healthy for you and I'm 39 so maybe my health should be looked at a little differently now.

Catherine spent the morning figuring out the 'points' I'm allowed to use for food. Wow, points… Seriously? Yeah, seriously. There are a certain number of points I am allowed and I'm not supposed to go over it. Interestingly enough, Diet Coke has zero points and I've seen a lot of women drinking it like it's going out of style. Can that really help your diet?

Imagine Linus Van Pelt saying the word "Doomed" over and over and you have my expression and feelings just before starting this diet. We started the diet and after four days I have done pretty well. Laying in bed last night I started thinking and then I started speaking.

"Hey, Honey, if I don't use up all the points I have for each week, can I roll them over into the next week?"

This is the way the man's mind works. If I had leftover points I could roll them over into the next week and eat more of the stuff I like.

"No," she said sharply. "These are not like rollover minutes—you can't carry them over. Once the day is gone, the points are gone."

"Well, why not?"

"You just can't. It defeats the purpose."

No rollover points. Okay, does that mean I can't splurge on Superbowl Sunday and have a pizza?

[Deep sigh.] It was worth the effort, eh?

Interestingly enough, I haven't really been all that hungry since starting the diet. I've stuck with it, for the most part, and I haven't starved like I thought I would. We'll see how it works out. I'll keep you posted.

On to the main focus of this article. Recently I've been toying with the basics of writing. No, not nouns and verbs and the differences of to, too, and two. The actual basics of writing.

NOTE: Before reading any further, please understand that these thoughts are purely my opinion. Not fact. I have not researched this in any way shape or form. This is just the way I see writing in its most basic form.

Writing, in its simplest form, is like the primary colors and the two neutral colors. Let me see if I can explain this the way I see it in my head. Hold on a second…

"Hey, Charlie, are you up there?"

[Checks watch]


"Ummm . . . yeah, whatta yah need?"

"Do you still have that film on primary colors?"

"Uh . . . yeah, right here."

"Can you roll it?"



Charlie. He's such a good guy, but he often falls asleep on the job.

As you can see, all colors are based on one or more of the three primary colors of Red, Yellow and Blue. Primary colors are your most basic colors and without them you can't make other colors.

I look at writing in its most basic form kind of like the Primary Colors. Without the basics you can't write. The basics, in this case, would be words and putting them into sentences. The See Spot books are a great example of basic writing and a good place to start when learning.

See Spot run.

Basic. Red, blue and yellow.

Keep this in mind.

From the Primary Colors you can form the Secondary Colors of Orange, Purple and Green. I probably don't need to break it down but I will:

Red + Yellow = Orange
Blue + Red = Purple
Yellow + Blue = Green

By mixing primaries you take them out of their most basic form and create a different color. It's basically like expanding on the two colors, or in writing, expanding on a basic sentence.

Spot ran across the yard.

Not only do we see spot run, we now know where he is running. It is no longer a basic sentence, but one that begins to paint a picture. Pun intended.

From the secondary colors you can create Tertiary Colors. These colors are formed when mixing a primary color with a secondary color. They include colors such as Blue-Green and Yellow-Orange. It's a little more complex than just mixing two Primaries together. The same goes for writing. When you start mixing in details, sentences become stronger.

Now, let's change that sentence just a tad, giving it a little more detail as to what Spot is really doing:

Spot chased the ball across the yard.

The original sentence has now morphed from seeing Spot run into not only seeing him run, but also knowing that he is chasing a ball and he is doing it in a yard. We've just given Spot a reason to run. The sentence is morphing, a story is forming.

There's more.

Throw in your two main neutrals of Black and White. By mixing colors with black and white they can become richer or blander. It's really up to you. Add some White to the Red and you have Pink. Go the other way and instead of adding White, add Black and you form more or a Brick Red color. The variations are practically limitless. Writing, in my opinion, is the same way. By adding or taking away from sentences you can strengthen your writing.

Spot chased the soccer ball across the tall grass.

We've just described the ball in its most basic form (a soccer ball) and the yard Spot is running in (grassy). It is still very basic in the sentence structure but slight descriptions have been added and we know what Spot is doing. You can add to this or subtract from it and make the sentence pop or fizzle. Or you could stick with the basics—sometimes that works best.

Don't go away yet. Sit back down. Keep sipping that coffee or water or whatever it is you are drinking.

The basics are important but there is one other thing that takes the basics even further and, in my opinion, is the most important part of the entire Primary Colors Writing Philosophy.


