Search Results for: art assault

Thursday Art Assault – A Girl Standing in the Wind

We started with this…

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And ended with this…

Decided against the tattoos…

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Here’s another angle…

Appears darker in this lighting setup.

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Hither the Wind – Tahina Morrison & J Edward Neill

For more 3D art pieces like this, go here.

For previous art assaults, go here.

 

Thursday Art Assault – Wood Panel Warfare

At DragonCon 2017, I wandered the art gallery for what seemed like eons.

I encountered stunning fantasy art of all kinds. I found light, darkness, and everything in-between.

But then I stumbled upon something I’d never really seen before. An artist – I admit I don’t know her name or website – had created a large quantity of long, narrow paintings on slender wooden panels.

For me, a guy who has always focused his work on canvasses, gesso boards, and plain old paper, the idea of painting on peculiar-sized chunks of wood transfixed me.

I knew at once I had to try a few of my own:

I started with these:

Pieces of an old picket fence. About 20″ long – 4″ wide. Cut, dried, and sanded to a smooth finish.

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And I moved on to these:

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Here’s an up close shot of my favorite plank, The Sorcerer:

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After finishing a ton of smaller planks, I tried a giant plank. This one’s 6′ tall and 12″ wide. It was a true pleasure to paint:

Started with this…

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…and finished with this.

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I admit I loved making these so much, I’ve got another six planks drying on my deck right now. Meaning…more are soon to come.

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Want to learn more? Hit me up on Facebook, Twitter, or via email.

And…you might also like these.

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

Thursday Art Assault – Sketching Pretty Girls

We’ve recently ended our long-standing Thought for Every Thursday series.

It may one day make its return.

But for now, please enjoy the latest installation of  Thursday Art Assault

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For my latest round of short stories, I’ve decided to sketch my own cover art.

It’s a challenge.

…and I love it.

This next piece is a sequel to this.

Here’s a quick progression:

Nadya – or at least half of her. I started with strictly pencils, sketching her face on a huge sheet of watercolor paper. Surprise, surprise….watercolor paper is excellent media for fine pencil sketches, especially realistic pieces.

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I used a blend of charcoal, graphite, and dark pencil lead to deepen Nadya’s eyes and hair. Here’s my arsenal….

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Nadya, the Deathless is a character in the novel Hollow Empire.

Thanks for stopping by. More paintings are soon to come.

Prints are available here.

For art inquiries, hit me up on Facebook, Twitter, or via email.

If you like Nadya, you might also like these.

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

Thursday Art Assault – Shadow Art

On a lonely Friday eve, long after midnight slid by, I stood before a black canvas with the last drop of white paint clinging to my paintbrush.

Songs a bit dramatic, right?

Anyway, I made good use of the white paint.

And out came my latest painting, Night Emperor.

Night Emperor

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And of course, Night Emperor needs his bride.  Here’s ‘Frozen’ sculpted and painted by artist (and lady of the night) T. Morrison:

Frozen

They make quite a pair, don’t you think?

For art inquiries, hit me up on Facebook, Twitter, or via email.

If you like Night Emperor and Frozen, you might also like these.

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

Author of darkness

Thursday Art Assault – Sylvan Eternity

I’d just finished working on several highly-realistic sketches.

…and my pencil hand was tired.

To ease my mild suffering, I picked up a huge (24×48″) canvas and went after it with green, black, yellow, and white paint.

The result was…well…

Sylvan Eternity

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…big.

I enjoyed every second of painting this giant landscape. Now it’s back to cover art work.

Prints are available here.

For art inquiries, hit me up on Facebook, Twitter, or via email.

If you like this painting, you might also like these.

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

 

Thursday Art Assault – Big Dark Painting

I’m wandering in a strange artistic realm.

Somewhere between this and this.

On a rainy Saturday, with a glass of scotch in hand and Chris Isaak roaring in the background, I decided to consume my largest remaining canvas.

…and paint green clouds, dark terrain, and tall, hollow tombs.

Introducing the Grave Towers:

The final painting. Bleak and green. Were I a better photographer, you’d get the deep shading and details.

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This is the background, which I painted on a chilly Friday night. Some people have told me they prefer it without the towers. Meaning…I’ll probably paint a tower-less version soon.

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If you liked this painting, you might also like these.

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

4 Savage Worlds RPG Kickstarters You Should Back – Titan Effect, Frozen Skies, The Monster Hunters Club, Seven Worlds, and more

This week I’m focusing on four Savage Worlds Kickstarters (as well as a system agnostic offering). Why pick a specific system like Savage Worlds instead of considering every system? Well, for one week I want to see if shining a spotlight on a single RPG engine helps spark some discussion about it. Savage Worlds is one of the most versatile games out there and it covers a variety of genres and I want to see if these campaigns can reach a wider audience, to get an idea of what SW’s fanbase is like. Considering that, let’s countdown the campaigns.

 

Check out John McGuire’s The Gilded Age steampunk graphic novel on Kickstarter!

 

5) Frozen Skies RPG for Savage Worlds by Applied Vectors, ltd and Utherwald Press
Ends on Wed, November 1 2017 12:00 PM EDT.

“Diesel-punk post-war aviators fight to survive on the frozen frontier against the elements and the savage Wulvers.

Frozen Skies is a roleplaying game written by Stephen Hughes of Utherwald Press. It is being brought to Kickstarter by Applied Vectors Ltd.

The 120 page book is written, what we need is artwork that accurately brings the setting to life, and for this to happen, we need you! The funding goal gets you a combination of colour and black and white art. if we hit the first stretch goal, it will be a full colour interior!

The setting of Frozen Skies is the continent of Alyeska, the most northern landmass of the world of Darmonica and is often referred to as either the ‘rooftop of the world’ or ‘Darmonica’s Crown’. It is an icy frontier plagued by savage beasts, cut-throat sky pirates, harsh weather and eons old dark secrets. It is a barely tamed land where the most basic of utilities are hard to come by and tend to lie on the good side of unreliable at best. But despite all this there are opportunities for a man to make a name and, more ideally, coin for himself.

Alyeska itself is dominated by savage beasts known as Wulvers, wolf like creatures that’ve plagued Alyeska since its earliest Colonial days. The Commonwealth had troops stationed in Alyeska to defend its fledging colony against the beasts, though they were steadily whittled away to satisfy the Commonwealth’s war efforts. As the defenses were weakened the Wulvers gradually overran more and more territory, in the end the Alyeskans were forced to hide behind fortified walls and increasingly rely on air travel to maintain contact with far-flung outposts.

