Having Words with G. Marie Merante

Recently, Stitched Smile Publications put a multiple author anthology titled Unleashed: Monsters Vs Zombies. During the release party for this book, I met a lady who brimmed over with excitement. Having talked with her briefly during that party, I thought it might be time that you, Faithful Readers, get to meet her. Welcome G. Marie Merante to my world (and yours).

AJB: Tell me a little bit about you.

51oc1pr0byl-_ux250_GMM: I’ve lived in the same town all my life. Its very rural and if you blink, you miss the center of town. For the past 20 years, I’ve lived six minutes down the road from the house I grew up in, moving after I got married. I’ve been with my husband for 25 years, have three kids…well, men now-ages 31,19 and 18. And I might as well throw in my two dogs, three cats and my bird—an African Grey.

I work part time in an amazing bookstore, as well as have the day job, and of course the writing, which I’m always thinking about, or working on in between.

To add more about the me … besides writing, I study martial arts.

AJB: You’ve lived in the same town your entire life? I ask that like it is shocking, but I have mostly lived in the same town my entire life as well, only moving out of it for about a year.

GMM: Well … I moved here when I was seven, but since I have zero memory of anything before I was five, its basically all my life..lol

AJB: I shift gears a lot, so let’s talk about working in a bookstore. Do you enjoy it?

GMM: Its pretty amazing. The bookstore is iconic. Its well known in the world of Indie bookstores and it draws incredible authors. In the past I have met Neil Gaiman there, and this past year, Buzz Aldrin, Kate Hudson ( who I almost knocked over) and Lindsey Vonn. The list of authors is immense, so the store has amazing history and a great vibe, almost a Hogwarts feeling when you walk in. And to be around piles and piles of books, there is a weird coziness to it, a very peaceful feeling.

AJB: Oh wow. I would love to work in a small bookstore like that, one where I could get lost in the pages every chance I got.

GMM: Unfortunately, there is not much time to read while working, between helping customers, or shelving. I wish I could just absorb each book just by touching them.

AJB: That would be awesome, but then you would lose the experience of reading and feeling the characters and seeing their lives through their eyes.

GMM: Very true. I do most of my ‘reading’ on audio. Fortunately, my day job allows me to listen all day, so I’m constantly going from one book to another. I have about 260 books in my Audio library.

AJB: 260 audio books? Holy cow. I have to be honest here: I have only listened to two audio books in my entire life and they are both for my books.

51jmndlm9dl-_uy250_GMM: That’s a great way to do final edits on your own work. Reading out loud has never worked for me, so downloading your own pages to an audio file is always my last phase of edits before putting a book to bed and querying.

AJB: Well, I didn’t do the audio for them–I listened to the audio versions that were put out by my publisher and voiced by John Malone. He captured my writing wonderfully.

GMM: Ahh. That’s awesome!! Well … editing tip for you..lol

AJB: I’ll keep that in mind.

GMM: Oh … and THANK GOD for audio books … I would go crazy with my day job.

I go through 3-4 books a week, depending on their length. Harry Potter, thats taking a bit more than a week each.

AJB: 
I’m curious, who is the nicest celebrity you have met there?

GMM:  They’ve all been very nice, but Neil Gaiman was just amazing. Stardust is one of my favorite movies, and I told him that. He shook my hand and said most American’s have never even seen the movie. He signed my book and told me to DREAM. Which I do.

AJB: I have heard Gaiman is a truly nice person, which is something you always hope to hear about celebrities.

GMM: Its completely true. If you ever listen to any of the audio books that he narrates, what he sounds like on the audio is exactly his personality. The nicest guy ever.

AJB: That is awesome to hear.

Let’s shift gears again. You also mentioned you study martial arts.

GMM: Yes.

AJB: How did you come to that?

GMM: My husband was studying when we met, but then we got away from it. About five years ago, we decided to take classes with our two youngest boys who were still in middle school then (both are graduated from High School now.)

We believe in self defense, and I especially believe women should learn to defend themselves.

AJB: I’ve never taken martial arts. It is as much about discipline as it is self defense, right?

GMM: It is. In the school I go to that is instilled in the younger kids more. Respect. Listen to you parents, Do your homework. No testing for your next belt if your teachers don’t sign off agreeing the kids are well behaved and doing their work.

As adults, you should really have that down already … lol.

AJB: Maybe I should get my children into it.

GMM: Absolutely!! Its great for self esteem and its not at all about fighting. If you are at the right school, you are told to avoid confrontation, respect the art.

You learn to defend yourself, but with that comes responsibility. Ok … I sound like Spiderman now.

AJB: Hahahaha … Spiderman is okay in my book. But I hate his outfit from the earlier comics.

GMM: Spiderman has a very special place in my heart.

AJB: He does know how to weave a tangled web.

Let’s switch gears again and talk about writing.

GMM: Ok.

AJB: When did you get an inkling you may want to be a writer?

51xswnz8vl-_uy250_GMM: High school. English class. The teacher recommended I submit my creative writing projects to a high school literary magazine (Its been so long, I’ve forgotten the name of it). I wrote many short stories and poems. When I was about 23, I wrote my first book, a children’s book, and even typed it up on my typewriter. But it wasn’t until I was taking a college course in my thirties—a creative writing course—that the teacher told me I should be doing nothing else but writing children’s stories.

That was when I decided to write seriously

I wrote my first novel length book after that, then rewrote it about 10 times over 8 years.

I can’t even call it revising, they were total rewrites.

After I finally put that book to bed, did a bit of querying—maybe five queries and all rejections, I started another book. By this time, I had discovered Twitter, which was still pretty new at that point. There were agents and authors on there and I found out about Nanowrimo, so I decided it was the perfect time to start a new book. I wrote 30k of a vampire book before deciding I needed to do too much research to continue (Virgo … perfectionist). So I put that book aside, and started a new one—a dystopian and won Nano, writing 50k words in two weeks (don’t ask..I have zero idea how I pulled it off).

I finished the book in April, revisions and all. By September, I was querying the agents I had met on Twitter. A year later, I signed with the first agent I queried. But we didn’t go out to publishers for another seven months. By that time, dystopians were out. The book did not sell because the market was flooded.

I parted ways with her about a year and half later.

Since then, I’ve written two more books, one which I’ve been working on for four years and I’m querying for now. I also have  two fulls out at this time. The other I’m working on revisions again.

I also have about four new books on the burner … no idea which I’m going to write next.

AJB: The life and trials of a writer.

GMM: Yup. And two shorts, one with Stitched Smile Publications, and another that was picked up last April.

AJB: Let’s backtrack a little bit here. Tell me a little about that teacher who encouraged you to write in high school. Was he a cool teacher? Influential? Did you like him?

GMM: He was my favorite teacher, the kind that brings out the creativity in you. The class was small, maybe 20-25 people, so he read and graded the stories right in front of the students. That was when he told me I should be doing nothing else but writing for a living. He told me he has not seen a student writing like mine in many years.

I was stunned. At that  point, it had been several years since I wrote anything.

He started me on my journey. Planted the seed. And today, the short I wrote that day is still in the works. I’m revamping it, possibly turning it in a full length novel. (When I was young, 7-10yrs old,  when we visited my Nana, I used to go on witch hunts in the woods with my cousins and a boy who was my Nana’s neighbor. The story is based on those hunts.)

AJB: I love teachers like that. I wish there were more of them. Isn’t it interesting how one person can set the course for someone else by having a belief in that person?

GMM: Absolutely. His words still wring in my ears anytime I doubt my self, which is often. He was amazing. He obviously had passion that ebbed over into his students.

AJB: Writers have a habit of losing belief in themselves. Sometimes we need a push and a memory can often serve as that push. I’m glad to hear you had a teacher who can push you now, all these years after his encouragement.

Now, let’s talk about the two short stories you currently have out.

GMM: Sure!

45b45f94c1fe8fa41859dbf0ecfa9a4eAJB: First let’s discuss the one with SSP. Crystal Blue Waters, am I correct?

GMM: You are correct.

AJB: Tell me about Crystal Blue Waters.

GMM: Violene is a vampire forced out of Miami by the zombie out break, and back to her birthplace, a remote island in the Caribbean, in order to survive, only the tropical waters are not as safe as she thought, and its up to her to save her island.

AJB: Having read this, I thought it was a neat concept I think readers will enjoy. I might be wrong here, but is this your first publication?

GMM: It is.

AJB: Well, let me congratulate you on your first publication and make a toast to many, many more in the future.

GMM: Thank you!! Its very exciting. I have my contract with SSP framed. Its in my bookcase.

AJB: 
You do? That is awesome. I am happy for you.

Marie, do you have a favorite genre to write in?

GMM: Not particularly, though I tend to write dark. The book I am querying now is a YA historical/magical realism. I am revising a dark YA contemporary romance. I have two zombie books slated. Another one that I think would be classified as Literary fiction. Its what ever comes to me.

AJB: Diversity is a good thing.

Earlier you said you have ideas for other books. Do you find it difficult to focus on one idea or to choose which idea to write on when you have multiple ones in your head?

