Starburst: If we could start a little with your early influences: where you come from and how you started in the industry.
AJ Brown: I don’t think there were any early influences in the writing business to be honest. When I was a kid and even into my young adult years, I didn’t care much for writing. I hated it. I only started writing because of a recurring nightmare and I had been told of an author who wrote a story in order to get rid of his nightmare.
The life influences are there - I grew up in the south and have always enjoyed being in the woods and the outdoors. My dad has had the biggest impact on my personality, on how I view things and even the things I don’t like and me.
Funny thing about me starting in the industry: After I wrote that story about my nightmare I thought it was cool to put the words to paper and see the events unfold. I wrote a couple more and found I really enjoyed it. Then I started writing more often - and I was horrible at first. My wife encouraged me to submit a story somewhere. I can’t remember her exact words, but they were something to the effect of, ‘Are you going to try to get any of these published?’
I had never given it much thought. ‘Why not?’ I said and started submitting my horribly written stories to various online publications. It took over 100 subs before my first acceptance. After that I was hooked.
Along the Splintered Path is a dark and disturbing look at the nature of man. Do you think one must experience horror in order to write it?
I think one must experience life in order to write anything, whether it is horror or romance. I think it helps if a person has a dark sense of humour or enjoys horror movies or enjoys darker artwork, but life has a lot to do with it. I think the difference between writing horror and other stuff is that horror is about giving the reader a since of fear, a since of foreboding and giving them something that really makes them think. It’s not all gore and shock value - to me those are gimmicks to poor writing. But, I don’t necessarily feel one has to experience horror to write it - it might help depict it better, but I don’t think it is a necessary evil, per say.
Thoughts on Along the Splintered Path. What was it like to write?
Two of the three stories were fun, especially Phillip’s Story - I wrote that one in one sitting and it was one of those experimental pieces that turned out just the way I wanted it to. That’s a rarity.
‘Round These Bones was kind of one of those stories that I wrote that was not all that good - it was originally gory and the writing was crap. I recently rewrote it and gave the main character more life and more to deal with.
The Woodshed was difficult. It was based off of something my dad told me about when I was a kid. I never forgot the story and it became the basis of The Woodshed and Kyle was based off of the person my dad told me about. It was difficult because I knew the person so well and it pained me to depict my own dad in such a horrible situation…
What is horror to you, and why do we like to be scared?
Horror is an emotion, a feeling that comes over your body when it happens. Chills and that feeling of being electrocuted for a split second. An out of body experience. It is that heaviness in your chest that makes you have a hard time breathing or that ‘oh crap, do I really want to see what’s around this corner?’. The best I can describe it is it's a feeling that most people don't want to experience in real life.
I don’t know why people like to be scared. For me it’s the fact that little scares me and I want to have that feeling every once in a while. It’s kind of like a rush, I guess - and it may be that way for other folks as well.
What scares you?
Very little. Snakes. Death - I think we all say it doesn’t scare us, but when faced with our mortality, I think everyone would say it scares them a little. Something happening to my kids or my wife - that not only scares me, but I think that is also dangerous for anyone who hurts them. And no, that’s not your typical cocky bravado - I truly feel if someone hurts my family… I would probably lose my mind.
On social commentary. What themes run through your work; what aspects of the human condition are you most drawn towards?
Abuse. It is one of the foremost things that bother me, both physical and emotional. It is a rampant thing in our world and I find it interesting that folks still look at it as kind of taboo.
Homelessness is also a subject that shows up in a lot of my stories. I've often wondered how in some of the wealthier countries in the world why are there so many homeless folks and why don't we do more to help them?
I'm willing to bet close to half the stories I've written involve child main characters. Children are smarter and more resilient than adults thing they are and I tend to write about those kids who have tough lives growing up.
I never write political things - I find most of those stories boring.
Do you think the public perception of horror has changed over the years; do the same things that scared you as a kid scare you today?
Yes and no. I think that the reality of horror has changed over the years and maybe the perception as well, but not in an 'I believe in ghosts' type of way. We see in the news all the time where someone killed someone else or a child is kidnapped and brutally murdered or someone is killed by a stalker because of an 'if I can't have her, then no one will' mentality. Those are real life horrors. We see things like serial killers and serial rapists and people shooting up high schools or political figures.
I think the horror of life has helped change the perception of real life horror stories. Again, I don't believe the monster type of horror has been affected all that much. People have always been fascinated with what goes bump in the night, be it vampires and zombies and werewolves - we've seen a recent resurgence of these 'monsters' thanks to Twilight and The Walking Dead.
If you look at fiction in todays literary market you will see more and more darker stories and less of the boy comes of age or the girl finds her one true love stuff. What you find are even the literary folks are writing darker themed pieces. Why? Because GOOD horror sells. Oops, wait. They don't call it horror in many of those circles, but it is what it is and if the tales are horrific in nature then they are horror by definition.
The only thing that really scares me from childhood is snakes. I don't run away screaming like a little girl or anything, but I do take those cautious steps backward and when I'm a safe distance away, I boogie on out of there. I know most people would probably kill the snake, but if it's not harming me or my family, why should I? It has a right to live as well. Now, if you would have said that same thing to me when I was fifteen I would have laughed and told you to get the gun, that serpent is going to die.
What can readers expect to see from you next?
Honestly, I don't know. Hopefully Along the Splintered Path will do well and someone will read it who would consider maybe publishing another collection, a longer one or, maybe, possibly - hopefully - consider one of the novels I've written.
And on a final note, what are your thoughts on the standard tropes of the genre: werewolves, zombies, vampires etc.?
I still believe the most original creature ever thought up is Frankenstein. So many have tried to create monsters, but Frankenstein is the most unique in my opinion.
As far as all the rest are concerned, I've never been a fan of the werewolf stories. Of all the stories I've written, I think I've penned two stories involving werewolves. It's always struck me as limited in what is written about it. Maybe someone should consider doing something different with the werewolves (or maybe I should just revisit the one or two stories I've written and do something about it myself).
Twilight and Anne Rice have ruined vampires for me. They're supposed to be bloodthirsty creatures, scary. Vampires are like addicts in that when they need blood they become desperate and violent and not so choosy as to who it kills to get that blood. The best vampire story I've read in recent years is Misery of Me by Anne Michaud. It appeared in the Tattered Souls II anthology and, not to give too much away, it's about a female vampire who is literally addicted to blood - that of heroin users. It's a fresh take on the psychological aspect of vampire and host.
Now zombies I like, but not all of them. I like what The Walking Dead has done in that it has made the zompocalypse about the characters in the show, not just about the shambling dead. There are some things I don't care much for in the show. Zombies that can climb on top of things or practically run or climb over guard rails and use their hands to keep from falling. That stuff doesn't fly with me, but the series is great.
And I don't believe if zombies were to actually happen, they would be able to run - if they did it would be quite stiff-legged.
Speaking of zombies, can I toss a shameless plug out here? My ongoing zombie series, Dredging Up Memories, has been playing out at Tales of the Zombie Wars. I tried going the route of character development and playing on the mental capacity of the main character to see if he can survive in the end.
AJ Brown, thank you very much.
You can find our review of 'Along the Splintered Path' HERE.