Despite the Wulvers the other great powers of Darmonica have their own interest in Alyeska, chiefly for the ruins and artefacts of the Ancient Terrans buried beneath the ice and for a mineral by-product of the Blast known as Glimmer Rock. Until it was altered by the energies released in the explosion it was a previously unremarkable mineral, now it is the fuel for a new Industrial Revolution that the world finds itself on the cusp of….but only if the new technology can be made viable.”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

Lets lead this list with some diesel-punk for Savage Worlds. Frozen Skies is set on a unique continent where the great powers colonized the north pole and planes are the best way to keep the icebound colonies connected. Sky pirates, and wolves, and glaciers. The concept is interesting and I can see where it’d mesh nicely with the Savage Worlds ruleset. Do you want to try a sample of the setting? It’s a $1.50 for the Frozen Skies Setting Primer at DriveThurRPG.

 

You can see examples of the creator and publisher’s work at DriveThruRPG here (Applied Vectors, ltd) and here (Utherwald Press).

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

4) Titan Effect RPG for Savage Worlds by Knights Errant Media
Ends on Thu, November 2 2017 10:06 AM EDT.

“An espionage and science fiction setting for Savage Worlds, somewhere between Tom Clancy and the X-Men!

Cover made by Vargasni
Cover made by Vargasni

Titan Effect RPG is a licensed campaign setting for Savage Worlds. Titan Effect is set in a contemporary world where psychic spies clash with genetically enhanced soldiers in a secret war in which the future of human evolution is at stake.

Take on the role of a trained operative gifted with psychic abilities. Perform dangerous missions all over the world for the international clandestine organization known as the SPEAR, and fight against dangerous creatures and organizations. Survive long enough, and maybe you will be able to make a difference.

Titan Effect RPG requires the Savage Worlds Core Rules and the Super Powers Companion (2nd edition).

The world of Titan Effect is like ours but darker and stranger. Psychics and augmented humans are used as spies and soldiers on behalf of criminal organizations, private military companies, and secret societies in a secret war that has been raging for decades. Some are fighting for control and power, while others seek to shape the future of human evolution.

In the middle of this conflict, stands the worldwide clandestine organization known as the Special Executive Assault and Recon or SPEAR. Its mission: to track and neutralize eugenics and psychic threats, and to prevent the world from falling into chaos. To succeed in its mission, the SPEAR hires people with unique sets of skills and possessing powerful psychic abilities. Its agents come from different nationalities and backgrounds.

Players take on the role of psychic operatives trained in black operations, and working for the international clandestine organization known as the SPEAR. They have the task to perform dangerous missions all over the world and fight against dangerous creatures and organizations. Some are there to make a difference, others for the thrill or because they have no other place to go.

Titan Effect RPG combines biopunk, spy thriller, and superhero elements. Imagine Tom Clancy meets Metal Gear Solid meets the X-Men. Titan Effect RPG plunges you into a world filled with conspiracies, secret organizations, dangerous biotechnologies and psychic phenomena. A world where the boundary between “good” and “evil” is blurred…”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

Let’s move from diesel-punk to biopunk. It’s a secret war for humanity’s future in which you can play a supersoldier. Based on the write-up – “Tom Clancy meets Metal Gear Solid meets the X-Men” – this is going to be action meets action meets action. But, hey, you gotta ask yourself if there’s enough action for you? To answer that, try their free demo kit and see (I think you’ll be happy with it).

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

3) Beneath, the Spire and the Sound (Beneath book 2) by Severed Books
Ends on Sun, November 5 2017 8:05 AM EST.
NOTES:

  • This link is NSFW 
  • System agnostic

“Beneath, the Spire and the Sound – book 2 of the Beneath series, a system-agnostic RPG module.

Beneath, the Spire and the Sound (book 2) 

Salt of the stars and salt of the earth — the critically acclaimed series is back! The armies of Seven Walls and the armies of Leaf have set their weapons aside — mid-battle — and cast off their armor and clothes. They walk hand-in-hand, naked, laughing, as friends, into the UnDungeon. Hannah has been captured. Now Baron Lennox beckons for you to return from your dark decent, rewarding you with The Perseverance [a tavern]. Beneath book 2 begins.

“Beneath challenges the conventional idea of the ‘Dungeon crawl’ in so many ways and succeeds in them all. It is radical yet well crafted, it is shocking yet thought provoking, it is familiar yet intensly Alien. If roleplaying is a Tree with all the various games and genres spreading out from it, then ‘beneath’ is one sick and twisted branch that waits for all brave travellers who dare to tread their foot upon.”  Jay of Colosseum Rex (U.K.)

“Beneath as a series is doing so much to reinvent what it means to be a prewritten adventure module. But Beneath isn’t just a few module books, it’s a living document full of unexpected messed up stuff and amazing artistic expression. You’ll feel like you’re talking to real people when you’re talking to the NPC’s. So strap in, and let’s get salty.” Zach Benge of Tabletop Radio Hour

“Beneath is a return to that thing that made gaming cool in the 80s, it’s dangerous and brutal, yet modern in it’s approach to subtext. A unique, grotesque, disturbing work that is entertaining and well crafted. A horror crawl that examines the topics of self absorption and the dangers held within. Your table deserves this experience and the sequel that follows.” Emanuel James Miller, Owner, Crit Hit Conventions

“Beneath masterfully blends narrative, adventure, combat, and character involvement. A dark tale that left our group massively satisfied.” The Inner Gamer

“I’ve never seen anything like this on an RPG level and I think it’s f*cking rad.” Full Metal RPG / Podcast

Undead Viking review here. 

Players will venture back to CragLee to claim the rewards they earned from book 1, including The Perseverance (a large tavern). Your party will even manage a “character sheet” specifically made for The Perseverance:  name a bar manager, track profits, store items, and customize the property.

Players will also meet Emily, a “Game Witch” who will share Hannah’s secret and also provide valuable support throughout the second half of the campaign. She can take an apprentice and teach them to imbue animal and human organs with powerful magic.

Horrors compound as the party returns to the UnDungeon and “The Vert” to face the more inverted abominations. Player’s decisions affect the outcomes of Hannah and many of the townspeople who have been seduced by the Inverted Cupid. Players will discover what The Invert actually is–a living, breathing cultural catalyst (a “Vert”) summoned with only the best intentions.

THE BOOK (Beneath, the Spire and the Sound)

  • 200+ pages
  • Matte cover
  • Perfectly bound
  • 8.5″ x 8.5″
  • Original illustrations by Scott Buonchristano and Justin Sirois
  • 50+ maps
  • Emily (NPC) and Suit of Salt character sheets
  • The Perseverance (tavern) management sheet

You will need Beneath book 1 to play Beneath book 2. If you need book 1 now, you can get it on Amazon (free shipping with Prime).”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

Let’s take a short Savage Worlds-pause to look at Beneath, a system agnostic adventure. Reading the pitch, this is an adventure that’s going to turn your fantasy preconceptions on their ear. It has some rarely utilized ideas – your tavern has its own character sheet – and enough twists to keep everyone guessing. If you’re looking for a unique path, this may be your cup of tea.