GMM: Its horrific. When ideas come to me, I get like little snippets of movies that just appear. Then they are stuck in my head. I carry a pile of notebooks with me because I’m constantly jumping from one to the other, constantly writing notes. I’ve had a particularly hard time trying to figure out which new book to work on. I have a few chapters for two of them, plot notes for the others. I’ve decided to wait on those while I revise the YA contemporary romance. That story is most prominent in my mind right now.

AJB: Then I would go with the one that is at the forefront of your thoughts.

GMM: Exactly. I’m adding a secondary story line that is going to parallel the existing story, so its is new writing, not all revising. Which makes it a bit more satisfying.

AJB: Just a couple of more questions and I’ll let you go. You said you have another short story out. Can you tell me about it?

GMM: Sure. Its with Dead Silent Publishing out of the UK, that is also a production company, focused solely on zombies. My short is called All Dressed in White, which takes place about a year after the zombie outbreak. A bride who was scratched and wakes up the morning of her wedding realizes she only has hours to live before she turns. So its a countdown of her preparing for the wedding, because its the last thing she wants to do, and a countdown to her becoming a zombie.

AJB: 
Oh cool. That is something I think I would like to read.

GMM: Awesome! It has a twist at the end..

AJB: Okay, Marie, I just have one more question for you: where can readers find you?

GMM: G. Marie Merante on Facebook

G. Marie Merante on Twitter

G. Marie Merante’s Amazon Author Page

For story boards: Pinterest

I used to have a website, but took it down to make changes and well … I need to work on it.

AJB: Thank you for your time Marie, it has been nice talking with you.

GMM: Thank you so much!

AJB: You are welcome.

Check out G. Marie Merante in both Monsters Vs Zombies and Zombie Chunks and look for more from her in the future.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Not Like It Used To Be

Families line the streets. Kids are bundled in coats, hats, gloves and blankets. Adults stand or sit in folding chairs, hands in pockets or laps, their excitement matching the children’s. A chill hugs each person tight. Teeth clatter, legs shake and dance; people trying to stay warm. Hot chocolate and coffee work for a while, but fade, leaving shivers along spines.

“How much longer, Momma?” they asks, young eyes and hearts waiting, hoping to catch a glimpse of an elf or reindeer or even Santa Clause. Maybe some candy will get tossed their way.

“Not much longer,” mothers and fathers announce, some happily, others with a chagrin that sits in their stomachs like heavy rocks. Christmas isn’t like it was when they were kids, back when December meant presents and eggnog and feasts, parties and family get-togethers, Christmas lights and holiday specials on television. Snow-filled streets meant sledding and snowmen, snow angels and snow ball fights.

There’s no snow this year; streets are covered in dust and dirt, debris from crumbling buildings, worn by time, weather and the passing wars. Few trees have stood the test of bombs and bullets. Fewer windows remain intact.

A breeze blows along Main Street, lifting grit and trash into the air. Many cover their faces, kids cry out from the sting of sand in eyes; some adults shake their heads and wonder why others choose not to wear protective goggles.

“Here they come,” a kid shouts. Others echo his words, sending a buzz along the road. Eyes open wide in anticipation and little ones squirm in their seats; blankets come off as they stomp their feet, kicking up clouds of dust.

Down the street a truck appears, adorned in reds and greens, its lights shining. The driver honks and waves a meaty hand as he passes through the crowd of onlookers.  Three fingers are missing. A pinky and thumb form an odd shaped L. “Merry Christmas,” he bellows. It comes out “Mare-wee Cwis-moss.”

The next vehicle inches along, yellow and orange lights cling to its exterior. The top of the car is missing, shorn off pieces of metal still jut out where the top use to be. A real beauty sits on the trunk, her feet inside the car. Her blond hair is singed at the ends, her once youthful face scarred on one side, an eye drooping, the eyebrow gone. A rusty crown sits atop her head. An unraveling sash across her faded blue dress reads Miss WW III 2038. She smiles. Her teeth are missing.

A marching band follows, horribly out of sync, no rhythm, none of them marching in unison with the ones in front, behind or beside them. Damaged horns squawk and squeal, bells clatter, hollow drums are rapped on with broken sticks from fallen trees, all forming a cacophony of noise that no amount of rehearsing could fix. Some of them are missing limbs, a foot here, an arm there, both legs over there, being pulled along in a wheel chair by a man with no arms and a limp, a rope tied around his waist. Distorted faces and twisted torsos make the rag tag orchestra a crowd favorite. Several other bands would follow, strategically placed along the length of the parade, but none quite as spectacularly grotesque.

A semi pulling a trailer creeps up the street. Women dressed in red and white striped bathing suits dance along poles to ancient Christmas Carols that few of the children have ever heard. Adults sing along to Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Holly Jolly Christmas. Few even notice the women. The new wave of freaks—the beauties of a long forgotten yesterday who have no blemishes on their faces and who aren’t walking with limps—stare out at nothing as they dance, cringing with fear at those gawking at them. Tears fill their crystal blue, green and brown eyes.

Cars proclaiming the holiday season inch along, large men behind the wheels; motorcycle riders doing wheelies and criss-crossing figure eights, careen about, almost going into the crowds, but pulling back at the last moment, much to the dismay of the thousands of onlookers. It is rumored that once a year a bike goes off course, taking out several spectators to the delight of those who are fortunate enough to take in the carnage. Smoke billows from rusty mufflers, engines growl, spit and sputter during turns, but none of the bikes slide out of control, maiming or killing folks along the streets. Children poke out their lips. The pain would be worth not being like the freaks dancing on poles for men and women alike to ogle and insult, to abuse as they see fit when the parade is over.

The first hour pushes well into the second one. As the end draws near a burnt orange fire truck looms in the distance, its tires dirty, ladder crusted in grime and rust. A wooden chair sits at the back, elevated. A large man with blush red cheeks and flowing white and gray hair, a beard down to his stomach and a red jump suit sits on the throne. A hole is in one knee, no black belt at the waist. His black boots are scuffed and his red cap is missing the dangly white ball that should be attached to its tip. At his feet sit several packages and bags, wrapped in newsprint and tied with twine.

The children scream, “It’s Santa Clause.” They laugh and cheer and clap; some of the adults cry. Santa didn’t look like this when they were kids. He wasn’t a scraggly old man whose rosy cheeks came from drinking a pint of illegal liquor before the Christmas parade. He wasn’t a man with a sack not full of goodies, but something much worse. He wasn’t this vision of insanity that the younger people know and somehow love.

The fire truck stops. Santa stands, reaches behind his throne, hefting a gray bag onto his shoulders. He waves a black glove at the crowd as he turns in a circle, a toothless smile noticeable even with the thick tufts of gray and white that cover most of his face from ears down. His eyes fall on a group of people huddling around a metal barrel, flames licking up from it. They warm their hands and roast marshmallows; the perfect picture of happiness.

Santa points. “Onward, Rudolph.”

The fire truck veers to the left as the driver mashes the gas. The engine revs, the truck lurches forward, black smoke spills from the exhaust. Bodies scatter as the grill and bumper strikes the crowd. A brilliant flash of orange, yellow and red emits from Santa Clause’s bag of gifts. The explosion follows, ripping the back of the fire truck apart. Santa evaporates in a spray of metal, flesh and shredded wrapping paper. The front of the truck smashes into a dilapidated building that collapses. Brick, metal and glass tumble to the ground, taking with it several more people and kicking up a large dust cloud. Fire engulfs the truck, the building and many onlookers. Others scramble about, searching for body parts, tossing pieces aside, frantically looking for…

“I found it,” a woman yells and lifts Santa’s head from a pile of rubble. His jaw is missing, along with one ear. An eye dangles from an empty socket. Her family and friends pat her on the back, congratulating her, some grudgingly, others with the genuine sincerity only offered by loved ones.

A collective groan emits from those seeking the Christmas prize. People gather their blankets and meager belongings. Kids shuffle with parents back to their cold homes, devoid of windows and heat, misery greeting them at their doorways.

A green car pulls alongside the woman, the back door opens but no one gets out. A white gloved hand extends from the darkness, and beckons her to get in. The woman hugs her family, tears streaming from her eyes.

“I’ll miss you all,” she says and steps toward the car.

“We love you, Mommy,” one little girl says and hugs her leg tight. She lets go, steps back. “You’ll be the best Santa ever.”

“You bet I will,” she says and lifts Santa’s head high in the air. Blood spatters her and her family, but she doesn’t seem to notice. She gets inside the car, to little fanfar. It speeds off, leaving the family waving. The little girl bends down, picks up Santa’s stocking cap, turns it over in her hands, and places it on her head.

“Daddy, do you think I’ll ever be Santa Clause?”

Her dad kneels, puts both hands on her shoulders. “Anything’s possible, sweetheart. Anything’s possible.”

