A short story by A.J. Brown
AJ’s Southern Horror series – also referred to by the author as Brown Bag Stories – are presented in stapled booklets complete with eye-grabbing covers. Volume One, High, wastes no time throwing us into the passenger seat as our protagonist, Jill, arrives home after her daily grind where she discovers her boyfriend’s truck parked on top of their mailbox. She finds the truck empty with blood spattered across the steering wheel as we get a sense of the crap-quality conundrum Jill has put herself in as she quickly goes from fear, to anger, then to worry at what the hell her boyfriend is doing home so early from work considering his less than meticulous parking job. With an overpowering stench of reefer madness pouring from the truck, Jill’s emotions zero in on anger as she assumes he likely got his ass fired – again – for toking and who knows what else on the job.
Entering her trailer home and spotting Mr. Charming plopped on the couch drinking beer and watching Sponge Bob, a plan formulates as she decides to take control once and for all and finally let go of too many broken promises. But that doesn’t mean she was about to make it easy for her soon to be ex. Utilizing his current state of oblivion to her advantage Jill delves into her plan full tilt, relishing how far her courage – and his sanity – could be stretched.
AJ lays it all on the page in a direct and personal style as if told around the campfire while listeners inevitably sit closer until the risk of getting singed draws them back again. Despite, or perhaps because of, AJ’s direct style, don’t expect to know what’s going to happen next. The short story format forces the author to keep the pace pushing forward and forces the reader to keep on guessing right up until the end.
Go ahead and do yourself a favour and sign up for this issue and the other three to follow. A helluva bargain for $10.
DARK BITES: If I’m remembering correctly, this isn’t the first go around with your brown bag stories, as you call them. What can you tell us about how the idea to sell some short stories as a subscription came about, and your overall experience the first time you tested the waters with this concept?
AJ BROWN: The original concept was put into play back in 2014. I wanted to get my work out there, get people reading my stories, but I didn’t know how to do it other than the standard submit, wait, get rejected, submit, wait, get accepted, wait several months, etc … I talked to a guy and he said put out a booklet and give them away. At first, I wasn’t too sure, but then I thought, I have plenty of short stories I can use. So, in June of 2014, The Brown Bag Stories was released for the first time.
I did The Brown Bag Stories for four years, then decided to call it quits. It was a ton of work (at least fifteen hours a month, per issue) and I didn’t feel it was really doing what I wanted it to do.
I hated pulling the plug on it, but it was necessary.
Almost a year passed and I found myself wanting to do another booklet, but not The Brown Bag Stories. I figured, ‘Hey, if fifty-two people were on the mailing list for the free editions, maybe some of them would be willing to pay for them in a subscription form. I talked it over with my wife and my editor and we decided to put out some feelers, see if anyone is interested. I set a goal of twenty-five people needed to show interest in it. If I reached that goal, then I would start selecting stories, editing, doing the layout, creating the cover, more editing and so on. I reached that goal and started putting everything together.
Here is where I have to be completely honest: I was a little disappointed in the amount of folks who subscribed. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy with those who did subscribe, who were willing to pay money for my work. Sadly, of the fifty-two subscribers for the free editions of The Brown Bag Stories, only fourteen of them were willing to pay for the stories. In the end, twelve of those original readers paid for Southern Darkness. On the positive side, almost thirty folks thought positively enough of my writing to do the subscription, most of whom didn’t receive The Brown Bag Stories. I’ll take that.
DB: How do you select which stories will go into the subscription?
AJB: This took longer than I thought it would. I have all my stories in folders, listed by the year the stories were written. I went through all the folders dated from 2004 to 2019 and narrowed the stories down to eight. Two of them I took off the list because they were entirely too long for a booklet. The other six, I read over a couple of times, easily picking three out of them. The fourth one was a little more difficult. It came down to two pieces, one of which I really liked and thought would be perfect and the other one which I really liked, but found a hole in it. Then came the important thing: I gave the four stories to my wife, Cate. She read over them, approving of the first three, but not the fourth one. Then I realized I actually had the fourth one in the form of a story I had just written. Cate read it, liked it and the four stories were chosen.
DB: Do the stories share a common denominator?
AJB: As a whole, no, but there are a couple of similarities with two of the stories. The ages of the main characters is one of those similarities.
Wooded areas play significant roles in two of the stories, but really, there’s not much else in common with them.
DB: Is this the first time these tales have seen the printed page?
AJB: Yes. I wanted stories never published. If people were paying for them, then they should get something original and unpublished.
DB: This seems like such a great way for any author, especially those on the independent small press side of things like yourself and so many others, to get stories out in bite sized bits to readers. I would think it offers a great value and can be a great way for readers to sample an author’s work without much cost or risk of time. What have you gauged the general reaction of readers to be so far?
AJB: So far I haven’t heard anything negative about the first story or the cost for the subscription. Readers have been receptive and a few of them have contacted me to tell me how much they enjoyed the first story, High.
DB: Is this approach (selling short stories as a series) something you see yourself adding to moving forward?
AJB: Absolutely. I already have a concept for the next subscription, and it’s one I think the readers are going to love.
DB: You introduce “High” with mention of how a real-life experience helped create the basis for this story. Care to elaborate?
AJB: My wife and I visited a friend and his family one Saturday and his girlfriend told this funny story about how a friend of hers was angry at her boyfriend or husband, I can’t remember which, and played a similar prank on him. It made my mind erupt with a way to build on the joke and make it a serious story of love and heartache.
DB: For those of us who’ve already read and enjoyed High, the first story in this set of four, what, by comparison, can we expect from the other three stories to follow?
High is the tamest story of the four. It is light-hearted in its telling, all the way until the end where things take that drastic turn.
The second story, Pink Balloons and Lightning Bugs, gets a little darker and is followed up by an even darker piece, As the Madness Slowly Took Him. The final story, The Knowing, is just … it’s brutal in many ways and kind of heart breaking.
DB: And for what may be the most important question in this interview, what’s the best way for a reader to get their hands on this subscription for those who’ve yet to do so?
AJB: Shoot me an email at [email protected] , letting me know they are interested. The subscription is ten dollars for all four of the booklets. Even though the first one has come out, I will still send it out to those who pay for the subscription. The ten dollars covers all four stories, regardless of when you sign up.