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

2) The Monster Hunters’ Club RPG for Savage Worlds by CCS Games/Fabled Environments
Ends on Thu, November 16 2017 9:02 AM EST.

“The Monster Hunters’ Club is a setting for the Savage Worlds RPG about kids coming of age and fighting monsters in the 1980’s.

Cover by Karl Keesler
Cover by Karl Keesler

 

 The Monster Hunters’ Club is a licensed setting for the Savage Worlds Roleplaying Game set in the 1980’s and inspired by kids’ adventure and horror films, television, and novels like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, The Goonies, The Monster Squad, The Lost Boys, Fright Night, It, Super 8, Stranger Things, and many more. Players take on the roles of children, growing up in the 80’s, who become heroes.

 The Monster Hunters’ Club is an officially licensed Savage Worlds product, and requires the Savage Worlds Deluxe Core Rules to play.

A preview of The Monster Hunters’ Club is available on DriveThruRPG. Please click on the link in the text, or click on the Preview button above to download our FREE preview from DriveThruRPG.

Something strange is happening in the town of Gulf Haven. Horrible creatures are coming to life. The adults seem blind to the entire thing. It’s up to you to find out what is happening, and stop it before it’s too late!

Growing up in the 1980’s…

You’ve got Saturday morning cartoons, a tree fort, a boombox, a fast bike, and oh…

Monsters are real.

You heard me.

Don’t bother telling your parents. Grown-ups can’t see ‘em. When something gets smashed up, they blame us. When somebody goes missing, they blame someone from out of town, or maybe the Russians. The monsters are real though, and it’s up to us to do something about it.

That’s right, between babysitting your little sister, dodging bullies like Scotty Mangrum, and surviving middle school, you also have to figure out how to fix the monster problem.

You can’t phone home, and there’s nobody you can call. It’s up to you to save the town, and maybe even the world!

Image Credit: Mike Dukes
Image Credit: Mike Dukes

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

The kids on bikes subgenre (Stranger Things, Stephen King’s IT, Tales From the Loop) expands to Savage Worlds. This is a fast-growing niche filled with, at a guess, fans about my age that are looking for a window back to their childhood. Do you want to see if this has the feel of Amblin Entertainment before you buy? The Monster Hunters’ Club is available on DriveThruRPG for free, so grab it and then you can decide if this is the RPG for your childhood memories.

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

Monster Club art by Veronica V. Jones

 

1) Seven Worlds – realistic science-fiction for Savage Worlds by Intellistories
Ends on Thu, November 16 2017 9:08 AM EST.

“A unique hard Science-Fiction setting for the Savage Worlds RPG. An epic campaign, 2D/3D starmaps for most platforms, and more!

Welcome to Seven Worlds, a new Epic Science-Fiction Setting and Campaign for the Savage Worlds role-playing game!

Seven Worlds is a unique, epic hard(ish) Science-Fiction role-playing campaign and setting. In the year 2217 humanity’s greatest achievement is the colonization of the nearby star systems now known as the Seven Worlds, where humanity lives, thrives, and prepares for the next great wave of space exploration. But when the unexpected threatens humanity, only an unlikely band of heroes can unravel a deadly conspiracy and try to avert the Fall!

“This isn’t the usual Firefly-meets-Star Wars space opera, it’s more like The Expanse… Overall rating: 5 out of 5.”  – Halfway Station

What makes Seven Worlds special? Do we need yet another science-fiction setting and campaign for Savage Worlds? We believe there IS a niche for a new, unique setting, and here are some reasons why:

The Campaign is Epic: The core of Seven Worlds is its awesome, world-shattering campaign! The setting was designed around the story, rather than the story around the setting, making for a rich environment where everything fits together. Inspired by classic science fiction books likeThe Expanse series and TV series like Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5, as well as by such grand episodic RPG campaigns as the original Dragonlance saga, this is a story arc the players will never forget!

The campaign will be available as seven PDF-only modules and (after the modules have been released) as a single-volume 253-page Campaign Book. For more information on the campaign, check this Designer Diary on our blog site.”

 

Check out my interview with Luis Enrique Torres about his Kickstarter for Seven Worlds here.

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

You know what I like best about Savage Worlds? There are four Kickstarters and four unique settings/genres. Diesel-punk, biopunk, kids on bikes, and, now, hard science fiction. As I’ve mentioned before, 2017 feels like the Year of the Sci-Fi RPG.

With that in mind, this is going to be a good Savage Worlds setting. As with the other Savage Worlds RPGs on this list, you can try before you buy – Seven Worlds Test Drive for free.

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

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Signal Boost:

 

Design Camp 2 – The Conversion! with Ben McFarland, Jason Sonia, and Brian Suskind
We’re planning a short winter project to showcase the process of converting a D&D3.0 adventure to 5E & PFRPG while updating the design.
Ends on Wed, November 1 2017 4:53 AM EDT.

Why signal boost this? This is wanna-lancer college! Take out a student loan and join in because Egg Embry will be there!

Check out the campaign here.

 

Gilded Age: Vol 1 – A Steampunk Graphic Novel by John McGuire
Made up of magicians and actors, freaks and gunslingers, The Gilded Age reveals everyone’s desires and secrets.
Ends on Fri, November 17 2017 11:59 PM EST.

Why signal boost this? This is from the Tessera Guild’s own John McGuire and he’s hitting on all cylinders with this story! Steampunk circus touring across Victorian Europe! Carny robots! Stage wizards! Tricksh00ting cyborgs! Check out the link to the campaign for a free copy of issue one!

The Gilded Age - Volume 1 Cover - La'Vata O'Neal - Artist
The Gilded Age – Volume 1 Cover – La’Vata O’Neal – Artist

Check out the campaign here.

 

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Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com and Amazon.com.

Savage Worlds: Fast, Furious, and Fun! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

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Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt or wall clock or ice tea glass!

 

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Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

What’s 1 Little Japanese Maple Worth?

It’s the summer of 2016, and I’m poolside.

I’ve been living in a swanky apartment for a few months now. It’s about as close to Atlanta one can live without technically leaving the ‘burbs. I’m across the street from a high-end bar. I can hear the highway traffic roaring by.

But look, there’s still trees.

And no smog.

Life is pretty good.