The family leaves, father and daughter holding hands. They chatter about the parade, the fireworks and wonder about the body count. Still, some adults stand, shocked, dismayed by the events. Christmas wasn’t like this when they were kids…

 

Forbes West: An Interview

Sometimes you meet someone who has a different viewpoint than most folks. The viewpoint can sometimes be bad and sometimes be good. It can also be refreshing. One of those viewpoints I find refreshing belongs to Forbes West, a writer, producer and a podcaster. 

When I sat down to do this interview with Forbes, I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I quickly learned this is someone I like, someone who shares similar viewpoints as I do about writing. Y’all sit back and have a coffee, soda or brew and let me introduce you to Forbes West.

AJB: Okay, for starters, let’s talk about you. Who is Forbes West, the person?

FW: I’m nobody. I’m a tramp, a bum, a hobo. I’m a boxcar and a jug of wine, and a straight razor if you get too close to me. Or a person who is fond of using Charles Manson quotes to respond to texts.

AJB: Fan of Charles Manson?

FW: Am I a fan of Manson? Nope, but he’s the King Emperor of bat shit crazy things to say. Too bad his musical career never took off because he decided to kill a celebrity or otherwise he’d be the most quotable man on the planet.

AJB: He still could be one of the most quotable men on the planet. He definitely has some unique views.

FW: Unique is a good term. Covers a lot of ground.

I’m just a guy who lives and works in California, who’s been lucky to still be married and I get to live part time here in the USA and Japan. My wife is Japanese, we own a home in Shizouka prefecture, and I write novels and produce films.

AJB: You said you live part time in Japan and USA. I’m sure there are a LOT of differences between the two countries. What, from your experience, are the biggest differences between the two?

FW: Biggest differences is freedom vs community. That’s not to say one is better than the other. They aren’t. There’s pros and cons to both. But in California, which my wife loves, she can do whatever she wishes to be. She can strive for the stars. She can be creative and fun and hang out with people with massively different backgrounds with little to no judgment. You can be whoever you can be. In Japan, there’s a sense of being in a real community, where people ask you how your day has been, where bicycles can be left on the sidewalk without a chain, where your neighbors look out for you and people who know you can’t speak the language take a moment to speak yours. Safety, stability, cleanliness, and order. You can walk down any street and know people are looking out for you and actually care.

AJB: Wow, that sounds the way things used to be here where I live when I was a kid. That is, honestly, the way the world should be. Look out for one another.

Just out of curiosity, which do you prefer?

FW: I honestly don’t prefer either one. I love California and Japan. I think California has the ability to do so many random things. And again, everyone has different backgrounds, different views, and seem to be living in peace. I love the multiculturalism there and seeing people from radically different backgrounds.

AJB: I love that mindset, Forbes.

FW: My wife prefers it as well. Japan has many wonderful things, to be honest. Food, culture, and the most kind people I have ever met. But, its one thing to visit and go around Japan. To live there, it can be very oppressive at times. The companies control everything, and its not unheard of to know people working 80 hours a week, with only 40 hours paid, and to have the most verbally and emotionally abusive bosses overhead. The social pressure is enormous.

AJB: Wow. That’s crazy.

FW: So in a lot of ways, it is like the 1960s of the USA. Sure, there are real communities (which is a terrible thing we’ve lost) but the everyday B.S. can be overwhelming. It’s like California and Japan are opposite ends of the spectrum.

AJB: How did you come to be able to travel back and forth between the two countries?

FW: Well, we’ve been lucky and fortunate that my wife works as a Professor for a college, so she doesn’t have the year long schedule, and my schedule is also flexible. We own a home in Japan so there’s no additional costs besides airplane tickets. So in the winter and in the summer we travel back.

AJB: Man, I think that would be a blast,  and something to look forward to during the year.

Let’s switch gears for a second and talk business.

FW: Sure thing.

AJB: You are a producer of films and a writer and a podcaster. Which of those came first and which one do you find to be the most difficult?

FW: Films. Podcasting is just pure fun but films are incredibly difficult. Even producing and putting together a short film was the most difficult thing I have ever done. It’s a true battle—and on many fronts—accounting, getting people together, finding locations, money, story, etc. etc.

AJB: I would think the films would be the most difficult as well. You said Podcasting is just pure fun. What makes it fun? Is this something that you can say, ‘hey I’m going to do this and we’re going to have a blast?

FW: Pretty much. I’ve met some great people (Jon Frater, Michael Bunker, Rob McClellan, Nick Cole, Christopher Boore, and Todd Barselow) and just getting together with them and shooting the shit has been epic. Authors, editors and publishers getting together, especially with the intellect involved, and everyone has a great sense of humor—its’ been a blast. Interviewing with them, talking about issues, etc, all been great.
Oh and Jason Anspach. He’s a jerk but he knows it, he’s mentioned last on purpose. He knows why.

AJB: Sounds like doing a podcast allows you to be free and easy going and pretty much talk about whatever it is you want to discuss.

FW: Exactly. And thank God we live in a day and age where you can do this and just launch it all in a day

AJB: I’ve always wanted to do a podcast, and from what you have said, I think that desire may amp up a little.

Of the three, producing, podcasts, and writing, which came first?

FW: Writing. Just writing. I taught myself over the years while I was getting my Masters degree in political science. I started trying to write bad screenplays, awful novels, and started to turn it around. Writing to me, has always been like preparing for a marathon. There’s a ton of creative people out there, but you have to learn how to really just keep the energy up to finish what you started.

AJB: That is a very good point. Writing is very much like a marathon, and so many people give up because they get stuck instead of trying to see a way to fix where they became stuck.

You said you taught yourself over the years. Can you explain what you mean by that?

FW: Well, I read a lot of how to write a screenplay books, I read old screenplays (like the original Robocop and others, there’s a few sites out there that have copies and pdfs for you), and I just sort of tried every night to write up something.

I love stories, I love telling stories, and I just wanted to make something up that I would see on tv or on the big screen

After a while, I drifted into writing novels. Due to the freedom of the format—screenplays are somewhat limited in certain senses.

AJB: In what ways are screenplays different than novel writing?

FW: Screenplays have to focus on the visual image- you can’t just “show the thoughts” of a character, it has to play out in realtime in a way an audience can understand. You can’t have true introspection with a character with a screenplay, you don’t have that sense of jumping into someone’s skin. That’s the biggest difference for me

AJB: I can see that. I can definitely see that.

Your first novel is Nighthawks at the Mission?

FW: First one, yes. It was self-published, published with one publisher, and just recently re-published a few days ago with three new short stories.

AJB: So you originally self published Nighthawks at the Mission and then it was picked up by a publisher and re-published?

FW: That’s correct

Originally self published in 2013

AJB: Great. Congratulations on getting picked up.

Since you originally self-published Nighthawks at the Mission, can you tell me what the difference is between self publishing a book and having a publisher publish a book?

FW: Marketing. Really, just the ability to market the product. A person can easily have a great idea, get it well edited, have a kick ass cover. But the ability to market the book itself without real support from those who just know how to market, that’s the rub. Amazon has an amazing system to get your stuff out there, but Amazon doesn’t publicize a single thing. So if you don’t have a full time person working with you to really get your stuff out there, it’s not gonna happen. You could be that person, but the set of skills needed to do so is usually not found with the person who can write. It can happen, but its extremely rare.

AJB: Man, isn’t that the truth?

Okay, I want to shift gears  again. Outside of writing, producing and podcasting do you take yourself more seriously or less seriously than when you are creating?

FW: More seriously. Writing is my life, but it’s a lot of fantasy happening. I feel like when I’m writing or doing what I do, I think its pure fun in the end. The exasperation I get or the stress is the stress of trying to win a ball game or beat a video game. It’s not the same as dealing with office politics b.s. The stress is a much better stress to deal with.

AJB: Agreed. I guess that would make doing the podcasts even more fun—there’s no pressure in it.

You have to be creative to be in these fields. How do you view creativity and the act of creating a movie, a book or a podcast?

FW: I think creativity is something where you basically go with your subconscious. Whatever pops into your head. Whatever odd idea you may have. Whatever just bubbles up. I think most of the time people are actively limiting their creativity—that people worry too much about being embarrassed, or they want to do what is currently popular, and they want to find something that should be “profitable” instead of just letting their imagination run wild. You have to really try to make yourself go into a dream like state to make true creativity happen. You have to shed your ego a bit.

AJB: Well, dang! That is exactly how I feel about creativity.

So, with that in mind, with letting yourself get to that creative place, do you tend to follow the rules or just say ‘screw it’ and do your own thing?

FW: I don’t try to follow the rules. I think that, especially as a writer trying to break out, doing so will just make my work fall to the wayside. We live in a post-modern age; everything under the sun has been done and been read and/or viewed. You have to really try and stretch to do something different. And I think I did that with Nighthawks at the Mission.

