Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sweathogs, aging, and dreams

Oh man, Epstein died.

I read those words on Facebook the other day in a post by writer extraordinaire Stephen Mark Rainey, and a quick bit of Web surfing confirmed that Robert Hegyes, who played Sweathog Juan Epstein on the 1970s television show Welcome Back Kotter, had died.

He was 60.

I think reading that sentence, that he was 60, surprised me more than his death.

I was never a big Kotter fan, not because I had anything against the show, but this was back in the days when TVs came equipped with rabbit ears and needed an antenna mounted on the roof of the house. Where I lived we received two network television stations, CBS and NBC affiliates (and on rare days when the cloud-cover was just right, a fuzzy PBS affiliate). Welcome Back Kotter, carried on ABC stations, simply wasn't available. I caught it some while visiting my sister – they had this cool thing called cable television – and I thought it was mildly funny. Welcome Back Kotter that is, not the cable TV.

Still, I have an image of Epstein, and Vinnie Barbarino, Arnold Horshack, and Gabe Kotter very much like the one in this picture accompanying a New York Times article telling of Mr. Hegyes' death. Sure, I know it's been 32 years since that showed left the airwaves, and three decades is a long time. Still, in my mind I see the people in that series just like they appeared at that time, and learning Mr. Hegyes had died, that he had grown into the beginning of his seventh decade of life before dying – it just seemed sudden and sobering. Like he had aged all at once.

Has that ever happened to you? You see an interview with some star from a series you recall from years ago, but today they are gray and wrinkled – or worse, they have died – and it strikes you in some visceral way that they are getting older.
And that means you are, too.
Which brings me to this. Aging hopefully brings with it some wisdom and understanding. Chief among that understanding is that some of those hopes and dreams you might have had when you were younger were simply unrealistic. Others, though, may still be worth pursuing, maybe even more so now with the benefit of a few years of that wisdom as part of your make-up.

That's what I'm hoping. And that's why I've started this blog, and gotten more active over at my Facebook account, because I have decided 2012 is the year to return to a few of those dreams of my youth.

And make them reality.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Oh my! Mustangs, Legos, and writing at the speed of light: An interview with author A.J. Brown

Today I'm featuring an interview with author A.J. Brown. I had the good fortune to meet A.J. several years ago in an online writer's group, and we've kept in touch off and on during the years. You can even find a couple of anthologies here and there in which both of us have work (just this month, Blood Bound Books released Night Terrors 2, an anthology in which work from both of us appears). Truthfully, it's hard to find an anthology or publication that A.J. doesn't have something in. I don't know that I've ever seen a writer so prolific -- over the past two years A.J. has written a combined 112 short stories, a figure which puts most writers to shame. Over the four years immediately prior to that, he wrote an astounding 512 -- with a high of 135 stories in 2008. Most recently he's had his story, "In the Shadows They Hide," published in the aforementioned Night Terrors 2 anthology. And earlier this month, Dark Continents Publishing released a collection featuring three of his stories entitled Along the Splintered Path. The collection's release was part of Dark Continents' project Tales of Darkness and Dismay, featuring a series of novellas and collections from a dozen different writers.

If you want to know a little bit about the nuts and bolts of how A.J. and Dark Continents put the collection together, writer Michelle Garren Flye covers that in an excellent interview with A.J. at BREATHE.

Now, A.J., let's get started.

John: Tell us briefly about the Along the Splintered Path -- how did you whittle your work down to the stories you chose, how they were chosen, what were you looking for when Dark Continents commissioned you to do the collection?

A.J. Brown: I didn’t have a lot of time to put this together. Thankfully,  throughout 2011 I had put together a couple of larger collections in hopes of having one of them picked up. I received a few nibbles and even had a few promising leads, but they all fell through. So, when DCP contacted me about putting something together—a novella or three or four short stories for a collection—I jumped on it. 

I did a ton of editing on around twenty stories last year so I perused those and chose six pieces. I then enlisted help from a few friends and got it down to the four pieces I ultimate sent off. DCP chose the three they liked and Along the Splintered Path was born.

As far as what I was looking for: I’m a writer and I want to be published, I want readers to be able to see my work, to enjoy the words I put down. That’s the goal—to reach readers.