The pool is packed today. Since the G Man and I started swimming here, the water has never been this populated. I count at least thirty kids and forty adults. Both poolside grills are smoking. It’s sizzling hot beneath the sun, but no one seems to mind. I’m lounging beside a beautiful girl, observing our sons as they splash the day away.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

The G Man and I love swimming so much, we come here every day. Sometimes at night. Sometimes even when it’s raining.

As the afternoon deepens, I’m enjoying conversation with my pool-date. Her son and mine have hit it off well. So well, in fact, they’ve been splashing, water-blasting, and half-drowning each other for the last three hours. We’re waiting for them to tire.

It’s not looking promising.

And so we sit, relax, and soak up the rays. We may look like we’re talking, but our eyes never stray far from our kids. Everyone else in the world can drown if they want, just not these two.

As it turns out, no one’s drowning today.

Whew.

But there’s still trouble.

A crowd of kids has gathered in the shallow end. They’re all several years older than the G Man, and they’re packing all kinds of heat – in the form of giant water guns. One kid has a pump-action shotgun blaster. Another has a water gun as massive as a military-grade RPG launcher.

At first, I think maybe they’re planning an assault on G Man and his new friend. I’m no helicopter parent, but if their plan is to bully my boy, I’m ready to dive in and fight everyone to the death.

Nope.

They’re not gunning for the G Man.

Their target: the red Japanese maple growing just outside the pool. It’s in a huge ceramic pot, and the kids are hosing down its leaves.

Thing is – our perfect little pool is filled with saltwater. Too much salt, and the Japanese maple will wither. And at the rate these kids are blasting it, the little tree doesn’t stand a chance.

Should I stop these kids?

Or would intervening precipitate an argument with more dads than I can handle?

I’m in my lounge chair, taking too long to decide. This is G Man’s moment. When his dad waffles, he steps up.

“Stop!” he screams at a pitch no one else in the world can match.

The kids all look at him. He’s a small guy, just forty pounds. Most of them are twice his size. He’s got no chance if it comes to blows.

They keep shooting.

“Stop!” he shouts again. “That’s salt water. You’re killing it.”

Ok. I’m kind of impressed.

I don’t remember teaching my son about the dangers of salt water to terrestrial flora. It may be that I once mentioned it offhandedly, that we grazed the topic during one of our epic-length scientific discussions.

Doesn’t matter.

He knows, and he’s pissed.

“Take your guns and go to the other side of the pool,” he instructs. The kids look at him like he’s just slapped them. They don’t know who they’re messing with. They don’t understand how one little kid could seek justice…for a tree.

I sit up, but I don’t intervene. Not yet. I want to see how far he’s willing to go to protect this lonely little tree.

“Water won’t kill it,” one of the kids says. “Trees like water.”

“Not salt water.” G Man glares. “The salt will get into the roots. It’ll kill the tree.”

He’s not calm, but he’s not shouting anymore. Standing his ground, he stares the tree’s attackers down. They’re still not sure what to do.

And while they stand in the shallows, pumping water into their guns, but not yet firing, one of their moms comes over. She takes G Man’s side and redirects the ruffians to the pool’s far side.

As suddenly as it began, the standoff ends.

The tree is safe for now.

When I wade into the water to console the G Man – and commend his bravery – I expect him to be angry at the other kids. They tried to kill a tree, after all. He and I have had a thousand talks about protecting nature whenever we can.

But he’s not mad at them.

He’s angry with me.

He tells me I should’ve, “Kicked all the kids’ butts.”

And maybe he’s right.

Maybe I should have.

The tree, just one life among the many at the pool that day, was worth protecting.

Someone had to stand up for it.

And so he did.

We may think we’re teaching our children.

But often they’re teaching us.

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For more stories like this, go here.

J Edward Neill

A Tale of Two Concerts

So there are two big concert experiences (with regards to song choices):

One is play only your hits. Maybe you sprinkle in some of the old stuff, the deep tracks, but you’re playing the big songs and the newest songs from your latest album in order to support it.

The other option is when maybe this is a tour where you don’t have a new album to support. Maybe you don’t have to be beholden to a strict set list. Or perhaps you are working on a new album, but nowhere near close enough on most of the songs.

This is a case where the catalog really opens up and you can truly reach back and plat those songs older fans haven’t heard in a long time and newer fans have never heard in concert.

Last week I got a taste of both…

An aside – With Pearl Jam being my favorite band, the idea of a unique set list is not strange. In fact, with their shows I’m normally the asshole who wants to hear some random track 10 from one of the lesser known albums. I want the deep cuts more prominently than the more casual fan is not going to have heard or understand.

Night One: A Perfect Circle

This is a band situated firmly in my top 5 bands, but it’s been 13 years since I’ve been to see A Perfect Circle. Life, tour dates, and them not really existing for a good portion of a decade were all contributing factors. That time they were indoors, with people hanging from the ceiling, and other oddities that are somewhat commonplace when you’re dealing with a Maynard related band.

This time around they were at the Verizon Amphitheater in Alpharetta, Georgia, where after having been to only two shows, is fast becoming a household favorite. Great sound, relatively easy to get into the venue (getting out is a little more sketchy, but so is just about every other venue I’ve ever been to), and there is just something about an outdoor show as the sun goes down.

We arrived in time to hear one song from the opening band… which I didn’t catch the name of. I normally don’t mind trying to get in a little early just to catch those bands. So many shows over the years have introduced me to some solid music.

Our seats were about 7 rows behind the general admission orchestra area (which was probably about 10 rows deep if full). Around us were a handful of empty seats… probably another symptom of not putting out music in so long. Strangely, we were told repetitively that the band did not want any pictures taken. In 2004, that might have been something you could control with cameras not installed in every phone (maybe? I honestly can’t remember), but in 2017 you can’t really put that genie back in the bottle. Still, ushers did stop a few people, and I’ve read about others being asked to leave.

We’re rule followers, so no worries there.

The show itself was amazing. APC is one of those bands where I don’t have tracks I skip. As to their set list, I use my wife as the go-by, and she commented after the show she was surprised by how many songs she recognized. Overall, they played their hits, a couple of covers (John Lennon’s Imagine making an appearance – an always welcomed addition), and even sprinkled in a pair of new songs.

The only odd thing about the new songs was the placement of one of them to close out the show. Normally I’d think you’d want something to bring down the house – a song everyone knows and has been waiting for. Instead, we get a song that maybe a handful know and the rest just get to experience. Just an odd choice.

Though, I do think once I get to hear it enough, I have no doubt it will be a quality track to use in that capacity. It certainly had that feel.

Night Two: Soundgarden

Lollapalooza 1996 is the last time I’ve seen Soundgarden. Again, helped by the dissolution of the band for over a decade, I missed the tour they did with King Animal back in 2012/2013. And I might have missed this one had it not been for the venue.