AJB: Tell me about Nighthawks at the Mission.

forbes-west-cover-artFW: Nighthawks is my answer to the young adult field. It’s set in a world just like our own, but with one wrinkle—there’s a portal to another planet that opens twice a year in the South Pacific, and that planet has a resource that allows anyone to have paranormal/magical abilities. A young woman, sick of her life in SoCal, decided to become one of the many settlers there after her boyfriend screwed her over. She’s not a hero, she’s not the best person, but she does her best when dealing with the stresses of life on another world and living this post-modern colonial life with an alien species and a growing terrorist threat.  My character, Sarah Orange, reacts to these things realistically and many times badly. The book strips the bark off the usual YA tropes and turns them on their head, and we see a real person in a very fantastical setting prove herself

AJB: That sounds like a great storyline.

FW: Thank you!

AJB: With you stripping the bark off the usual YA tropes, do you feel you accomplished something unique with the book?

FW: I believe so. YA books always have the same protagonist. The story may be different, but the protagonist always is the same. Always trying to be the hero, always tough, always generous, always right, etc. etc. Mine isn’t. She’s a fuckup. She’s greedy. She’s angry. She’s selfish. She numbs her pain with drugs and alcohol. She’s foolish. She accidentally does the right thing. She’s very human. That’s the big difference between her and the others from TwilightHarry PotterThe Hunger Games, etc.  It seems like a real person.

AJB:Twilight…meh…

That is the trick, isn’t it? When the rubber meets the road, the whole thought is to have a believable character and a believable storyline. If you can capture that you have a great chance of capturing the audiences’ attention.

Okay, Forbes, I’ve kept you for a while, and I greatly appreciate your time, but I do have one or two more questions. The first of these is based on something I hear from a lot of authors. Many of them tell me their spouses or significant others do not really care what they do or they don’t support them in their desires to write, tell stories and get published. How does your wife feel about all of your creative endeavors?

FW: She loves it. She’s been the biggest cheerleader. She was the one who got me into it. We were dating at the time and I told her that I sort of liked writing, but really I wanted to do politics (hence my degree). She told me flat out that she wanted to hear more about what I write and that I had a voice and from that point on was always getting me books on writing, and sort of pushing me towards writing. She just flat out said “Writing’s a helluva lot cooler than politics.” I ignored her for a while about that, but in the end, I think she was damn right.

JB: I like your wife. She is definitely right! My wife is the same way, always pushing me to keep doing the one thing I love to do: tell stories.

Okay, where can we find Nighthawk at the Mission?

FW: http://forbeswestbooks.com/nighthawks-at-the-mission/

JB: Well, that was easy.

Normally, folks will ask, what advice do you have for others out there. I want to go in the opposite direction. What would you tell other authors, film makers, or really any artists, NOT to do?

FW: Not to do the same thing everyone else is doing and not to do the most popular thing. Don’t just rehash old material. Take a moment and think it out. Have you seen this idea more than 5 times in different formats? Are you just doing this because the same stuff is out there in the world? Then don’t bother. Your crew, your actors, your readers, and yourself will be bored. And you’re gonna work really hard on something that doesn’t mean a damn thing in the end.

JB: Preach it, Forbes.

Before we go our separate ways for now, is there anything else you would like to add in that we have not discussed?

FW: I don’t think so at the moment.

AJB: Thank you, Forbes. You are one cool dude.

FW: Thanks man! Thanks for having me.

You can check out Forbes at his website here: HERE

Flash Fiction, Hank Walker Style

They’re all dead. The whole town. Not a living person to be found.

Hank leaned against the truck, a cigarette between his lips. He wasn’t much of a smoker, but he might not see another day, so why not? The first cigarette he had ever smoked made him lightheaded. It gave him one hell of a coughing fit, as well.

Strike that off the bucket list, he thought and flicked the cigarette away. It tumbled end over end and landed in the snow with a hiss and a light plume of gray smoke and white steam.

He coughed again, but not from smoking. No, this was from the infection. He was sweating from the fever and his eyes watered. Scratches were on his arms, neck and face. Blood had dried on a few of the deeper wounds. His leg throbbed, but at that point, he no longer cared. What he did care about was taking out the biters shambling along the dirt road.

They didn’t seem to notice him. He blamed the infection for that. If he weren’t dying, not being noticed by the dead would be a good thing, but now, as his body threatened to shut down and turn him into one of those creatures, he wanted to be noticed by them. He wanted them to see him coming.

A biter lurched passed him, her grayed hair disheveled, skin sagging from either old age or decay…or both. What Jeanette would have called a housedress barely hung from her shoulders, the flower print speckled with crusted blood.

“Hey lady,” Hank said and reached for the axe next to someone else’s truck he had been leaning against. She turned, not just her head, but her entire body, and seemed to look through Hank. If she would have actually noticed him, she would have seen the stocking cap on his head, the fuzzy white ball hanging from it. She may have even wondered why he wore such a thing if it wasn’t Christmas. Hank didn’t know if it was Christmas. Again, he didn’t care.

He hefted the axe in both hands and took a few quick, almost lunging steps. He swung it as hard as his weakening muscles allowed. The top of the woman’s head shattered beneath the blade and she crumpled to the ground. A halo of brownish red blood formed beneath what remained of her head.

“Merry Christmas, lady.”

Hank wiped a spatter of thick blood from his face and then reached into the pick-up truck. He mashed the horn and held it for several seconds. The biters along the streets and in the yards of the small community where he thought he would die turned and began their awkward trundle toward him.

Hank coughed hard, the action tearing at his chest. His stomach cramped and released and then he spat out a string of yellow phlegm. There was a streak of red with it. It was time and he was tired. Beyond that, he was pissed. He tapped the front fender with the bloodied blade and gave a sickly smile. As the first of the dead approached him, he raised the axe and began to sing.

“Oh come all you biters, come and get your head split…”

***

Yes, I know this is a Christmas story, but it is also a Hank Walker piece. It was written based off of a prompt of a man standing next to a pick-up truck, smoking a cigarette. Next to the truck is an axe. Sticking out from the bed of the truck is a hand. The piece I originally wrote for the prompt was of an angry Santa Clause–a red neck Santa Clause. Then I got the idea for this story. I hope you enjoyed this little piece, even if it is a Christmas story in October.

A.J.

 

 

Under Pressure…

I have 1484 ‘friends’ on my Facebook page. Whether I know all 1484 of them personally doesn’t matter. At some point, we made a mutual agreement to become acquainted. One of us sought out the other one and said ‘hello.’ The other one responded by accepting that ‘hello’ and becoming friends.

Isn’t that how life happens, how friendships are born?

I find it interesting that we view total strangers as friends. I have never actually met, face to face, with probably 1300 or more of these friends. Still, those perfect strangers are my friends. But what I—and more than likely, you—fail to realize is on the other side of the device (where you are reading this right now) is a person. For me there are 1484 people looking back. Of those 1484 people, probably less than 200 of them actually interact with me. I’m okay with that.

Why?

Well, because they are all people, and they have lives and cares and worries. They have dreams and ambitions. Some are sick and in need of prayer or comforting words. Others are fine and life is being very good to them right now. But all of them are people.

A little perspective if you will. On my friends list:

There are rich folks and there are poor folks, and there are those in between.

There are folks from every state in the United States.

There are folks from England, Australia, Canada, Germany, Russia and, yes, the Middle East.

There are folks who work as lawyers and nurses and teachers.

There are folks who work as bartenders and taxi drivers and in retail stores.

There are folks who work in factories and restaurants.

There are folks who work in the business of religion and others who work in the business of politics.

There are cops and firemen.

There are single moms and single dads raising their children the best they can.

There are married couples raising their children the best they can.

There are gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.

There are straight folks, too.

There are musicians and voice instructors.

There are successful writers, as well as fledgling ones with dreams of writing for a living.

There are readers who love books.

There are Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, Non-Denominationals, Methodists, Nazarenes, Atheists, Agnostics and maybe even a Satanists or two. And yes, there are Muslims, as well.

There are liberals, and there are conservatives.

There are folks who like heavy metal music. Others who like rap. Still, others who like classical, and some who like country and some who like bubblegum pop. There are those who like it all.

There are sports fans and there are folks who can’t stand sports.

There are those who love movies and television.

There are those who don’t care much for either.

There are those who love The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and those who have never seen the first episode of one or both shows.

There are those who will only drive a Chevy or a Ford.

There are high school friends on here, too.

There are whites, blacks, Asians, and Native Americans.

Why does any of this matter? Simple: all of them are people. People with hopes and dreams, and people who just want to make it home to their loved ones at the end of the day. They, like you and I, have feelings. They, like you and I, have ambitions. They, like most of us, are saddened by events where people are killed recklessly and needlessly because of hate and fear.

During this week where America celebrated its independence, at least seven people died who should still be alive today. The key word isn’t black or cop. The key word here is ‘people.’ Seven people are dead and millions more are angry and some are even enraged to the point of…hate.

Today I sit at my kitchen table having not only celebrated my nation’s independence, but also my birthday. Seven people will never see another birthday. Their families are forever changed, and many of them are mad, not just at those who killed them, but at other people as well—people who have nothing to do with the events that unfolded this week.

