Author AJ Brown: “Horror With Heart”

This week, Scriptor Corruptus had the pleasure of spending some time with author AJ Brown.  Talented and interesting, this is a guy you’re going to want to follow. Be sure to check out his links below. You can also read his short story “A Not So Normal Day,” following this interview. Enjoy!

SC: Tell us a little about yourself:

AJB: My name is A.J. Brown. Mic drop (walks away). Just kidding. Seriously, my name is A.J. Brown and I write darker stories, bordering on Southern Gothic. I call my style Horror With Heart (thanks to George in Boston).

SC: How many books do you have published?

AJB: Ten. Two novels, one novella, and seven short story collections.

SC: Tell us about the first time you were published.

AJB: That was a long time ago. I’m not sure I can remember back to the days of tablets and chisels. My first publication was on the website House-of-Pain.com. The editor of that site was a really cool lady by the name of Bridgett. The story was a cheesy vampire revenge piece called, “Diane’s a Whore and Simeon’s Payback.” I was excited when I got the acceptance email. Up to that point, I had sent out a ton of submissions and had been rejected exactly one hundred times. It was one of those things that inflated my ego and gave me more confidence than I should have had. To be honest, I really sucked at writing and that story was the only good one I had.

SC: What did you do with your first earnings?

AJB: I purchased an RC car. Seriously. I still have that thing, too.

SC: What do you think the horror industry needs more of?

AJB: Hmmm … that’s a tricky question. Originality, maybe. People willing to take chances and not be like everyone else. Oh, you mean topics and the like. What I would like to see is more books that aren’t written like action movies. I mean, I’ve never actually seen anyone fly backward when punched (just an example here). We, as authors and fans of the horror universe both ask our readers and are asked to suspend our disbelief, then we get the action movie scenes where people fly through the air when struck, or there is a constant spray of blood, or a character gets hurt in one paragraph and in the next one that character is not hurt. And originality …

SC: What topics would you like to see?

AJB: I’d like to see vampires become ruthless again. All these touchy, feely, emotional vampires just suck …

SC: What do you think has been overdone in horror, if anything?

AJB: I love zombies, but the cliché zombie stories where there is no hope in the end. Creepy kids. Jump scares. Gore for gore’s sake.

SC: If one of your books or stories was headed to screen, which one would you pick?

AJB: I would love for it to be “Cory’s Way.”

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SC: One of your books, Dredging Up Memories, features a teddy bear named Humphrey. Where did that idea come from?

AJB: Humphrey is real. My daughter used to have night terrors and we were at our wits’ end. Cate thought that maybe if we could get her to connect something good to a stuffed animal, maybe it would help get rid of her night terrors. We looked at several stores until we came across this little beige colored teddy bear in bunny pajamas. We called him Humphrey the Good Dreams Bear. It was his responsibility to keep the bad dreams away and if our daughter slept with him, then she would stop having night terrors. It actually worked and her night terrors decreased (though she still had them from time to time).

When I wrote Dredging Up Memories, I needed something to ground Hank Walker and Humphrey, The Good Dreams Bear just kind of made sense. However, Hank sees Humphrey as a girl, not a boy.

SC: What advice would you give writers both new and experienced?

AJB: Learn what works for you. You don’t have to do the same thing everyone else is doing. You don’t have to write the same way or the same things. You do you and then stick to doing you.

SC: What are the best ways for a new author to get noticed?

AJB: Ha! Trick question, right? If I knew, I would be doing it. One thing that is important is to build a relationship with your community, your libraries, book stores, people in your community. If you can build a relationship there, then you can build a following that you can show publishers, ‘hey, I have built-in readers already.’ There is always social media, websites, blogs, podcasts. The goal is to get your book in as many hands as possible, so festivals and conventions are a good way to go. Also, be genuine. Don’t fake it until you make it. Be real. Shake hands. Smile and be confident in your work and yourself.

SC: How important are mentorships and critique groups?