The Fox Theater brings an assortment of memories for me beginning with seeing Top Gun there with my parents and being astounded by the audience interaction with the film. Catcalls during any of the numerous guys with their shirts off scenes, cheers whenever Tom Cruise did anything great, and more clapping when the movie ended. The Theater is topped off by seeing Pearl Jam back in 1994, which I’ve talked about here.

Yet, I’ve only seen one other band at The Fox and it happens to be Soundgarden over 20 years ago. Now here was a chance to see them again in the same venue… a no brainer.

We actually arrived early enough to see The Pretty Reckless open. Given XM Radio and the Octane channel, I recognized a couple of songs. Courtney mentioned actually wanting to download some of their stuff. I’ll be interested to see how the album fills out past the release songs.

As to Soundgarden, you couldn’t ask for a more different pair of shows. Where APC’s light effects were more colors and mood based, Soundgarden is a rock band with their influences spanning from arena rock bands to DIY punk rockers – so the lights were an assault at various times throughout the show. But the biggest difference was the song choice.

Apparently, their 1st full album was rereleased in the last couple of months. It makes for a perfect excuse to dust off those old school songs. And I gotta think if you are a fan from waaaay back in the day, your song bucket list managed to get a lot shorter as they opened with 3 straight songs from that era. Which is great… except I don’t own that record. I start with Badmotorfinger and continue from there.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the hell out of the show. They pretty much hit upon everything I’d have expected them to play, but it was a little unexpected.

Though there is nothing like hearing Fell on Black Days live. It’s my favorite song of theirs no matter what form it takes.

***

Two bands. Over 4 hours of live music. Great venues.

Extremely tired come Thursday morning.

Worth it.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Metal Bowl

The Metal Bowl

by anonymous

*

It was the voice of the untreated sickness in her head that had us convinced she was the midwife, the prophet.

She was our salvation in a world conspiring to take our children away. She was the woman with multiple names and a dozen more roles. This day, as the tiny blood-soaked rocks hit the metal bowl, she was the doctor. I felt her needle nose pliers dig deep into the gnarled folds of skin and hair, the hot extraction of rock and infection from my partially scalped head.

Through the slits of my swollen eyelids, I saw a glint of my brother’s long hair fly past the window and disappear in a mischievous blur. I didn’t need to see where he went to know what he was doing. His rapid movements and wicked laugh painted the rest of the scene outside the walls.

I knew the pack of javelinas would be resting under the apple tree in their usual gluttonous fashion, getting drunk off rotten fruit scattered in the yard. I saw my brother’s tiny body contorted in a bush just out of the pigs’ sight, waiting for the right moment to assault the enemy beasts with the stray apples. He never got more than two hits in when the pack would come rushing at him with murderous intent.

I would be out there too, screaming and dodging death if not for my wounds. It had been a week, but I still couldn’t walk. My knees and face had taken most of the impact on the dirt road. When I’d flown out of the truck bed and onto the gravel road, it had felt like my body had rubbed across a giant cheese grater, stripping my flesh with unforgiving ease.

It was nobody’s fault.

Just a case of poor circumstance.

We’d chosen the wrong day to hitchhike. The old truck they picked us up in hid the secret of its faulty brakes until it reached the top of the most treacherous of winding mountain roads. When the dust settled and bodies were accounted for, it was the fear in my mother’s voice that convinced us to make a getaway before the ambulance could come.

Her sickness painted stories of evil-doers disguised as government workers. Her hushed warnings to muffle my groans were far louder than the sirens approaching and leaving. She cradled my crumpled body in her arms as we hid in a steep ravine in the thick California brush.

Seven days.

Seven days of hot ‘healing’ baths and prayers failed to heal my wounds.

Cool comfrey cloths and home remedies on my raw flesh had no power against the deep infection brewing in the dermal folds of my forehead.

The pliers dug deeper as I gripped the chair seat hard. Another ping resounded as a pebble dropped into the metal bowl. The pain brought me outside of my body and delivered me back to the dripping summer days of chasing wild pigs and shooting pretend bows at majestic peacocks. I soared above my own body, shaking and weak. Away from the pain and into a summer breeze winding through the Chiricahua Mountains, smelling of honey and blooming chamomile.

* * *

My Mother: The Horse Diver

Another month, and a little more insight to my own family’s past. I only wish that I had an actual picture of my grandmother to show along with the following…

***

My Mother: The Horse Diver

By: Mickey McGuire

 

My mother was the best cook who ever lived. I also knew her to be the most critical person whom I have ever known, and, in her later years, one of the most fearful and paranoid. On her good days, she liked to laugh and joke. She loved to fish- both salt and fresh water; she was the first to drop her line and the last to leave. She wrote short stories, poetry, and a book about life in the Okefenokee Swamp.

She tried to be a good mother- nurturer to me she was not. In all fairness though, I saw her warm and fuzzy side as a grandmother to my children. Although our relationship was complicated at best, I never doubted her desire to see me succeed at a level which surpassed hers.

On the days her demons rose to the surface, she drank vodka- sometimes a weekend binge a month, other times many months would pass without any drinking. The realization of her drinking for the day assaulted my nose and sensibilities as soon as I opened the door in the afternoon after school- Momma asleep/passed out in the bed and the rest of the house a cold vacuum where sadness and pain lived.

I never saw her take a leisurely walk or do any form of formal exercise. Does pulling a wagon with fishing equipment count? She smoked two packs of Kent cigarettes a day, ate fried Southern food on a regular basis, drank off and on her whole life, and still lived to be 79.

That was the mother I knew. Married already for twenty years, my parents adopted me in their forties. I was the baby who would surely fill that void in my mother’s life.

***

But there was another person I never knew. Families have their share of stories and legends, and my mother had a crazy one- she was a horse diver in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the summer of 1933 when she was seventeen. At that time, the diving show on the Atlantic City Steel Pier had been in existence since 1928. The horse diving show had been the creation of William “Doc” Carver in the 1880s. Originally a traveling diving show, it had become the primary attraction of many carnival acts on the Boardwalk.

 

horse-diving

 

This was a show not for the faint of heart or spirit. A pretty girl sat on the back of a huge horse and dove 40-60 feet into a 12 foot pool. That depth was just enough for the horse to reach the bottom of the tank and push-off to swim to the surface. Different horses dove four times a day, seven days a week for the price of a one dollar admission to see this remarkable feat- definitely meeting the criteria of an extreme sport by the standards of that time. Divers made $50- $125 per week, a fortune compared to the normal $15 per week in a department store.