There are those who want revenge and those who want to take away someone else’s freedoms and those who want justice now. There are those who will lump everyone into a category because of a few people’s actions. There are those who will scream and demand change, demand our government do something about this.

Here’s the problem with that: change will never come about until we, the people, change our way of thinking and change our hearts. We, the people, are the only ones that can bring positive change. Not our governments and not our laws. The people. The same folks I have mentioned up above can make a change, but in order to do so, we have to change our hearts, we have to learn how to be compassionate again. We have to learn to love our neighbor. If we can have total strangers on a social media site that we call friends, and some of which we come to cherish and possibly even love, then why can’t we do the same to the people we come in contact with every single day of our lives?

I’m reminded of the song Under Pressure, by Queen and David Bowie. At the end they come to the conclusion that it is love that can make a difference in every person’s life. But love is so old fashioned…

And love dares you to care for

The people on the edge of the night

And love dares you to change our way of

Caring about ourselves

The way I see it is, love dares you to look in the mirror, but we don’t want to do that. We want to lay blame somewhere else. We, as a people—not as a nation, as a people—need to step back and look at ourselves, and make a change, starting with ourselves. If we don’t, I fear for myself, my children, my friends, my fellow people. Because, the way I see it is if we don’t make a change in our hearts and our mindset soon, then we will never have true freedom again. We will all be prisoners to fear and rage and hate, and no one will be safe.

This, well, this is how I see it. Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

Here’s Donelle

Good morning Stitched Smile Nation!

Donelle Blog ImaeWe’re going to do something fun today. We are going to talk about Donelle Pardee Whiting, a.k.a Cookie, a.k.a. other names that shall not be mentioned. Starting today, we here at SSP are going to share Donelle with the world. No, no, no. That’s not like sharing candy or clothing, but more like sharing where you can find her.

No, this is not Where’s Waldo. This is, Here’s Donelle.

Here is what we are doing: Over the next few days, starting today, on the various social media platforms, we are going to point you in the direction of where to find Donelle. This will include links to Amazon, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram and her web site. Then, on Sunday, June 19th, there will be a brief (15 minutes or so) live interview with Donelle that you won’t want to miss.

Sounds cool, doesn’t it?

Y’all get ready now and we’ll see you soon.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Getting Deep with Donelle Pardee Whiting

A couple of weeks ago I got to sit down with one of the editors for Stitched Smile Publications. Her name is Donelle Pardee Whiting. She’s smart and witty and funny. She’s also a superb editor and has just recently gotten back into writing fiction. We sat down, as always, at a computer screen and chatted. I had my coffee and a comfortable seat on the couch. I’m not sure where she was sitting. What I am sure about is she surprised me with some of her answers.

AJ: Donelle, tell me a little bit about you.

DPW: Oh you would start with the question I hate the most. Well, let’s see. I am married with one son and three (soon to be four) grandkids.

I love to read, but I go in cycles. I don’t stick to one genre. I read horror, sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, suspense, mystery. I guess it would have been easier to say everything except straight up romance.

I like to spend time outside. Skiing, camping, hiking, sitting at the beach. Wherever my mood takes me. I absolutely love being out on the Harley with my husband.

And I enjoy traveling. I have been blessed with a mom who likes to take me with her on trips.

AJ: Hold the phone: Harley? I would have never guessed that. Tell me more about how you got into that.

DPW:  I didn’t always love Harleys. But I did like motorcycles. In college, I had a few friends who rode. When we were dating, my husband had a Kawasaki, but he always wanted a Harley. So, through his eyes (I let him keep those), I started to see the appeal. They’re growly and tough. And if treated right, they last a long time. There is a long history behind them. Although my husband is more knowledgeable about that than I am.

Strigoi COverAJ: If you had to choose between a Kawasaki or a Harley, I’m guessing you would go with the Harley?

DPW: While the only truly important thing to me is my husband is the one in the “driver’s seat,” I would definitely choose to have the Harley. A few years back I took a class to get my motorcycle license. Now I have to save my pennies so I can get one of my own.

I love to ride on the back, but unfortunately, I only get to ride when my husband is able. I won’t take his out. That’s his baby. I didn’t even want my name on the registration when he bought it six years ago.

Still don’t.

I almost forgot. We had a Suzuki Katana before the Harley. I still prefer the Harley.

AJ:  Most folks I know love their Harleys. Let’s step back a minute and talk about your reading preferences. Anything except romance?

DWP: Right. I have nothing against people who like a good romance. I have, in the past, read a few. When I was younger…by several years. And occasionally, in the past, I have read works by Nora Roberts, but I prefer her books under the name J.D. Robb. I have nothing against romance; I just don’t need to be romanced. It’s nice when there is a spontaneous gesture, but I don’t expect it, so to me getting lost in a straight up romance novel is akin to getting lost in what a person feels is missing from their life. I could be wrong, but that is what it feels like to me. Plus, a lot of those books are formulaic and predictable. I don’t even really enjoy romance movies. I will watch some rom-com films, but I have to really like the actors. I prefer movies that are in line with my reading tastes.

I think I just figured out something else. I don’t like meek, subservient, female characters. I am not saying the character has to be Xena, the Warrior Princess. She can have weaknesses or a softness to her, but I don’t like when a female character is portrayed as needing a man to rescue her or to make her feel like her life has meaning. I like that I can count on my husband to be there for me, and to help me. I don’t need for him to, but I like that he is there. Especially, those rare times when there is something I can’t do like fix my car.

AJ: You hit on something very deep here. Getting lost in a straight up romance novel is akin to getting lost in what a person feels is missing from their life. I’ve said something similar to this when referencing erotica and romance and have been blasted for it. Since reading is essentially losing yourself in a book or story, do you find that sometimes people really do read certain types of books to fulfill something missing in their lives?

DWP: Oh boy. I opened the door, so time to step through. I get lost in a good story. And I am perfectly okay with getting lost in a story. But, is it always a matter of it being a case of something missing in real life? It can be, and it can’t be.

Let me explain where I am going.

I love reading fantasy stories. A high school friend introduced me to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and I loved them. It opened a whole new world of reading material for me. Until then I read the typical girl young adult fare. But, those books, and starting to read my mom’s Stephen King books, really grabbed me. I learned I didn’t have to lock myself into one writing style, one genre, or even one author. It wasn’t just the books either. My dad was a huge sci-fi fan. He and I would stay up late and watch The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Tales From the Darkside together. He introduced me to Doctor Who and Star Trek and Star Wars. Getting lost in a good Doctor Who episode doesn’t mean I feel like traveling through time and space is missing from my life. Would it be fun if the Doctor was real and came to sweep me into an adventure? You bet.

But, romance to me is different. It is similar to the soap operas that began airing in the…what, 60s? In my opinion, they target lonely, dissatisfied women. There is nothing wrong with reading them. They are not my style. The problem becomes when they become a substitute for what is really out there waiting. Very much like video games. It becomes all encompassing. There is a difference between losing oneself in a good book for a bit, and getting completely lost and missing what life has to offer.

AJ: Wow. That is deep, Donelle. I get what you mean completely. I have heard a lot of women mention before that they love their romance novels because of the fantasy feel to it. It’s not always bad to fantasize, but to get caught up in that fantasy and not live is another thing all together.

Where do we go after that answer? What is your favorite style to read?

DWP: Now that is tough.

I mentioned I loved The Hobbit and LOTR, and I have read the Game of Thrones books. And while I love Tolkein’s work and like Game of Thrones, they are a bit ploddy – I know, not a word – in spots. I do enjoy a descriptive, easy going style, I guess. Honestly, I never really thought about it much. But thinking about it now, I really do enjoy a more conversational style. As if I were sitting with the author in a coffee shop and he/she is telling me a story. Just me. It draws you in. I do not really enjoy lengthy, preachy styles. I have a hard time with non-fiction because there usually is no lightness to it. Working on Strigoi: The First Family with Michael Freeman was interesting because there was the historical element to it. I love history, and I did not want to lose that. I feel like I am rambling, but you asked. I guess I don’t really have a favorite. The style has to fit the story. Some stories are meant to be told in a light-hearted way, or a conversational way, or a more straight forward manner. What is important to me is it is done well.

AJ: Personally, I love the conversational style. Speaking of Strigoi, tell me about that.

Strychnine COverDPW: Strigoi is a re-imagining of the Dracula origin mythos. It is written in a historical fiction style. There is a historical background with fictional elements weaved in, similar to the way Hollywood presents their “based on a true story” films. Some examples would be Titanic, Pearl Harbor, and 47 Ronin (my favorite). We know from history those three events happened. But did they happen exactly that way? Were all those characters really there? Same with Strigoi. We know Vlad Dracula’s lineage, and we know what happened to his family. We also know the Bram Stoker version. So, Michael and I *tweaked* the myth, although he did all the, as I say, heavy lifting.

AJ: You came to be co-author of this book, correct?

DPW:  Correct.

AJ: How did that happen?