AJB: Very. But they will only work if all involved are honest and willing to work. I’ve been part of several critique groups where they only wanted to hear how great their stories were. That’s not a critique group, that is a bunch of friends, clapping each other on the back and pretending.

SC: What is the worst advice you’ve heard someone give a writer?

AJB: You have to do it this way or you are doing it wrong. What works for me might not work for you. No one ever made change by doing things the way everyone else does.

SC: If you could ask yourself one question that I didn’t – what would that be?

AJB: How many voices are in your head? At last count, twenty-seven, but there is room to grow.

Me Under Tressels.jpg

As promised, AJ Brown’s short story:

A Not So Normal Day

By A.J. Brown

It was a normal morning. A coffee breakfast, chased with dry toast and orange juice, a shower, a shave and a bathroom break. All normal. Workout clothes on, an early morning jog and another shower after. See? All normal. Dressed for work and out the door on time. It was a five-block walk to the office, and me in my pressed shirt and pants and nice shoes and a blue tie to offset the lack of color in the shirt, would be there in short time. By my watch, I had half an hour and I had never been late to work.

Everything was normal.

The boardwalk bustled with people already selling their wares in storefronts and center kiosks. Most every day folks paid no attention to them, but the tourists … ahh the tourists ate up the sales people and their pitches, especially the ones with the Hollywood smiles, perfect hair, dazzling eyes and plastic bodies. On the beach, just beyond the boardwalk, people already gathered and milled about, some on blankets, some in the water and some walking hand in hand with a lover or holding a leash of a dog. Oh, such a normal, normal morning.

Until I met Kathy and Dave.

They were a cute couple, he with his disheveled hair and horn-rimmed glasses and stubbled chin, and she with her pulled back red hair, green sparkling eyes and rosy cheeks. He couldn’t have been a day over twenty. She might have been sixteen. Maybe it didn’t matter. Maybe it did. You didn’t have to know them to see the love they had for one another in their eyes. To me, that is what mattered most.

He pushed a stroller, one of pinks and whites in a pattern of rattles and hearts, and she carried a diaper bag on one shoulder. It was the same pink and white pattern of rattles and hearts as the stroller. The top of the stroller was pulled down, possibly to shield the baby (a girl I presumed) from the sun and little old ladies who liked to squeeze the cheeks of wee ones. The wheels were big, made for going over just about anything.

An all-wheel stroller, I thought and couldn’t hold back the smile that formed on my lips.

The smile is what changed my day. It’s not that I don’t smile. It’s just the young couple saw it.

They exchanged a glance and then she nodded tentatively. As we passed each other I gave them a “good morning.” Yeah, that was probably another thing that attracted them to me. I smiled, I nodded, and I spoke, making eye contact with him as I did so.

Just passed them, he called back to me, “Excuse me, Sir?”

I turned. He looked hopeful with his raised brows and a nervous smile on his face.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Hi, I’m Dave,” he said and put out a hand. His fingers were long and thin. He might have played piano at some point. I took his hand. I gave it a good pump and released it.

“I’m Kathy.” She extended her hand, as he had, and I took it, as I had Dave’s.

“We were wondering,” Dave picked back up, “do you have a minute?”

Uh oh. Salesmen? Religious folk peddling their religion? Con artists? All of these were normal thoughts, and all of them were wrong. Thinking on it now, I don’t think I would have minded if they had been all three.

I guess the look on my face and the hesitancy to respond said I wasn’t sure about them.

“I’m sorry,” Dave said. “We’re not trying to sell you anything or want any money. We just want you to take a picture of us and our baby.”

I relaxed. A breath escaped me, one both full of relief and embarrassment. Not everyone is crazy in this world.

I glanced at my watch. I had twenty minutes or so. “Sure. I can do that. I have a couple of minutes before I have to be to work.”

Their faces lit up with smiles and he stuck his hand out for me to shake with a “thank you, we appreciate it,” on his lips.