How would a seventeen year old girl from Waycross, Georgia, ever be a horse diver in Atlantic City, New Jersey, you might ask? That summer my mother had gone to stay with her older brother and his wife in New Jersey, a place where my uncle had found better job opportunities as a welder in the shipyards. My mother’s cousin Marie was already a temporary diver for the show. The star diver Sonora Webster Carver- also a Waycross girl- had been blinded on one of the dives in 1931, and, according to her autobiography, had needed rehabilitation and time to learn Braille. So the summer of 1933 could have very well been a period of transition where many different divers were used in the shows. According to Sonora’s sister Arnette French in the autobiography A Girl and Five Brave Horses, “If you rounded all the riders up, we’d fill Convention Hall- we were the stars of the Boardwalk.”

circa 1955: A diving horse and her rider disappearing in to a swimming pool with a splash. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A diving horse and her rider disappearing in to a swimming pool with a splash. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

According to Momma and Sonora Carver’s autobiography, you had “to keep your head tucked to one side, so that when the horse raised his head as he jumped up at the bottom of the pool, you wouldn’t get smacked in the face.” That would have been the least of my worries. How would you have the nerve to jump on the back of that gigantic animal and then jump off a stand 40-60 feet in the air into 12 feet of water? What about being thrown off or kicked in the head under water? There were documented bloody noses, black eyes, broken cheekbones, collarbones, and teeth. Amazingly, no diver fatalities ever occurred. Sonora Carver’s blindness was the worst of the injuries, and she continued to dive despite her blindness for many years.

***

How does one person meet adversity and thrive despite it while another is haunted by her/his demons?  How did my mother evolve from having this courageous spirit and complete recklessness of youth to being beaten down from the disappointments in her life? If she could be a horse diver, she could have accomplished anything. I do believe life is about choices and consequences. She could have taken that job with Western Union and had her own career. She could have moved to a big city. She could have divorced my father. She chose to stay in the marriage, to live in the small town, and be a housewife. The life she chose would eventually lead to her becoming my mother, all the good and the bad of it. She was the mother I was supposed to have. I am who I am because of it.

I wish we could have had a different relationship… but we did not.

Instead of thinking about what might have been, I love to think about my mother dressed in that sequined bathing suit, waiting for that nearly one ton animal to reach the top of the ramp- her red hair flying- fearless and carefree- her future ahead with so much promise.

 

Credits: Carver, Sonora. A Girl and Five Brave Horses. Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2016.

***

Mickey McGuire is the mother of published author John McGuire, a registered NICU nurse, retired high school teacher, an artist, and passionate student in this game of life.

How to spot and ignore fake news stories

Can we talk?

Look…

I don’t know whether or not fake news influenced the election.

I don’t know…and I don’t care.

But what I do know is this: an incredible amount of otherwise intelligent-seeming people have started a trend on the internet: posting (and believing) news stories that are so obviously false, it injures everyone’s eyes to see. They’re doing it at a higher rate than ever. It’s gone from one fake story per week to several every day. It’s obnoxious. And more than that, it’s sad.

No, Conor McGregor didn’t retire due to some random scandal.

Will Smith didn’t assassinate Trump.

The President didn’t ban the Star Spangled Banner at all sporting events.

All the stay-at-home moms in Connecticut didn’t rake in $20,000 per week using some ‘weird trick.’

It’s getting exhausting. And embarrassing. And by embarrassing I don’t mean for the people and sites who post the fake drivel. Those people, classless as they are, are just trying to earn money. No, by embarrassing I’m talking about the people who believe in clickbait and fake news stories. The people who click on it. The people who share it and try to spread it as though it were gospel.

It feels like some of us are able to spot fake news at a glance, but others have no idea that they’re getting worked up by stories that aren’t even close to being true. People are gobbling this stuff up. And while it’s not as if lies and propaganda are new things, the existence of the internet changes the game. It means everyone is exposed. Always.

More importantly…

Facebook and other sites aren’t going to meaningfully crack down on fake stuff. See, Facebook gets paid to run these ads, and the content doesn’t appear to matter. For example, I sponsor business ads on Facebook and Twitter to promote my books, art, and other materials. But when I flip over to my personal page and glimpse the kinds of ads that appear, it isn’t cool, creative stuff I see. It isn’t interesting at all. It’s spam. It’s how some douchey guy made millions because of his non-existent genius. It’s how some celebrity died tragically (they didn’t) or some congressman murdered his dog (his dog is fine.) It’s fake news, usually some politically polarizing junk or straight up scammy garbage designed to get a click, spread a lie, and earn the offending website cash.

It kills me that people believe this stuff. It hurts my human sensibilities. How are we this dumb, this unable to see through super transparent BS? How is it people aren’t able to distinguish between satirical articles and maliciously fake trash?  I think I secretly know the answer (some of us want the fake news articles to be true, particularly the political stuff) but I’m willing to reserve judgment.

No. Actually I’m not. I’m totally judging.

Here’s just a splash of recent fake news headlines people actually believed: (These are the actual headlines, some of which have 10,000 or more Facebook ‘shares.’)

BREAKING: Hillary Clinton files for divorce.”

Remember the voting days: Republicans vote on Tuesday, 11/8 and Democrats vote on Wednesday, 11/9!”

Tens of Thousands of Scientists Declare Climate Change a HOAX!”

“President Obama Signs Executive Order Banning the Sale of Assault Weapons!”

“IT BEGINS: Watch Cops Drag Girl out of NC Bathroom for not Looking Like a Woman.”

* * *

Presently, there’s an article out there listing 130 sites that either promote fake news or use misleading, clickbait-ish headlines. Whether or not every single site listed is actually fake or not isn’t important. What’s important is that from several of these sites, dozens or even hundreds of articles are poured into the internet every day. Misleading articles. Biased articles. Editorials masquerading as journalistic truth. Fake stuff that people you know have read and consumed as if it’s 100% factual.

Here’s what’s up:

You can’t rely on the internet to week out fake news.

It’s not going to stop. It’ll probably get worse before it gets better.

It’s on you to stop it, not Mark Zuckerberg.

There are several articles out there (here’s one) discussing methods of outsmarting fake news. They’re good articles in spirit, but ultimately they’re not simple enough. The kind of people who need to learn how to spot fake news aren’t going to read an ad-riddled, image-filled epic novel about the topic.

It’s really not that complicated.

It’s actually pretty easy.

To eliminate fake news from your consciousness, what you need to do is:

Stop getting your news from Facebook and Twitter. Just stop. Right now

Be automatically skeptical of anything (not just news) you read anywhere on the internet

If something is obviously inflammatory toward a public figure, assume it’s BS until proven otherwise

Especially when using social media, assume anything other than cat pictures and cute photos of your friends’ kids is fake

*

Being an honest, conscientious citizen in the modern world involves more than just basic knowledge of how to click through the internet.  You need to step up your game and double down on your critical thinking skills. It isn’t being pessimistic or paranoid. It’s not cynicism. The skills you need to defeat fake news are skills you probably already possess.