DPW: There were actually two books I eventually co-authored with Michael. The other is Strychine, a werewolf story. Anyway, after joining Stitched Smile Publications as an editor – shout out to David Youngquist, a freelance editing client, who put me in touch with Jackie Chin of Zombiepalooza Radio fame who put me in touch with SSP’s CEO Lisa Vasquez – Michael’s two books were given to me for editing. Unfortunately, both books required a lot of reworking through no fault of his. I mean, you’ve seen his writing.

It is my understanding Strychnine was slated for a film, but whoever was going to do the film wanted to make too many changes, so Michael pulled it and submitted it to Lisa. Strigoi was submitted for re-release under Stitched. The previous editor, in my opinion, dropped the ball. Michael said he trusted me to be thorough. After some discussion, he decided we should team up, and I should go ahead and do the corrections and whatever rewrites I thought were needed. He put a lot of trust in me. I have to admit; it felt good. I mean, he is extremely talented in both writing and with his film work, and I was the new kid to the party. We agreed to continue a writing partnership. There are three more screenplays he wrote that I will be converting to book form. I enjoy working with him. However, I am not giving up on the editing. That is what got me where I am now. And, I have some other projects, as well.

AJ: So, then you guys pretty much hit it off so well the collaboration works. It is hard to find a good writing partner these days.

How has the editing phase of your job with SSP gone?

DPW: Busy. But also very rewarding. I am enjoying myself immensely. I love what I do, and the people I am getting to know are fantastic. It’s like everything I have done before has led to this. This is what I am meant to do.

AJ: Why do you say that? Why do you say this is what you are meant to do? I always find it intriguing when someone says that.

DPW: Because even in school as a kid, I would help classmates with their papers. Plus, when I was a kid I would write stories using characters from movies or shows I saw. And I have never given up on my dream to be a published author. Put it aside for a bit but never lost it.

AJ: So, then you have always been the helpful type?

DPW: When I can, yes. There are times I have to say no. But, if it is in my capabilities and when I can I will.

AJ: So, let’s turn back to Strigoi and Strychnine. Both books were released at the same time. Why did you and Michael go with a dual release?

DPW: As far as I know it was a publisher decision. To be honest, I never asked.

AJ: Okay, how about a break from the seriousness? Give me one-word answers for the following questions:

Vampire or Werewolf?

DPW: Werewolf

AJ: Beer or wine?

DPW: Wine.

AJ: Are you a fan of Darth Vader?

DPW: No.

AJ: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?

DPW: 
That’s tough. Near a beach, but not too far from the mountains. I know, more than one word.

AJ: That is okay–I knew that one would be.

Favorite food?

DPW: Chocolate

AJ: Okay, now let’s get serious again. Are you working on any solo writing endeavors right now?

DPW: Always. I have a book with dragons that has been back burnered since 1995. I like to say the dragons were too young, so they were maturing in their caves in my head. They are awake now. Plus, I have some short stories in need of being written. Thought of one today while out and about. And I have another co-author project with someone else, but her identity is currently a secret until she chooses to come out of the veil and into the light.

In a way, it is still sinking in that I am published as an author and not just as my previous “identity” as a journalist.

AJ: I understand that. I think it should always continue to sink in. That way you keep working hard at it.

DPW: Yep. Finding my rhythm.

AJ: Rythm. That leads us right into my next question. I’m a music guy, so with that said, recently Prince passed away. His manager said this about him: “His music did the talking.” He did some amazing things in the music business. As a writer, what do you wish to accomplish with your writing?

DPW: A very good question. I don’t write for others, so to speak. I write what is in my own head, my own imagination. However, when I share that part of me, I hope people join me for the ride and are able to put aside their own worries and such and just live in that moment, to be a part of my world.

AJ: Have you been reading my notes?

DPW: Ahahaha. Nope. We just think alike.

AJ: Okay, let me throw this at you: I am a reader. I have never read anything by you. Sell me on you, not just you the writer, but Donelle, the person as well.

DPW: I am not afraid to admit I am human, I am not perfect. However, I am willing to step out of my comfort zone and take some chances. I love to have fun and I like to share the fun. And I am more than willing to fly my Geek Flag. And, if I can get one person to join every so often I am a success. Especially if we can share a laugh.

AJ: And you know I like to laugh.

DPW: Very much so. I am even willing to laugh at myself. I prefer not taking life too seriously. More fun that way.

AJ: What, if anything, would you do different with your writing or editing?

DPW: When I edit, I go through more than once. I approach it like a treasure hunt. There are corrections to be made and I want to find where they are. With my writing, I am a firm believer in self-editing. I will go over it with a critical eye before saying it is done. And even then, I know it needs another set of eyes because I miss things because I know what it is supposed to say and I auto-correct in my head.

AJ: Are you sure you are not looking at my notes?

DPW: LOL.

AJ: Okay, one or two more questions and I will let you go. If you could sit down with any living writer and have a conversation with him or her, who would it be and what would you talk about?

DWP: Stephen King. He has overcome challenges in his life. He never gave up. And he doesn’t let his critics beat him down. He marches to his own music. So, I guess that, in addition to finding his rhythm, his routine. Keeping balance in his life and, well, his dogs. One is Molly the Thing of Evil. The other is the angelic one. Can’t recall its name, though.

AJ: I would have said King as well.

DPW: Great minds.

AJ: I’m sorry–you have slipped a notch if we are thinking alike.

DPW: Nope. Means you have been elevated. 

AJ: Hahahaha—nicely done.

DPW: Thankee, sai.

AJ: 
Donelle, Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers out there?

DWP: Never stop reading. Never stop dreaming. And, thanks for joining me on the ride. I’ll see you on the next page.

AJ: The next page is a good place to meet.

You can find Donelle on Amazon and her website, Pardee Time.  You can also find Donelle on Facebook. Show some love for Donelle and leave her some comments.

As always, until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

Teaser: Dredging Up Memories

Dredging Up Memories is almost here. On May 7th, 2016, Stitched Smile Publications will release the story of Hank Walker in a zombie infested world. To whet your appetites here is the first 1100 words or so. Enjoy…

Five Weeks After It All Started…

The rifle was light. Unlike Pop’s shotgun; that thing was heavier than any firearm should be, and the kickback could knock you on your ass if you weren’t ready for it. Pop called it Ox—I guess it was an appropriate name for something so powerful. It always reminded me of Babe the blue ox, Paul Bunyan’s companion. I reckon that’s how Pop saw his shotgun—more as a companion than a weapon or hunting tool.

One time my brother, Leland, thought he was man enough to wield old Ox and took him out of the gun rack in Pop’s shop. He handed it to me, and I almost dropped it. The wood stock was cold, the barrel like ice and my nerves were frazzled. You see, Leland was the oldest of the four of us, and I was his sidekick little brother. He played jokes on all of us and did things that the rest of us wouldn’t think of doing. Like pulling Ox off the gun rack.

“Come on,” he said and took the shotgun from me. I had never been so relieved in my fourteen years.

“I don’t think this is a good idea, Lee.”

He shook his head, and his hair—which was down to his shoulders—moved from side to side. “Don’t be a wuss face, Hank. Dad will never know. We’ll go out to the fence behind the barn and shoot a couple of shells and put it back. Easy as pie, little brother.”

Easy as pie?  Nothing is ever easy as pie.

I set up a can on one of the old fence posts by the chicken coop and then got behind him. Leland took aim, the shotgun in the crook of his shoulder, right in the socket where the collarbone and shoulder come together. He squeezed the trigger with no hesitation.

A bomb went off in my head, and my ears rang for most of the rest of that day. Leland went backward and ended up on his back, unconscious. Seven hours later, he came home from the hospital, arm in a sling; shoulder dislocated and collar bone broken. He had a lump on the back of his head where it hit the ground, resulting in a concussion that gave him headaches for months after.

“Did I hit the can?” he asked me before he went to bed that night.

“Nope. But you did take out one of the fence runners.”

Memories. It’s the hardest part of this whole…end of the world thing? If that’s what it could be called. That’s all I have now: the memories of loved ones and friends passed on and, in many cases, rose up. How odd does that sound? Rose up? Like anyone thought the dead really could get up and walk.

I guess it was possible after all, wasn’t it? Shows how much we knew.

I stood from my pickup, slung my pack over my shoulder, and closed the door, leaving the keys in the ignition. Just in case. I shouldered my pack and walked to the center of the street, rifle in both hands. An old, blue sedan sat off to the left, its wheels up on a curb, its front end crumpled by the light pole it had hit. The left front tire sat at an odd angle, a dead person beneath it. I moved to the front of the vehicle. Another dead man slumped over the steering wheel, his skull ruptured. Hair and bits of tissue clung to the windshield, the glass spider-webbed from where his head struck. Flies buzzed about, zipping through the broken window and lighting on the man’s head and shoulders and probably the rest of him as well. The stench of death hung in the air and reminded me of roadkill after three days in the summer sun: a cloying, heavy odor that turned the stomach and lingered with a reach much further than anything—rotten or pleasant—should.

I let out a long breath. Recognition could sometimes bring you to tears, but not in this case. It only brought back old memories. “I’ll come back for you in a little while, Mr. Martin. Get you out of there, okay?”