“No problem,” I said.

Kathy set the bag on the sidewalk and rummaged around in it for a moment before bringing out her cell phone. She handed it to me.

“Just press and hold the button for it to focus. When it does, a green square will appear on us. Let the button go and then press it again and it will take the picture.”

Normal. See? Everything was normal.

She lowered the stroller’s top with her back to me. I admit I had to look away because the view from where I stood was pleasant. When I looked back, Kathy and Dave stood by the black steel rail separating the boardwalk from the beach. He straightened his shirt with the palms of his hands and she held the swaddled baby in the crook of one elbow.

“Are you ready?” I asked.

They both nodded enthusiastically, but their smiles looked nervous, almost forced.

I held the phone up, the camera facing them. I looked into the display and watched as the view zoomed in and then locked on the happy little family.

That was when things got weird.

The phone’s screen showed Dave and Kathy standing side by side with strained smiles on their faces. Kathy had removed the blanket from near the baby’s face.

I shook my head and lowered the phone. From that distance I could barely make out the child, but when I turned the phone back to them, it was clear the child was dead and had been for a long time.

My hands shook. I tried to still them so I could take the picture.

“Is everything okay?” Kathy asked.

I lowered the phone. “Umm … yes. The camera is just having a hard time focusing. Give me one more second.”

“Okay,” she responded, but her tone said she didn’t believe me.

I held the button she had told me to and the phone’s camera zoomed in and focused on them. The square turned green, and yes, that little child was dead, and what I saw was her bare skull. I released the button, then quickly pressed it again. The camera gave a ~CLICK~ and the screen blinked several times. Then it stopped and what appeared on the screen was the stilled image of Dave, Kathy and the baby.

I looked at it for a moment, just as anyone taking a picture would, but I didn’t check it to see if I took a good shot. I checked it to make sure what I thought I saw was real. The image on the screen was of a skeletal baby being held by parents too grieved to let the child go. Dave stood next to his wife, his arm around her. Kathy leaned into him and held the baby chest high. Their smiles were clearly forced. I’m not sure, but I think there were tears in her eyes.

My mouth went dry and my legs weakened. I looked back at them. They hadn’t moved, but their smiles had faltered.

“How … how is this?” I asked, not knowing what else to say.

Dave took the camera and looked at the image. He frowned at first.

“Kathy, what do you think?” he asked and showed her. At this point she had already put the baby back in the stroller and pulled the top back down, not to keep the sun off of her or the old ladies from pinching her cheeks, but possibly to keep anyone from seeing she was dead.

Kathy stood and took the phone from him. “Oh, that’s beautiful. That is a great picture.”

They both shook their heads in what I took was satisfaction.

“Thank you,” Dave said and put out one of his pianists’ hands.

It was everything I could do to take his hand and shake it. My skin was cool and the thought of touching his hand made me shiver.

Like Dave, Kathy gave her thanks and extended her hand to me, and like earlier, I shook it gently. Then they both walked off, he pushing the stroller, she with the baby bag slung over her shoulder. As I watched them go, I honestly didn’t know what to think. I stood there a while longer before taking a seat at a nearby coffee shop. My heart broke for the sad couple with the dead baby and the inability to let go, not for the child, but for themselves. And then I was crying with my face buried in my hands. After a few minutes, I composed myself, wiped my eyes and made my way to work. I was late for the first time.

You can find AJ here:

A.J. Brown, Storyteller (WEBSITE):   http://theunderwriter36.wixsite.com/ajbrown

Type AJ Negative (BLOG):    https://typeajnegative.wordpress.com

Amazon Author Page:      https://www.amazon.com/A.-J.-Brown/e/B006UN58R6/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

A.J. Brown Fan Page:    https://www.facebook.com/typeajnegative/

Twitter:    @ajbrown36

Instagram:  ajbrownstoryteller

email: ajbrown36@bellsouth.net

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