John: I'm particularly interested in The Woodshed. I read that story several years ago in its first public incarnation in the Dark Distortions anthology. You said in Michelle Garren Flye's interview that you rewrote much of the story since then. Is that a difficult process? How do you set aside what's already there, how the story already came to life once, and put together a separate piece that maintains the essence of the original? Isn't that, in many ways, more difficult than the original writing?

A.J. Brown: When I decided to rewrite The Woodshed I knew it would be a challenge. It had garnered some good comments and a lot of people really liked it.  As a writer yourself, you know that things you wrote five years ago may not be as well written as things you would write today. When I went back to the Dark Distortions version, I saw a few things that could use tweaking and a lot of that had to do with the way Kyle came across. He had to be a sympathetic character and his voice had to ring true throughout the entire piece. There were parts in there that I felt Kyle lost his voice. There were also a couple of contradictions that I can’t believe I didn’t catch back then. 

The thing with rewriting a story from beginning to end is you can’t be enamored with a line or paragraph or even entire pages. You have to be willing to say this has got to go and this needs to be reworded and, oh boy, how did I miss this? Your mindset is completely different and the work is more tedious—it is harder than sitting at the computer and typing something all new. 

To best explain the process, it’s kind of like working on a car or fixing the roof of your house. You see what needs to be done, you figure out what things need to be taken off or dismantled, then you repair it by putting in new parts or making the old parts sturdier. It’s time consuming and sometimes—okay, a lot of times—you mash your thumb or mess something up and have to go back and do it again, but in the end, you have things the way you want them. Your car is running again and your roof is fixed. Can you tell I’m from the south?

John: We haven't kept in touch too much over the past year or two, but I recall from earlier times you were really wrapped up with short story writing, with no inclination toward longer works. Any ideas of tackling a novel now, or have you already done that?

A.J. Brown: Ha! Yeah, I still have no real interest in tackling a novel. However, I have written two in the past couple of years.  I know, a contradiction of sorts. I didn’t set out to write a novel or really anything over five or six thousand words. I never do. I have a process for when I write: I sit down with a thought or a story swirling in my head and I just start typing. Most of the time the hardest part is coming up with the right opening line. I write. If a story ends up being two thousand words, then fine.  If one ends up being sixty-seven thousand, then I’m fine with that also. I chose a long time ago not to limit my stories based on a word count. I found writing to a word maximum was restricting for both the stories, and me so I stopped doing that. The two novels I wrote were done so by just sitting and writing and letting them take me on a journey.

John: Along the Splintered Path is an e-book collection, available for download to the Kindle. In this age in which it seems nearly every writer is abandoning traditional publishing for self-pub e-books, why did you choose to work with a publisher, rather than go it alone with self-publishing the work?

A.J. Brown: I was lucky. Simple as that. 

I actually did do a little e-publishing at the beginning of last year. Three stories were posted in a four month period over on Smashwords. They got some good reviews and I think I even got a fan or two out of it—which made the effort well worth it. But, ultimately, I’ve always wanted a publisher to think that my work was worth putting out there. 

I must have queried fifteen different places in 2011 about putting together a collection. It may have been more. I’m not sure. But, the no’s outweighed the nibbles and I strongly considered calling it a writing career and being done with it. 

Earlier in the year I subbed to DCP and they were very polite in their rejection and, honestly, I marked them off my list for 2011 and thought I would try again in 2012. Then at the tail end of November I received an e-mail to consider submitting for the e-book launch, Tales of Darkness and Dismay. Of course, I submitted and I’m happy I did so.

You never know when a door you thought was closed may reopen. As I said, I was lucky. 

John: Tell me, how in the world do you write at such a prolific pace? Before you answer, let me tell our readers those short story figures I mentioned in the introduction are for fully completed stories. They don't count the unfinished pieces, nor do they count the poetry, blogs, and other writing you do.

A.J. Brown: It was something that developed in 2005 when I joined the workshop you mentioned earlier. In that workshop are various private offices and there was one called, I can’t quite remember the name, but something like ‘Nellie’s Flash Office.’ It was an office where you were given a topic on one day, you had one hour to write the story in under a thousand words and post it up for the other contestants to read and then 24 hours to read and review the stories and vote for your top three. 

