Three Questions with AJ Brown

Posted: February 1, 2011 in Uncategorized
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AJ Brown is my role model. In fact, I think I can honestly say he’s the only role model that I have. Which is why we request that he write something for Liquid Imagination Online each and every single issue. Sometimes it’s fiction. Lately it’s been articles.

Who is AJ Brown? With over 150-publishing credits (short story), and having held his own as a slushpile editor for well-respected publications, AJ knows the craft of writing both behind-the-scenes as well as within the framework of the story itself. I don’t have to brag about him because I have to; I brag about him because I want to. He’s going places, folks. 

Another reason I brag about him is because he finds it difficult to brag about himself. He’s one of those strong, brooding types. Yet he’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind, despite those words not being the most popular. 

Three Questions for my Role Model, AJ Brown:

1)      In your article “Life and Death” you talk of killing stories. But you also show us how to bring stories back to life. It’s almost as if the writer is like Dr. Frankenstein in the metaphor you use.  Do stories really live and breathe? 

Dr. Frankenstein?  I like that.  I might have to work that into my name somewhere.  To answer the question:  Yes.  And this may be a long winded answer, but stick with me for a minute.

How many times have you read a story that fell flat either in character development, plot development or even in storytelling?  How many times have you finished a story and then just forgot about it?  How many times have you started a story and put it down because you lost interest?  More than once, I’m sure.  Those stories that fall flat and lose your interest may as well have never been written.  Why?  Because you forget about them.  There’s nothing remarkable about them.  Or if you do remember them, they were so bad they have embedded themselves into your soul and even losing your memory can’t make you forget about them.  

I read a lot and most of the time I find most stories to be boring.  Yeah, the books might be well written, but the characters might do things that those characters wouldn’t normally do.  Or the story is all action and no description or just the opposite, all description and no action.  It is extremely hard to impress me and, really, so many writers are cookie-cutter writers, afraid to do their own thing because they might not get published.  Therefore, they use the same old formula and the story itself suffers. 

You know when a story lives: when you feel like you’ve been kicked in the teeth when you’re done reading it, or you feel like your heart was just ripped out and stomped on.  That’s when a story lives. 
Charles Colyott wrote a story called The Steel Church.  It appeared in Volume III of The Horror Library Anthology series.  When I first read it, it grabbed hold of me and didn’t let go and when I was finished, I had to read it again.  And again.  It was chilling in its telling and simplistic in the way it was told.  It was brilliant and each word was a breath and each space between was an exhalation.  

Recently I read possibly the most alive story I have ever read.  I can’t give the name of it or the author at the moment, given that it was just recently accepted for publication, but this story, from beginning to end, felt real.  I could feel the pain and the despair of the main character and the ending… the ending left me stunned and all I could say was ‘wow’ when I had finished.  It really made me feel like EVERYTHING I had ever written sucked compared to it.  

It’s those stories that linger long after you’ve read them that make you feel something, stories that in my opinion truly live.  

2)      In your writing, what do you consider your strongest point? 

My strongest point in writing is the same as my strongest point in life, yet it is also my biggest problem:  I’m stubborn.  I’m hardheaded and I tend to not back down on the things I believe in.  I will argue with you if I think you are wrong or if I think a point needs to be made.  You and I have butted heads on projects because I see things one way and you see things another.  It is the way I am and I will not compromise that.  

My dad has always told me that if you stand up for what you believe in, you will be fine.  You might not get it your way, but folks will know where you stand, and believe me, folks know where I stand on things.  And this is a good thing in that respect.  

It’s also a negative thing in that I will not compromise the way I write to get someone to publish my story.  I’ve lost a few sales because an editor here or there asked me to make wholesale changes to stories to fit what they wanted.  Basically, they didn’t want what I had written.  In that case, I prefer just getting the rejection and getting it over with.  Don’t let that confuse you:  I will and have made changes to stories.  Edits are fine.  Significant edits are fine.  I get that, but it’s one thing to ask for rewrites or to edit a story and it’s another thing to change a story all together to make it fit a publication.  That’s not being true to the story or the story’s intent.  That’s not me and if folks choose to not publish one of my stories because of that, then I deal with it.  