Do your homework.

Trust your gut.

Seeing is believing.

*

I don’t know what else to say. While I’m aware there are plenty of people who either don’t care about fake news or actually think it’s cool to spread lies, I want to believe in my heart most of us want it to end. If that’s true, if that’s really true, people need to stop looking to others to solve the problem. Crushing this problem isn’t the internet’s problem. It’s not Facebook’s fault, nor Twitter’s.

It’s on YOU. 100% on YOU. Always has been. Always will be.

Now…

Go forth and click less. I’m counting on you, yes YOU, to never share another fake news headline again.

🙂

* * *

I usually never write about this ^^^ kind of stuff. I write about this kind of stuff.

And stuff like this, too.

J Edward Neill

 

 

Star Wars : My Thoughts Before We Wake

featuring art by the late great Ralph McQuarrie

Star-Wars-Concept-Art-New-Hope3

I’m writing this from the past.

All the way back on Tuesday, December 15, 2015.

Because today, Friday, December 18, is a big day. For me. For a lot of us. I wanted to write this post ahead of time. Before today. Before it happens. Before we see it. Before the Awakening. Before the results of all this hype and hope and speculation and excitement are known. Will we be disappointed today? Will we be thrilled? Will our prayers be answered? I don’t know and for the purposes of this post, I don’t want to know.

So I’m writing this from the past. star_wars_r2d2_c-3po_ralph_mcquarrie_desktop_1920x1080_hd-wallpaper-1054461

Last night (for me, here in the past), The Force Awakens had its premiere at the Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Which means that people have seen it. A large group of people, a lot of them famous, a lot of them on Twitter. And, while I trust that none of them are going to run and tweet “Oh my God! Han Solo is just Dexter Jettster wearing a Mission Impossible Mask!”, I have deleted Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and any other social media app off my phone; deleted the bookmarks in Google Chrome. From Monday until Saturday, I am in as much of a media blackout as is possible in this day and age.

Because I don’t want to know.

I’m not a spoiler-phobe. I actually find that trend more than a little annoying, as I wrote about a while ago HERE. Do I want to know the story? The surprises? The ending? Fuck no. But mostly, I don’t want to know what people think about the movie. I don’t want to read Kevin Smith tweeting “HOLY SHIT STAR WARS IS SO GOOD!” or Patton Oswalt saying “Bad news guys…”. I don’t want to know what the critics have to say. Not a single fucking one. Not because I don’t like critics, but because I have no interest in what other people think about the movie.

I only care about what I think about it.

Two reasons for this:

1. There are at most a dozen people in this world whose opinions on film I actually respect. Who I can talk movies with in a way that satisfies me. Whose praise or condemnation of a film can actually sway my desire to see it. Does this make me a snob? Fuck yes. I embrace being a snob. I don’t care what most people think because I think I know better. It’s an ugly truth about me but a truth all the same. I feel that way about all movies; with Star Wars I feel it tenfold.

2. Knowing the general consensus on a film’s quality undoubtedly taints your experience in watching it for the first time. If the praise is effusive, often times you are disappointed by what you see because it was merely “good”, not “amazing” as every keeps saying. For me, I call this the Something About Mary effect. Conversely, if the word on the film is bad, if people are ripping it, if the cursed Rotten Tomatoes (boy do I hate Rotten Tomatoes) rating is low, you go into it expecting bad and you look for the bad. All you can see is the bad. And you don’t want to feel like an idiot for liking something that everyone else hates. Or you can go the other way. You’ve heard the film is bad, you go see it, enjoy it, and think “That was much better than everyone is saying. I don’t get it.” That happened with me on The Dark Knight Rises. The word wasn’t great on it but when I saw it I enjoyed it. Looking back, I realize those low expectations inflated my opinion of the film. I bought it on blu-ray the day it came out and haven’t been able to watch it all the way through even once. I find it mediocre and disappointing.

star-wars-mcquarrie3I don’t want to walk into the theater today with that baggage.

I’m bringing in enough with me as it is.

Because, well…

I love Star Wars more than you.

Since I don’t know who you are, dear reader, it’s understandable if you find that statement laughable.

But I love Star Wars more than you because Star Wars is my thing.

And it has been since 1980.

When I was four years old, my parents let me stay up to watch the network television debut of Star Wars. It was hosted by Billy Dee Williams (which is how I know it was around 1980), from a badly mocked-up version of what I would later learn was the Mos Eisley cantina. (Did you know it was owned by a Wookiee named Chalmun? Of course you didn’t. No reason you should. But I do. Because Star Wars is my thing.)

Like so many people, the first time seeing George Lucas’s Star Wars changed my life. I was never the same after that. I had, at the age of four, fallen truly, madly, and deeply in love.

I obviously don’t remember every detail of that night, but I remember enough. I remember the opening shot of the Blockade Runner (the Tantive IV) and the Star Destroyer (the Devastator) coming over the top of the screen and thinking the child’s equivalent of “holy shit!”. Being terrified of Darth Vader. I remember the cantina, obviously. Ben cutting off Ponda Baba’s arm. Meeting Han Solo. Seeing the Falcon for the first time. I have very strong memories of the trash compactor and, after that, the image that probably stuck most in my mind: Luke and Leia swinging across the chasm in the Death Star. Of course, the getaway fight with the TIE Fighters was amazing (“Don’t get cocky!”).

But what left an indelible impression on me was the final assault on the Death Star, later known as the Battle of Yavin. It enraptured me in a way I had never experienced. Starting with the scene in the briefing room where they break down the plan (I have this thing. Don’t know what it is, but my favorite scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark is when Indy uses the chalkboard to explain to the guys, one of them the actor that played Jek Porkins in A New Hope, how the Staff of Ra worked. Don’t know why that is.) and then of course the visuals, the action. It was so damn exciting and tense. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I had seen very few movies, so it never occurred to me that of course the hero was going to save the day. I was four. I didn’t know that it was an automatic thing in movies like this. I was terrified for Luke every step of the way. He’s just a kid from a farm! This is so dangerous! How is he going to make it out alive?

mcquarrie-xwing-concept

Ships crash. People die. Darth Vader starts mowing down Y-Wings in his funky looking fighter (TIE Advanced x1). It was all too much.

Then Luke switched off his targeting computer.

I stopped breathing.

Then, it happened. The moment that brings me chills every time I think about it, let alone see it. Seriously. Right now, seeing it in my head, I’m getting that feeling.

Just when it looked like Vader was going to shoot Luke down. Just when the Rebellion was about to be blown to oblivion, a miracle happened.

“Yahoo!”