He had been my baseball coach in another time, back when it was safe to play games. Back when there was no fear of something dead coming out of the woods or around a corner to rip you apart. From the looks of him, he wouldn’t be getting up and joining the ranks of the undead.

The man underneath the car was a different story. His head twitched a movement that was so insignificant but so startling at the same time. One of his hands moved, then his eyes opened. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I still can’t get used to seeing the dead move, get up, and walk around. I certainly can’t get used to seeing them eating people. His mouth opened, and he hissed a deep, throaty sound.

I didn’t recognize him. He could have been a neighbor or a friend or just another dead head that shambled into our little town. It didn’t matter; he was a rotter even if he was a person at one time. I took aim with my rifle then stopped. Instead of shooting him, I brought the heel of my boot down on his forehead.  His head slipped beneath my foot, and he groaned. I brought my heel down again, this time in the center of his face. His nose shattered, and my heel broke through rotten skin. A third time and there was a hollow crunch that made me shiver. My stomach rolled, and for a moment, I thought I would throw up. The man stilled.

I scanned the small neighborhood—an odd cul-de-sac, not quite a square but nowhere near a circle either. The six houses formed a U of small homes and overgrown yards. A few skeletal remains lay about here and there. The one lying in the second yard to my right was a woman at one time, and from the flower print skirt she still had around her decomposing hips, I guessed she was still fairly young, maybe not even thirty yet.

Jeanette entered my thoughts. I tried to shove her back into the deepest corner of my soul. Swallowing hard, I shook my head and hoped she and Bobby were okay, that Jake had managed to get them to a safe zone before the dead managed to swarm our small town. I closed my eyes and saw her, the fear on her face, the look of disbelief as Jake pulled her away by her arms.

“Go!” I yelled.

Go.

I had stayed behind with Leland and Pop and Davey Blaylock. Someone had to fight. The military wasn’t going to be coming to Sipping Creek, South Carolina. Like thousands of little do-nothing towns all across the country, it existed just to exist.

In Michael Freeman’s Head

A couple of weeks ago I got to sit down in my little world and have a chat with author, filmmaker, artist and all around do everything guy, Michael Freeman. With two books being released at the same time, I thought I would share our conversation. Sit back and relax and enjoy the ride.

AJ: Michael Freeman, tell me a little about yourself.

MF: I am a 44-year-old indie filmmaker/director/writer with eight kids.

AJ: Eight kids?

MF: Yep…and it is enough.

AJ: Man, you’ve been busy.

strigoiMF: Nah, most are gone from home now. I only have three left at home Few more years and I can run around the house in my underwear again

AJ: Before we get into talking about writing and film making, what’s it like to be a dad to that many kids? I mean, one more and you could have had a baseball team.

MF: Feels like a referee at times. But I love my little monsters, and we have a lot of fun when I am not so busy. Heck, I don’t have to pay staff for our haunted house attraction, they all work for candy.

AJ: Hahahahaha—and I bet they do a good job.

MF: My two youngest daughters are terrifying.

AJ: And how old are they?

MF: Six and Seven.

AJ: Ooooh yeah, that age where they realize they can drive their parents crazy.

MF: Yep. Or sneak in your room in the middle of the night and stand next to your bed so when you open your eyes, you fly across the room.

AJ: Hahahaha! The Boy does that. It is creepy as crap.

MF: Mine do it all the time. It scares the hell out of me every time

AJ: Yeah, me too. So, tell me about writing. What do you write and why?

MF: Most of what I write is horror or sci-fi. I write it because of the haunted attraction industry. I worked for a Jaycees Haunt back in Jr High and loved that I could make someone into a creature that scared people. Off seasons I would write stories.

I have been doing this since before 1982 and it never gets old for me. And most guys out there think it is a way to get rich or make a ton of money, but I write, film, draw for fans. Money is great but I got that covered enough to take care of mine, so this is what I do because I enjoy it.

AJ: So working at a haunted attraction got you into writing and film making and drawing? Did you actually do the make up for those people at that attraction?

MF: I did. I started in special make-up effects and have worked in some of the largest in the country.

AJ: So then you have a LOT of experience with this. That is awesome.

MF: I got to be on the Pumpkin Head set when I was 18 and learn some new things. I have learned a ton from Dick Smith, Tom Savini, Allen Hopps.

AJ: I bet you have had a lot of fun doing that, too.

MF: It’s been good. I just got an invite a few months ago from the Krampus effects guys to come visit a set in August for a new film they are doing.

AJ: Are you going to do it?

MF: I don’t know yet. With how things are going right now, I may be filming the Virus K series in August.

AJ: Tell me about Virus K.

MF: I can’t tell you too much about it. What I can say is the Lolipop Guild meets The Walking Dead but not zombies

AJ: Ha. Top Secret.

MF: Yes. We keep that one guarded closely until the treatment book is released.

AJ: What is a treatment book?

MF: It is a book that goes out to test the market for the story. If the book catches on and does well then the series moves forward. They are usually around 70-100 pages, like a pilot episode. Lisa has read it since she is publishing it. Well episode one anyway.

AJ: Very cool. You said Lisa, do you mean Lisa Vasquez of Stitched Smile Publications?

MF: Yes. She has the pilot book. The way we are thinking about the release is episode one/book one package deal.

AJ: When you say episode one/book one, do you mean like a movie/book deal?

MF: Yes

AJ: That would be cool. You can read the book then watch the film right after.

MF: It is a DVD set with up to 16 episodes per season and 4 seasons written so far. Casting has been a nightmare since there is over 200 extras that are kids

AJ: 200 kids? That has to be like herding cats.

MF: It would be if I could ever get them cast, and then we have to get them in make-up chairs for prosthetics.

AJ: Are you the creator of the series?

MF: Yes. I created it

AJ: What inspired you to create it?

MF: It was a dream I had a couple of years ago while I was Dying from Xanax withdrawal. Doctor over prescribed then took me off too fast when he realized his mistake. Damn near killed me.

AJ: Oh wow. That is crazy.

MF: Had some pretty good dreams, though.

AJ: How long did it take you to recover?

MF: Four months and eighteen trips to the ER.

AJ: Eighteen trips to the ER? Holy cow.

MF: Yeah My brain does not create serotonin, and they had me on those to try to balance it out. When they took it away after 6 years of overdosing me, my body went into shock.

AJ: So, what are you doing for the serotonin now?

MF: I take a substitute. I am waaaaaayyyy medicated. But not non-functioning medicated. That is what I would be without medication

AJ: That’s crazy. I’m sure I’m not the only one to think or say this, but I am really glad you are doing okay right now.

MF: Thanks. Me too

AJ: So, what do you enjoy most about being a writer, a film maker and an overall artist?

MF: Fan reactions.

AJ: Man, I know exactly what you mean.

MF: That has always been the payoff, good or bad. If it is a good reaction then I am great. If it is bad, then I have learned to do something different next time

AJ: I think you said something very important that all artist (no matter what the venue) can take away from this: if you get a negative thought from a fan, then you can take that and learn from it. That is how you get better as an artist.

MF: Always. Too many people that write or whatever path they follow take criticism the wrong way. They get all bent out of shape instead of listening to those people that follow them and their work and make the adjustments to not only make their experience better, but improve on a lifelong craft centuries old.

AJ: It is said to do any sort of art, you have to have thick skin, but I would also add that you need to take things in stride as well. I try not to get too up or too down–those emotions can ruin you.

MF: For sure.

AJ: You are also a partner with SSP, right?

MF: I merged two of my companies with SSP a few months ago and if Lisa needs something I find a way to get it done.

AJ: How has that partnership been so far?

MF: I think it is going fantastic. We bounce ideas off of each other, and it seems to be a perfect fit. SSP compliments my businesses, and I would hope mine compliment SSP.

AJ: Good to hear.

So, tell me what else can we expect from you in the near future?

MF: This crazy ass film challenge, four graphic novels, a kids series, and if all goes well season one of Virus K, plus what Lisa throws at me.

AJ: Film challenge? Tell me about that.

MF: I have been offered a really unique challenge from the My Rode Reel 2016. They would like me to submit ten short films on or before May 1st. I took 8th place in this festival with one film last year and now they want ten. So now people know why I have been all over the place like a mad man.

AJ: Ten films? How many have you finished so far?

MF: Two done. Six written ideas and on the final two.

AJ: And you have less than two months to finish it all.

MF: Yep. I am filming Whispers tomorrow, editing Sunday then shooting down the list in two-day intervals.

AJ: How confident are you that you will meet the deadline?

MF: Oh I got this if I have to do it all. I work good under pressure or pissed. I think with this one I may be a little of both.

AJ: Is there anywhere that we can get updates on this as you continue forward.

MF: Rode Reels

As the films become available to vote on I will post links there, do thunderclaps, pretty much drive social media crazy every day until June 1st when voting closes.

AJ: Okay Michael, is there anything else you want us to know before we close this down tonight?