This was more of a literary type office, but I learned a lot about the economy of words and how restricting they can be. But I also learned how to take a simple idea and turn it into a story in an hour’s time. Now, understand what I’m saying: View the topic, come up with a story, write the story, edit the story to some degree and post it in sixty minutes. That’s when you realize how short an hour can be.

Later on I joined another flash contest office before creating my own dedicated to horror stories only. 

After I stopped writing flash stories (they are just too restrictive for a long winded person like me) I still implemented something I learned in that original office. Instead of writing in increments of a thousand words I began writing in increments of five hundred. By writing five hundred words, walking away for a few minutes or an hour or whatever, then coming back and writing five hundred words again, that word count became a breeze and I could write six, seven, ten thousand words in a day (when I had that type of time) easily. For me, I actually have a notepad by my desk so when I write I note the current word count and the time and then write until I reach the five hundred word mark, then stop (unless I’m on a roll and then I keep going). I make note of the new word count and time then do it again. It’s almost like I’m holding myself accountable to five hundred words every single time I sit to write. Not four hundred ninety-nine. It’s always five hundred or more. Always.

John: There are not enough markets to publish all of your works, I don't believe. What are your plans for all those stories that have not yet seen publication?

A.J. Brown: I’m going to rewrite them. I started that process last year and have turned some bare bones stories into meaty pieces by concentrating on what’s good about each piece and improving on them.  I’ll never get them all published and I don’t think I’ll try to. But, there are easily a couple to three hundred good pieces that can be fleshed out a little more and that can come alive with a little more work.

John: Let's stray away from writing for a bit for a round of quick questions to give readers a little insight into you. What would be your dream job?

A.J. Brown: Coaching. I love coaching kids.

John: Dream car?

A.J. Brown: 1972 Mustang

John: Dream location to live?

A.J. Brown: Wow. I really don’t know. I would love to live in Ann Arbor, Michigan so I could go see the Wolverines play, but my wife says no way to that.

John: Favorite non-writing-related activity?

A.J. Brown: LEGOs. No joke. I love LEGOs.

John: Who is your favorite big-name author?

A.J. Brown: Stephen King

John: Favorite not-quite-so-big-name author?

A.J. Brown: I absolutely love John Mantooth's work. So elegantly written. His stories are just phenomenal works of art.

John: Favorite television show?

A.J. Brown: The Walking Dead

John: Favorite movie?

A.J. Brown: The Outlaw Josie Wells

John: Okay, back to the writing. What's the best part of the writing process for you?

A.J. Brown: Watching my characters come alive and seeing how the stories unfold. I rarely have a clue where my stories are going or how they’ll get there. I have an idea and I just go with it. Learning about the stories and sitting in the passenger’s seat while they unfold is awesome.

John: Is there anything in the process you particularly dislike?

A.J. Brown: Getting stuck. Sometimes I write myself into a corner and have to go back and figure out where that happened. I hate it when that happens.

John: What do you do to get away from it all -- when work is hard, writing doesn't fill the bill -- how do you recharge your batteries?

A.J. Brown: My mind never really leaves writing. It’s always there, intentional or not. Anything can be a story idea—anything at all—and that is both the exciting part of being a writer and the bane of existence as well. 

Music, I think, is the one thing that takes my mind away—at least temporarily. It gets the juices flowing again and helps with the writing process.

John: Plans for the rest of 2012? Where can we find your work? What big projects are on the horizon?

A.J. Brown: Keep writing and promoting for Along the Splintered Path as well as for the other books in the Tales of Darkness and Dismay release. I hope the collection is a springboard of sorts and that someone reading it would consider my work for something else further on down the line. I do have those two novels—one of which I’m pretty sure readers will like.

Places you can find me are:

My blog, Type AJ Negative

Facebook:  AJ Brown

I have a Twitter account, but I hate Twitter.  However, I do use it.  You know how it is with all those necessary evils.

Twitter:  @AJBrown36

John: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. A.J. I'm looking forward to reading the new version of The Woodshed, the rest of the stories in Along the Splintered Path and to seeing what else you have coming down the road this year.

