Today I welcome my fellow Tales of Darkness and Dismay author, AJ Brown, to my world. To put you in the picture, Tales of Darkness and Dismay is a collection of titles recently brought out by Dark Continents Publishing, an offering of novellas and short story anthologies, available in electronic format from Amazon. Brown is the author of Along the Splintered Path, a collection of short stories.
Tell us a little about your fiction, and especially this latest release through Dark Continents.
I tend to lean a little to the darker side of fiction—not always horror, but rarely ever those feel good, coming of age stories. I find it a bit more challenging to write about people who are put into situations that you don’t see every day. Along with that, the world we live in today is becoming more and more brutal with acts of violence stepping into the realms of unfathomable acts. With that in mind, I try to do the same with my fiction, but without going into the gory details.
Along the Splintered Path falls in that category of the world as it is today. The three stories center on different subjects and one of them even gets a little supernatural, but they all keep their grip on reality. A young man deals with his childhood demons and tries to save his brother from those same memories that haunt him; another man splits with his wife and ends up in a valley in the mountains during a snowstorm. His only refuge? A small hut in the middle of nowhere made of trees and plant life from the forest. And a homeless man who comes into money after it falls from the sky and lands beside him. Their lives are ‘splintered’ so to speak, in one way or another.
Are there any underlying themes in the tale you think are particularly pertinent? How closely does life imitate art in your creative work?
Two of the three stories came as a result of events or things told to me. The Woodshed is based on a story my dad told me years ago about a man who beat his kids with a studded strap. I don’t know if he even remembers the conversation, but it stuck with me. Round These Bones is a result of being in the mountains with my wife and having a truck come zooming by us while we stood on the edge of the road looking out over the mountains.
When I put the stories together I didn’t realize there was a theme—the splintered souls, the torment and discovery of the characters—until my friend, Paula, pointed it out to me. Thus, the title, again thanks to Paula, who came up with it.
Tell us a little more about yourself and your writing methods. Do you outline or do you let the story wander as it will?
I’m a little bit of both. I probably do what most writers do: I get an idea, jot down a couple notes and then come back to it later. That’s usually the extent of my outlining. Once I have an idea, I think about it some—I don’t dwell on it. Doing that makes the story run and hide. Then I start writing.
Most of my stories have either the opening or the closing cemented when I start. I let the story fill in the rest as I go along. Here’s the real thing for me: if I limit a story, it sucks. That simple. If I plan a story out, it sucks. However, if I go into a story with the mindset of, ‘hey, story, are you ready?’ the story gives a nod and we write it together, with the story telling me what to write. It often goes off on its own and—most of the time—I let it. I find this to be the most satisfying and exhilarating way for me to write.
Have you had any truly frightening real-life experiences you wish to share?
Oh man… oh yeah. I’ve had a knife pulled on me. I’ve had a gun pointed at me by a guy with suicidal tendencies. There was an accident as a child that left me partially deaf and resulted in a life long run of headaches.
Possibly the most disturbing thing that has ever happened to me is when I was in my late teens I went next door to see a neighbor. I don’t recall why. When I knocked on the door, her youngest daughter who was maybe four at the time opened it. Her blond hair fell around her shoulders and I asked to see her mom. She looked up at me with those blue eyes and said, ‘My mommy’s dead.’
And she wasn’t kidding. Her mother had died that morning, choking to death on toast. It was just her and her mother that morning and I’ve often wondered if she watched her mother die. I’ve also wanted to use this in a story, but I never have. I will one day—the image is strong and the way it made me feel… I don’t get unnerved very easily, but this bothered me for a long time afterward.
Which three books should be on the great dark fantasy library shelf of all time? And why do you think so?
I’m not a real fantasy person, but I’ll say the Dark Tower series, for both horror and fantasy should be up there regardless of what genre it is viewed as. The storyline is magnificent, the characters realistic and how many series’ are out there that just have readers craving more and more?
Buy Along the Splintered Path here.
AJ Brown's blog.
AJ Brown on Facebook.