MF: I think you know it all now. LOL. If not people can feel free to send me a message or email and I will get back to them as soon as I can. I usually check those things twice a day.

AJ: And where can people contact you?

MF: nextevolutionfilms@gmail.com. @ne_films on Twitter. I have other accounts that I can’t think of off the top of my head, but those are what I check the most.

AJ: Okay, Michael. I appreciate your time. I know you are a very busy guy.

MF: And don’t forget Strigoi and Strychnine.

AJ: Oh yes, tell us about those if you don’t mind.

MF: Strigoi is five years of study I did on the Vampire religion for the first book that leads to the vampire war. And Strychnine was originally a rock opera with the main band being a pack of werewolves as a metal band with a new mission to save the earth.

That was pretty brief

AJ: It was. You have a co-author for one of those, right?

MF: Donelle Whiting started as my editor on both, but her additions to the stories were so good that I wanted her to leave them in and co-author on both so she had the credits for her hard work.

AJ: That is totally cool, as a writer, to do that. Most other writers would not do something like that.

MF: She basically made both of those books shine. I have gotten into writing screenplay format, and she just fleshed them out and made them better. She did the work; she gets the credit.

AJ: I agree with you there.

MF: And one other thing to be watching out for is I will be uploading two classes on screenwriting and one on Graphic Novel writing for authors that are interested.

AJ: You are diverse, aren’t you?

MF: Gotta be today.

AJ: Yeah, man, truth. Michael, again, thank you for your time. I appreciate you sitting down with me with your packed schedule.

MF: Not a problem. I needed the break from edits and cuts.

AJ: Have a good night and I’m going to let you go, buddy.

MF: Sounds good. Take it easy and have a good night. I am going back to editing footage. LOL.

You can find Strychnine here.

You can find Strigoi here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

Here we are, you and I, on this page, me writing, you reading. It’s a good combination if you ask me. We both get what we want, right? I get to write something cool. You get to read something cool. Does that sound good to you? I hope so because it sure does to me.

Let me make a confession: I didn’t start out enjoying writing fiction. As a matter of fact, I hated it. In school, I wrote the bare minimum to get a passing grade. I did enjoy writing songs and jokes and things like that, but fiction…meh.

Let me be even more honest with you. When I began enjoying the act of writing fiction, I did it solely for me. I wasn’t any good at it though I thought I was. The key word here is thought. I believed, like so many other writers, that I could be the next Stephen King. And why not? He was (and still is) my favorite author, and up to that point I had read everything he had written, and it didn’t seem that difficult, so why couldn’t I be as good, if not better, than he is?

Ummm…because I sucked. That’s why. And, worse than that, I wasn’t really trying to get better. I was just putting words in front of words. Do you want proof of how bad I wrote when I first started? I apologize now for what you are about to read.

[[“How are you doing, other than being pissed at Bryan?” Chris asked.

“I’m okay, I guess . . .“ she started to say.

“Don’t you have work to do?” Bryan questioned as he came around the corner.

“Go screw yourself!” Lindsey exclaimed.

“I’d rather screw you.”

“Enough, Bryan!” Chris intervened.

“Yeah, go ahead and take up for your piece of meat . . .“

“Bryan, I said that’s enough,” Chris said without raising his voice.

“What’s wrong, Chris? Don’t like the way I act toward your whore?” Bryan yelled.

Stepping toward Bryan, Chris grabbed his shirt and put a finger in his face. He got close enough to kiss Bryan if that was what he wanted to do.  Fortunately, that was not his intentions.]]

This was written way back when I first started, nearly 20 years ago. It is amateurish, at best, second-grade level, at worst. Or maybe it’s the other way around. It’s from a piece titled, Mirror Mirror and it really, really sucked. But at the time, I wasn’t trying to get published. I was just writing and enjoying it and not getting any better.

Then I was asked, ‘why don’t you try to get published?’

I said, ‘why not? I’m pretty good.’

Delusional. That’s what I was.

Still, I managed to get something published. It took exactly one hundred rejections, but it finally happened. I will tell you this: getting published is like a drug. Once it happens, you want it to happen again and again and again. And it did happen again and again and again, and I really thought I would be rolling in the dough once people knew who I was.

I am the next Stephen King, baby. That was my mindset.

Then reality happened. I subbed a story to a publisher, and he responded with a curt letter that said, and I’m paraphrasing here because the sting from it was bad: you should never write another story again.

I was brought down by one rejection letter. Forget all the other ones. They didn’t matter. They were mostly form rejections that didn’t really mean anything to me. However, that one was personal. It was an insult to my abilities. I stewed for quite a while on that one, even ranting and raving to my wife about it.

Do you want some more honesty? I got mad. I still didn’t write for the readers. I wrote to prove that editor wrong. For the next several years I wrote angrily, but I still didn’t get any better. That only happened much later when I joined an online writing group. I met some great folks who taught me quite a bit about writing and about patience. I learned.

Though I became a better writer, I still wasn’t all that great. I was lazy. I didn’t want to work to make myself better. I was in a hurry to write crappy story after crappy story. Here is where rubber meets the road: I had a lot of people telling me I was good, and a lot of people publishing my work, so I thought I was good. But I wasn’t. If I was, then those people would have paid me for the work, and I would have had the courage to submit more to paying markets. As it stood, I was comfortable in those non-paying markets. They stroked my weak ego. And I wrote, not because I enjoyed it or because of the art of it or even because I wanted to entertain the readers. Nope. I wrote because I wanted my ego stroked. I wanted to feel like I was good at something I truly wasn’t. Believe me, I felt good about it for a while.

Then Reality Check #2 happened. Remember, I thought I was good. I thought I was great. I still thought I was the next Stephen King. I just hadn’t been discovered yet. What an idiot. I thought wrong.

I began inquiring about putting out a short story collection. I had a bunch of publications under my belt, and I was good. No. I was great. Everyone wanted my work. Are you ready for the sting? I submitted my query to a publishing company I respected. They put out good books, and the owner was fairly well known. I enquired about doing a collection with them. The following is the exchange in e-mails that took place after my enquiry:

Are you the A.J. Brown who has stories published in this anthology and that anthology and this anthology? (names of publications withheld on purpose)

My instant thought was, he has heard of me. So I responded. Yes, I am.

I waited.

And waited.

And never heard back from him.

You may say, that’s rude. You may say, maybe his e-mail response got lost in the ether. You may say, maybe he never received your reply to his question. That is well and good, but I am almost certain none of that occurred. What I believe happened is this: he knew who I was, but not for anything good, so when I responded with a proud, yes, I am, he already knew he wasn’t going to work with me. There’s no need for him to respond, after all, I’d get the message after a while, right?

Well, yeah, actually, I did. Though he never responded, I heard him loud and clear. After allowing myself a bit of a pity party, I stopped and looked at everything I had ever done up to that point. Most of it was just okay. Some of it was bad. There were a handful of pieces that were actually good.

That was in 2010.

It was then that I decided to take a hard look at my writing style and voice. Everything I had written up to that point was void of emotion, void of any real character development, void of good dialogue, void of good writing. A lot of what I wrote was the same regurgitated crap that everyone else was putting out. It was then that I made the conscious effort to become a better writer. It was then that I decided I was not going to do what everyone else was doing. It was then that I decided to be my own writer.

It was then that I began to get better. I developed the style and voice I use now. I stopped believing in plot and formulaic writing and said, ‘Hey, I’m just going to write and not worry about everyone else.’ I’m going to tell stories I want to hear.

Are you okay for one more truth? I hope so because this is somewhat of a confession that I think most writers will not make though I believe it to be true for the majority of us.

I do not write for you, the readers.

If you did not click the little X in the upper right corner, then that means you want to hear the rest of this. For that, I am thankful. If you have just a couple more minutes, let me explain my statement, which comes after having thought a ton on the subject.

I do not write for you, the readers. I write for me, the reader. I write what I want to read. I write the things that I enjoy reading. I don’t write like everyone else on purpose. And here is the truth within the truth: if I do not like what I write, then how can I expect you, the readers, to like what I write? That’s the bottom line.

Do I want to entertain the readers? Sure. Do I want them to like my stories? Absolutely. Do I write for them? No. I don’t. I’m sorry. I’m just telling you truth. It sounds nice to say ‘I write for the reader.’ It sounds noble. It is endearing to hear. It’s just not true.

Don’t miss this, though. As I said a couple of paragraphs up, I write for myself, I write what I like. Don’t miss this: if I don’t enjoy the story I write, how can I expect you to enjoy it? If we are honest with ourselves and you, then we will all admit that we write for ourselves, for our enjoyment, because we know if we believe it is good and if we truly enjoy it, then you will, as well. I repeat, don’t miss this, don’t miss how important it is for us, the writers, to write what we like and enjoy. By doing it that way the end product is so much better for you, the readers. If we do it the other way; if we write for anyone but ourselves to start with, then you get the same crap I put out for the first 10 or so years of me pursuing publishing.

Bottom line? I write for myself, so you don’t crap in the end.

As always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.