In order to become better writers, we must understand Harmony. In essence, it is a pleasing effect produced by an arrangement of things, parts, or colors, according to the dictionary. In color schemes Harmony produces interest in a piece. It is not bland and it is not 'too busy.' It is visually pleasing to the eye, engaging, gives off a sense of order. Harmony, in art, is easy to view, pleasing to the eyes. It holds your attention longer than a chaotic blend of colors.

We, as writers, need to find the Harmony in our words. It's not just writing the words to a story that counts; it's writing the perfect words and putting them in the perfect spots. An almost perfect word in an almost perfect spot doesn't have the same effect. Finding the right spot for each word creates the Harmony you want when penning a story.

One of my favorite writers is a guy named John Mantooth. I've often thought he is a master of word placement, or word Harmony. If you've never read him, you should look him up. Brilliant writer. Brilliant.

Like colors, there are schemes and contrasts and textures that go with writing. By adding descriptions and emotions you can layer your stories, make them come alive, make the characters believable. But, it all starts with the basics. See Spot run. Go with it. What do you have to lose?

Again, these are just my opinions and I am in no way, shape or form a master at writing. This is what I have used to help me grow as a writer. Maybe it can help you as well.

For now, I'm AJ and I'm out….

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Beginning

How about some pimpage? Is that even a word? According to spell check it’s not. It doesn't matter. People make up new words all the time and I think someone else coined the word well before I used it.


First off, Happy New Year. We are eleven hours in and so far, so good. Things are always scheduled to change.

Before we completely say good bye to 2009, I want to say a couple of thing. Well, probably more than a couple. I want to talk, so sit down, grab your coffee and read. Okay? Thanks. Please, don’t read while intoxicated…

2009 GOALS:

I reached one of my goals from last year. I did manage to write 1000 words a day and nearly 400,000 words on the year. I have no clue, yet, as to how many stories I wrote. I’ll figure that out next week some time.

I didn’t reach a few of the goals. Most notably: I wanted to receive 50 acceptances from publications. I came close: 48.

I also wanted to break into the pro markets. Again, I came close, getting short-listed six times but, eventually, not getting in on all six submissions. I did, however, make quite a few semi-pro sales. It’s only the beginning, folks. Only the beginning.

The novel did not get finished. I started it. Actually, a couple of novels were started. I’m just not in full novel writing mode yet. I wrote two novellas, which I think will help me gear up for that novel writing experience and the discipline to stick with it.

So, with writing, I came close…

2010 GOALS:

Do I have to do this again?

Okay, fine. I will stick with one goal that I set for myself every year and I achieved it last year: 1000 words a day, minimum.

The second one is still to break into the pro markets.

I’m not setting my sights on a high number of publications this year—I don’t plan on submitting as much as I did last year: 156 Submissions. 48 acceptances, 11 pending, 6 withdrawals. Instead, I want to focus on something that I really thought hard about last year and worked on, especially in the last half of 2009: To make every story my best story.

I think, as writers, a lot of times we get set in our ways and we just write, either to get the words on paper or get them out of the way so we can start on something else. I am guilty of the latter. That’s not really fair to the readers or to the editors and slush readers, for that matter. Or to myself.

Something along these lines came up recently in a web forum I frequent. I was taking a poll about short stories. Why do you read them? Why do you write them? Questions like that. (For those who don’t know, I want to change the way folks view the short story. For those who write them, you know how hard it can be to come up with a complete story in less the 5000 words. For those who read them, I want to give you an experience you can remember.) Then, this statement was made by John Miller:

I hate that writers try to write a good story and submit it. I think writers should try to write the best story of their life each and every single time.

Yup, that’s right. And then there was this statement:

I don't want another good story; I want a GREAT story. I don't want to read a good hook; I want a GREAT hook. I think writers must try to write each story to be better than their competitors, better than their friends, better, better, better than what they wrote for their last story.


But, wait. There is more:

I think a story should pull the reader in, dragging the reader all the way through. Whether they get straight to the action or use a slow buildup, I don't give a rat's ass. I want to be pulled INTO the story. Whether its plot, language or strong characters, I don't care.

Did you read that last blurb? Read it again. If you are a writer, let it sink in. We should be pulling our readers in and not letting them go. It doesn’t really matter HOW we pull them in as long as we hook ‘em and hold ‘em. This is what you should be doing every time you sit down to pen a story. No, it’s not what you should be doing; it is your DUTY. Your responsibility. You should want to give your readers everything you have with every piece you write.

End of story . . . yeah, pun intended.

So, that is my biggest goal this year. To make every story better than the previous one. It’s only fair, not only for the slush readers, editors and, hopefully the readers who see my story and look at it, but for me, as well. I want you to walk away saying ‘Wow’ or ‘I need a smoke.’