A.J. Brown: Thank you, John, for having me.

John: My pleasure, A.J. For any of you wanting to keep up with A.J. and his work, visit his website at Type AJ Negative

Sunday, January 22, 2012

We got it wrong -- the Mayans predicted a new beginning

I’m sure you’ve heard -- a thousand times by now -- the Mayans predicted the end of the world on Dec. 12, 2012. While that might make for good fiction, it’s far from the truth, because what ends is the Mayan calendar, not the world. We measure time in hours and days, weeks, months, years and centuries. The Mayans had their own units of measurement, and Dec. 12, 2012, for them, was to be the end of a measured era, not unlike what we might consider the end of a millennium.

In other words, there would be a next day. It wouldn’t be called Dec. 13, 2012, but it would be there none-the-less.

I do believe this year is another one in the long and, lately, steep decline in the traditional publishing world. I’m no expert, and I’m not one of the many writers with book deals who have seen their income dry up, their contracts disappear. But I have been reading widely about the industry for years. I’ve made my own forays into the world of fiction writing, with a few of my works showing up in print and online. I’ve always made it a point to only submit to paying markets, so that’s limited my opportunities to be published. And I’ll be the first to admit I have not pursued writing and publication with all the ardor often considered necessary to achieve any level of success. Still, given the time I’ve put into it, I’m happy with where I am in terms of the volume of my work which has been published.

I’ve made a few runs at breaking into the world of traditional book publishing with some novels I’ve written. Two of them, middle-reader works aimed at kids in the 9-year-old to 12-year-old group, garnered a bit of encouragement and referrals from a couple of agents, but never went any further. The past two years, however, have been difficult ones in many ways. I coach a high school basketball team, and that takes a tremendous amount of time. My workload on the job has increased significantly, requiring quite a few 12- and 14-hour days. My computer decided to quit working. And my health isn’t as great as it once was.

Yeah, I know, excuses, excuses. That’s not really the focus of what I want to say, though. I’m making a few changes in my life this year, and some of these will allow me to focus more on my writing.

But I’m focusing in a different way, at least on the publishing end, because I believe 2012 is the year many writers -- and more importantly, readers -- will truly realize the old publishing world is dying. Or at least changing dramatically. I believe the big publishers still will be around, pushing best sellers and making money on them. And I believe small, specialty publishers will remain, selling extremely limited editions of books for more money than it takes to feed my family of seven for two days.

The rest? I think you’ll see traditional print publishers continue to fall by the wayside.

So why am I putting a major emphasize on writing more in 2012?

For one thing, I enjoy it. Sometimes it’s like slamming my head against the wall. Other times writing is like having someone yank your teeth out -- without Novocain. But in the end, it’s a process I love, and when I’m not doing it everything else in my life loses a bit of its luster.

Second, I believe I don’t have to depend on the hope, however remote, of making it with a traditional publisher. Electronic publishing, via Kindle, Nook, and other e-formats has opened up the world to writers and readers in a way never before imagined. For writers, each of us now has the power to decide which pieces of our work will or won’t see publication. We decide the title of the novel, the cover design, how it is to be marketed, even the price.

For readers, the possibilities are endless. I recently received a Kindle (thanks to winning a contest by romance writer Michelle Garren Flye) and I’ve been amazed. It seems there is an almost endless supply of novels, novellas, and short story collections. Some are a little pricey for my tastes, but it seems an overwhelming percentage of the works are available for prices ranging from 99 cents to $2.99. Quite a few are even free, while others are available through Amazon’s new Amazon Prime lending library program.

As a reader, that’s hard to beat, especially when I know the writer of a $1.99-cent novel is actually making more on that sale than he would if a traditional publisher sold the work in paperback for eight bucks (because, in the literary world, moving product and making profit is the emphasis, the writer is mostly raw material to be used up and cast aside if he doesn’t like working for little more than a few quarters on each sale).