I could really go on for hours about this, but I think I’ll stop here.  

3)      When is your novel(s) coming out? 

Novel?  Maybe never.  

I have no desire to write a novel. I’ve written three novel-length stories and I hate two of them.  The other one is okay and has some really memorable scenes—one of which made me sick to my stomach after writing it.  I wrote these three novels with the idea that I needed to write a novel-length story.  Honestly, I think that’s why I hate two of them.  

Let me say this:  I don’t write short stories and I don’t write novellas or novels or even flash fiction and micro fiction (or anything that involves a set length or word count).  What I write are stories.  Period.  I don’t go into a piece thinking this story will be five-thousand-words long and not a word more.  I go into a story with the idea of telling the story—or, rather, letting the story tell itself.  If that means the story is a thousand words, then fine.  If it means the piece is a hundred-thousand-words, then so be it.  

As far as sitting down and telling myself I am going to write a novel, not going to happen.  The story gets lost with the concept of ‘writing a novel.’

 The Semi-Official AJ Brown Website: Type AJ Negative


  1. Lee Thompson says:

    Nice interview, guys!

  2. JAM says:

    Thanks, Lee! We’re interviewing contributors to Liquid Imagination Online. Robert Eccles is next for “Three Questions.” AJ makes everything seem so easy, doesn’t he?

  3. Sue Babcock says:

    AJ needs to learn to have an opinion.


    Great interview, guys. I always enjoy listening to what you all have to say. I particularly like “You know when a story lives: when you feel like you’ve been kicked in the teeth when you’re done reading it, or you feel like your heart was just ripped out and stomped on.”

    Yes. Exactly.

  4. foldedflat says:

    A good interview. I like AJ’s thoughts on story length — that the characters and situation have to be told appropriately, and word count shouldn’t necessarily enter into it. It does serve as an important creative limit at times, though — forcing you to work within boundaries, and come up with new ways to approach the story.

    I dothink that some stories and styles fit certain lengths better. I feel like I have to rough or sketch out the idea, maybe a few sentences or a title, and decide then — how is this best suited? Can I draw big, starting with context and history, filling in hours of detail? Or should I pull out the stark reality of a few minutes in time? Keeping the mix balanced and sweet between action, dialogue and description despite these different approaches is one of my favorite things as a writer.

  5. Great interview of a Great Writer…

    “I go into a story with the idea of telling the story—or, rather, letting the story tell itself. If that means the story is a thousand words, then fine. If it means the piece is a hundred-thousand-words, then so be it. ”

    I’m selecting this as a quote for my collection. It really speaks to me and I’m putting it up on my wall as a reminder of what I need to do.

    Thanks, JAM and AJ!

    • JAM says:

      Don’t thank me, Mandy. It’s AJ’s genius that’s being discussed. lol! I’m just the “yes man.” He says something brilliant and I say, “YES!” lol!

  6. gaydegani says:

    Like, it’s cool to have AJ on the other side of the questions for a change. Like, this is very cool. Great interview.

  7. Allison says:

    “…. so many writers are cookie-cutter writers, afraid to do their own thing because they might not get published.”

    When it comes to my stories, I’ve struggled on both sides. I want to write my own story but am not sure yet of my voice. I’m also very aware of publication needs, which probably effects my ability to find my voice. About a month ago, I wrote a story just for fun about clouds. I enjoyed writing without any thought of market. Yet now I’m writing a story about bees for which I do hope to find a market. For that reason, I’m sticking to a word length and certain style, while also trying to write the story I want to tell. So, I’ll probably continue to struggle to find my balance there.

    With my blog, I feel more comfortable about my voice. That’s not to say I’m writing anything that would blow readers away. Yet I started my blog out of a love for books. And so I don’t have any problem with stating exactly how I feel about a book. Or with writing on and on and on…. My blog breaks many standard rules. Thankfully, people still keep reading it.

    I enjoyed learning more about AJ in this interview. Keep up the interviews!

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