Congratulations to my friend A.J. Brown, whose story collection ALONG THE SPLINTERED PATH is available in ebook form today from Dark Continents Publishing. I’ve never put together a short story collection, so I got A.J. to tell me a little about how it’s done. Welcome, A.J. Brown!
BREATHE: First off, congratulations on your new book! This has been a long time coming, and I know I’m not the only one of your readers who’s thrilled about it. Tell us a little about the stories in ALONG THE SPLINTERED PATH.
A.J.: Thank you, Michelle and I’m happy you’re as thrilled as I am.
During the summer I submitted a few stories to Dark Continents Publishing. Though they didn’t accept it at that time, they liked one story in particular, “The Woodshed”. Then in early December I was contacted by DCP about submitting for an e-book release slated for early January, either a novella length story or several stories totaling around the 20-30 thousand word mark.
I submitted four and they took three of them. I think they chose the best three. They all seem to fit together in one way or other. I’m excited to see what the readers are going to say about it.
BREATHE: Two of your stories (“The Woodshed” and “‘Round These Bones”) have already made the journey into the published world but you chose to rework them for this collection. What do you think it was about these stories that made you pursue them?
A.J.: Actually, only “The Woodshed” has been published, but I still reworked both of the stories. Many people thought “The Woodshed” was good when it was published. It received some really good reviews. That was in 2008 and I’m a much better writer now than I was then. To be honest with you, I think everything I wrote before this year is crap.
What made me rework these stories (and about six others as well) was reading Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s not your typical writing tips book. It has an intimate feel to it. It has a challenging feel to it. In On Writing King mentions telling the truth in your lies, in your fiction. Not only that, he also said that the journey for the writer should be the same as the reader (per se). In other words, if I don’t enjoy the journey, then neither will the reader.
That went hand in hand with what I’ve always felt about writing: let stories breathe and they live—literally live—and the reader can feel those stories and get lost in them. I hate the cookie cutter stories, where everything is tried and true and no one is willing to take chances. So, I went back and looked at “The Woodshed”, saw holes in it, saw a lack of emotion and character and I felt like the very thing I loathe: cookie cutter writers.
I went back and rewrote the entire story, keeping parts, scrapping others. Then I did it again and again and again until this version came out. Even then, I had missed something crucial that the editor pointed out to me in the editing phase. Thankfully, we got that sorted out.
As far as “Round These Bones” is concerned, it was bad. Really bad. It was barely alive when I read it. I cringed and hoped I could make it better. I got rid of ninety percent of the original story and completely rewrote it. I let the story lead me instead of me leading the story. It was fun revisiting it and discovering where it should have went to start with.
BREATHE: How does “Phillip’s Story” fit with the other two? What made you choose it to complete the anthology?
A.J.: “Phillip’s Story” is a completely different piece. It’s really two stories in one and actually has a somewhat happy ending to it. It’s also a story that I wrote in one sitting and the first original I wrote after spending three months rewriting several pieces. It just took off and then the idea for the second part came to me and it went from there. It’s my favorite piece in the collection.
BREATHE: Tell me about the process of putting together a story collection. Did you choose a theme for it?
A.J.: When determining the stories for this collection I narrowed it down to six that I really thought were good and that could fit together as a group. I whittled that down to five and had several readers take a look at them. In the end, I went with the four I thought were the strongest and DCP picked up the three best ones.
As far as a theme, I didn’t realize there was one until my friend, Paula Ray, mentioned it. I had completely overlooked a crucial element of the collection: a title. So, when I was asked for a title I drew a complete blank. I have a title in mind for a future collection, but it is definitely theme oriented and I didn’t want to use it for this one.
I gave a synopsis of all the stories to a group of my writer friends and Paula immediately came back with the stories having one common connection: torment and discovery. Then she added, “How about Along the Splintered Path?”
I’m not going to lie, I have sweated about this since the offer came to submit again. I want this to be great. I want the readers to enjoy it. You understand how that is, Michelle. The readers are the most important people in a writer’s world—without them, we are nothing. Period. So, having the opportunity to do this is huge for me.
BREATHE: You know I have to ask: Are there any particularly interesting character names in these stories?
A.J.: Michelle, I’ve been following your blog and I see that you’ve done another Rose is A Rose series—I think you should do one of these each year to see how things change for writers.
As for my characters, there is definitely an importance to Phillip’s name. It was the only name that felt right. The same goes with Hollis Williams, one of the other characters in “Phillip’s Story.” To me Hollis was the type of name that said he could be a big fellah, maybe a little goofy or not all together there, which is what I was going for. The tragedy that is Hollis Williams is a vital part of the story and I gave his name a lot of thought. Of all the characters in the collection, those two names are the most important.