As a writer, this is becoming a big, brave new world. There are quite a few examples of indie publishers making it HUGE via e-publishing (J.A. KonrathAmanda Hocking, etc.), but that’s really not it. If it’s all about the money, even selling a couple of dozen copies of a novel is a better business deal for the individual writer than having the novel collecting virtual dust on the computer hard drive while one publisher after another rejects, or even ignores, your pitches.

But it is more than the money. As a writer, having the ability to put your work out there, making a connection with readers -- be it a few dozen, a few hundred, or if I may be permitted to dream a bit, a few thousand -- is far beyond the hopes most writers have dared to dream.

So maybe, rather than think of 2012 as another step toward the end of traditional publishing, it’s the beginning of a wonderful new universe.

For writers and readers, there will be a Dec. 13, 2012. And it just might be better than Dec. 12.

Note: Coming up on Wednesday, Jan. 25, a conversation with author and confirmed super-speed-writer A.J. Brown, author of the recently released collection Along the Splintered Path, published by Dark Continents Publishing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Night Terrors 2 released!

Back around the first of the year I promised some forthcoming publishing news, and here it is...

Night Terrors 2, a horror anthology published by Blood Bound Books, has been released! My story, A Mother's Love, is among 28 tales of dark and, hopefully, disturbing fiction. It will soon be available on Amazon, Borders, and the usual places, but you can get your paperback copy now by going to Night Terrors 2. The list price is $15.99, and if you've been looking for something to do now that we're past all of that holiday hub-bub, this collection of chilling tales is sure to keep you busy over two or three cold wintry evenings.

Better yet, I have a special offer for you, since you've been a faithful reader of my oh-so-infrequent blog. The first 12 people who comment on my blog, either here or at my Website, Dark Scribblings AND send your e-mail address to me, I will send you a special promotional code to purchase the anthology at half price! Don't worry, I'm requesting your e-mail address only so I can send the code. I will not share that address, post it on my blog or Website, or otherwise expose you to being spammed.

I have not yet read the full collection, but I can tell you a couple of the stories I have read are quite good, and I can't wait to get into the rest of them. So, what are you waiting for? Slip on over to Night Terrors and place your order. Remember, leave a comment here and then send your email address to me at, and I'll send that promotional code for 50 percent off (if you're among the first dozen people to do so).

After you've read the collection, come on back and tell us what you think.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Beginning

That's what many people think about today, as the calendar has rolled over to not just a new day or month, but a whole new year.

Personally, I don't believe in new beginnings. I think most of the time the best we can do is try to make some order from the chaos of life, occasionally rising above the din of day-to-day existence to accomplish something we find worthwhile.

Still, here we are at the dawn of 2012 and I'm starting something new – this blog you're reading. Actually, I've had a Website (Dark Scribblings) for a while, highlighting some of my horror and dark writing publications, although if you check it out you'll see I've not been too active there. I like to say it's because I've been busy coaching a high school varsity girls' basketball team, and that's the truth to an extent. But other factors, that din of day-to-day existence, often made it nearly impossible to do much.

I'm changing that, today. We'll see how far above that chaos I can rise.

Enough of the true-confession philosophy talk, and now on to my writing.

While I haven’t been terribly active of late, I did see my story, Patron Saint, published by the United Kingdom-based monthly e-zine Spinetinglers as their top story of the month in July. That means it's not only on their Website, but will be included in a paperback anthology featuring the best of 2011 Spinetinglers tales. You don't have to wait, though. Click on the title and take a read – it's free.

Later this month Blood Bound Books will publish the horror anthology Night Terrors 2, and my tale A Mother's Love will be in that collection. Not to be too self-promotional, but the editors there told me that story stayed with them long after they finished reading all the entries – it was hard to put the piece out of their mind. I hope you will pick up a copy and, don't take this wrong, but I hope my story haunts you, too!

I'll give more details as the release date approaches.

I hope to have a few announcements later this year regarding a couple of novels I've written, but for now that's all I'll say. Not much of a cliffhanger, but I hope it's enough to keep you interested, and returning to my blog for updates.

Go ahead and list yourself as a follower here, or over at the Dark Scribblings  Website, and I'll send you e-mail updates with new blog postings as they occur. Don't worry, I'm not all that prolific on the blogs, so your in-boxed won't be inundated.

Happy New Year!