A couple of things before I move on to the pimpage…

There are over 350 shopping days left until Christmas. What? Are you serious? You’re tired of hearing this crap? Me too. I want holidays to go back to being fun. I want there to be Halloween items on the shelf right up until November 1st. I want to see hearts and cupids and boxed candies and conversation hearts on the shelves until after Valentines Day. The same with Easter and St. Patrick’s Day. And, folks, I don’t want to see the first thing about shopping for Christmas until AFTER Thanksgiving. Seriously.

At the rate we are going retailers are going to find a reason to build up every day of the year as a big shopping day. As it stands we have President’s Day Sales and July 4th Sales and Martin Luther King Day Sales. Come on, folks. Do we really want it to come to The 5th Amendment Day Sale? Or having a sale for the day the Redsox finally clinched a world series? I like the Sox, but come on, man…

With Christmas in mind…

This Christmas we did something a little different. My wife’s grandmother wanted to see the parade in early December. For one reason or other she was not able to get there. She told my mom-in-law, Beth, that she wanted to see one more parade before she died. This made us all pause. We don’t think about our loved ones dying, but in truth, it will happen, especially as we grow older.

Beth and her husband, Lon, came up with a wonderful idea. She approached Catherine and I about it. Then several of us approached other members in the family.

What is it we did? Well, we wanted to give her a parade. Sadly, we could only get five cars rounded up and just enough family members so we could put on a mini-parade for them. We met up at the church a couple of blocks from their home on the lake. We decorated our cars with foam snowflakes and lights and posters. My wife dubbed our daughter Junior Miss Snowflake 2009 and she sat on the driver’s side door (with my arm around her) and waved like a princess as we drove by their house.

Trans Siberian Orchestra played loud from Lon’s truck, which had Beth and a few others, my son included, sitting in the bed next to a lit up Christmas tree.

“This is one of the best presents I’ve ever received.” That is what Catherine’s grandmother said.

It’s a memory that those of us who participated will remember for the rest of our lives. It’s something I wouldn’t let my children miss out on.

During the Christmas season so many folks are all about spending money for the best presents and, sadly, many folks like to be recognized for what they give. It’s an ego thing.

Maybe, just maybe, the best present isn’t one you can buy in a store. Maybe, just maybe, the best present can sometimes be the gift of your time. It’s something that you can never get back and it is one of the greatest gifts of all.

For those who participated in this gift of love and time, thank you. Thank you all. I, for one, would like to see this become a family tradition…

Okay, now for one more goal for 2010:

To be better at networking, blogging and putting myself out there. I hate doing it—it sounds so much like bragging. But, truth be told, if I want to make a name for myself, then I need to network better, to reach out more.

How about that for a segue?

Now for the pimpage.

My short story, ‘Dead Characters’ has been picked up by SNM Horror Magazine. It’s in January’s Issue #1. Also, my friend Suzie Bradshaw has a story in there as well. It is the story of the month and appears in Issue 2. It is titled ‘Devil In Cowboy Pajamas.’ After you read ‘Dead Characters,’ take a look at Suzie’s stories (and the others as well). Leave a comment in the guest book, let Steve Marshall know how much you like the new edition.

Dead Characters at SNM Horror Magazine

‘Sarah’s Playground’ is in the anthology Bonded By Blood II: A Romance In Red, put out by SNM Horror Magazine. This is a beautiful book. The cover is amazing and the forward is by Wendy Brewer. Details on purchasing can be found here:

Bonded By Blood II A Romance In Red

Liquid Imagination has just released their first anthology. It is the Static Movement Special Edition Print Volume II. For the most part this is a best of collection of the online magazine, Static Movement, owned and operated by Chris Bartholomew. Along with the best stories, you get quite a few poems. Each story is accompanied by illustrations.

My story, ‘Broken Hearted Savior,’ appears in this special edition collection and is illustrated by Kyle Naden. His illustration captures the story in a unique way. Thank you, Kyle, for the wonderful artwork for ‘Broken Hearted Savior.’

You can pick up the collection at a relatively inexpensive price of $10.00. First off, you can check out Chris’ Static Movement here:

Static Movement

Now, you can order the special edition print collection here:

Static Movement Special Edition Print Volume II

My flash story, ‘The Crimson Spider’ was picked up in December by The New Flesh. It’s a reprint but rewritten completely before I sent it in. You can check it out here:

The Crimson Spider at The New Flesh Magazine

Leave a howl if you will.

Okay, I’m done being longwinded. Please, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Feel free, also, to leave comments.

For now, I’m AJ and I’m out…