The Falcon came down out of the sun and saved the day.

yahoo

They came back! Han and Chewie came back! If you were an adult, you probably knew it would happen. Because that’s how movies work. The cynical loner always grows a heart and comes back to help. But as a child? I had no idea it was coming.

And when it did, I felt it for the first time.

The jolt. The shiver. The surge.

For all I knew, at that moment, 35 years ago, it was The Force Itself.

That feeling, you know? The potent injection of emotion that seems to shoot up your spine when you see, hear, read something that just hits you in a place you never knew you had. It’s the white soldiers cheering “give ‘em Hell!” to the 54th Massachusetts as they leave to die attacking Fort Wagner. It’s a brave vampire slayer leaping to her death to save both her sister and the world (“She saved the world. A lot.”). It’s the “Ode to Joy”, when that damn chorus comes in and the bliss crackles like electricity under your skin.

I was paralyzed with… I don’t know what that feeling is. It’s a cocktail of emotions, universally known but undefined. Just that… rush. That feeling.

It was the first time I had felt it.

It was riding my first roller coaster.

It was losing my virginity.

Drinking my first beer.

I have George Lucas to thank for that. And I thank him, as all fans should, for giving us this gift.

I also wanted more.

star_wars_movies_atat_ralph_mcquarrie_fan_art_1280x800_wallpaper_wallpaper_2560x1600_www-wallpaperswa-comThe first Star Wars trilogy was an enormous hit. Millions and millions of people are fans of the films. Made Lucas a brand of his own, the most successful independent filmmaker in history. The original trilogy is beloved the whole world over. Especially The Empire Strikes Back, nearly universally considered the best of the films.

But my love affair didn’t stop in 1983 when Return of the Jedi was released. I didn’t think “Well, that cool thing is over. On to the next thing.”

I was in love. I still wanted more.

And to get more, I had to dive deeper. And there wasn’t a whole lot there.

I’ve seen the two pretty-awful Ewoks TV movies more than a dozen times each. Why? Because they were Star Wars. Same with the “Droids” and “Ewoks” cartoons. I read the seven available Star Wars spin-off novels, including the very enjoyable Han Solo and Lando Calrissian series. I read the lackluster Marvel comics.

But between 1983 and 1991, it was slim pickings for a kid who wanted more of his favorite thing.

But in ’91, a novel was published. Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. It took place 5 years after Episode VI and heir-to-the-empire-coverstarred all of the original characters, and introduced a few new ones, including one of the great Star Wars villains (hell, characters) of all time. Soon after, in the world of comic books, Dark Horse got the Star Wars license and released “Dark Empire”, which took place a year after Heir to the Empire. It was a bleak story about Emperor Palpatine rising from the dead to take one last stab at conquering the galaxy.

With those two pieces of fiction, the entity that would eventually be called the Expanded Universe was born. It would live and grow for almost a quarter of a century.

And I experienced all of it. Every novel. Every comic book. Every video game. Every role-playing game. Every encyclopedia. Star Wars became much more than three movies for me.

Even through the Special Editions and the Prequels, the Expanded Universe thrived. The novels and comics kept coming. Some were great. Some sucked. Most were in the middle somewhere. But the Star Wars galaxy continued to grow outside of the movies. In the case of the prequels, it often times eclipsed it in terms of quality. When 2005 was over, and Revenge of the Sith had come and gone, Star Wars wasn’t over for me like it was for so many others. I hadn’t abandoned it because of the quality of the prequels. Because to me it was so much more than six films. The movies were the most important aspect, sure, but I enjoyed the prequel era. While Lucas’s movies were bad (at times horrible), with several great moments, they spawned so many interesting stories between the cracks. In comics. And fiction. And in the spectacular “Clone Wars” television show.

I can imagine losing faith in Star Wars if all you know is the films. I don’t begrudge anyone for being done with the franchise after the prequels. Nor do I blame people for hopping back on in hopes that The Force Awakens is awesome. Please, come back to Star Wars. But also understand that some of us never left. Not out of blind loyalty, but because we’re fans. Not fans of the Star Wars movies; fans of Star Wars as a whole, the entire multi-media giant it has grown into.

MCQ-dagobah

Now George Lucas is out. Disney, Kathleen Kennedy, Lawrence Kasdan, and J.J. Abrams are in. The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi.Everyone is excited to see what things are like, what’s happened, what’s going, three decades after the death of the Emperor and Darth Vader. So am I. Except, I’ve already seen it. The novels hit “30 years later” a long time ago. In the (now defunct) Expanded Universe, a lot happened in those years. Weddings. Births. Deaths. New villains. New heroes. Wars. Adventures. Tragedies. Triumphs. A fully fleshed-out timeline that has been built upon that first wonderful Timothy Zahn novel.

None of this has any bearing on The Force Awakens. This is a new timeline. A new vision. One that only includes the films and animated TV shows as “canon”. And I’ve come to terms with that. It’s fine. It’s all make-believe bullshit anyway. But it will be impossible for me to not bring all that (fictional) history with me. That knowledge is in my DNA. It’s part of what makes me me.

J.J. Abrams is without a doubt a Star Wars fan. But, if I had to guess, not the same type of Star Wars fan as I am. He loves Star Wars and I think he is going to make a film that represents it well. Except, his Star Wars is not my Star Wars. My Star Wars galaxy is so much bigger than most people’s. The question is really going to be, for me, is “is what J.J. loves about Star Wars the same thing I love about Star Wars?”. Maybe, but maybe not.

RMQ-CarkoonSkiff

What do I want this new movie to be?

I want it to be a good story.

I want it to feel like Star Wars.

I want the Kurosawa screen wipes between scenes instead of dissolves and cuts.

I want Harrison, Mark, and Carrie to be Han, Luke, and Leia.

I want Rey and Finn and Poe to be great characters that I will enjoy watching carry on the saga.

I want it to feel old and new.

I want someone to say “I have a bad feeling about this.”

I want John Williams to make me bawl like a baby.

I want it to pay homage to George but not be an homage to George. There’s a difference. Ask Bryan Singer.

I want Kylo Ren to be badass.

I want Captain Phasma to be badass-er.

I want it to be its own movie but also earn the title “Episode VII” and feel like part of the greater saga.

I want it to be good.

I want it to be great.

I want to love it.

ralph-mcquarrie-star-wars-original-artwork-concept-lucas-films-9

What do I not want?

I do not want Luke Skywalker to be evil.

That is the one thing that could turn me off of Star Wars for a very long time. Make me lose faith in the new regime. I think it would betray the original films, the films that everyone behind The Force Awakens say they are trying to do right by.

“Where’s Luke?” has been the refrain as the hero of episodes IV through VI has been absent from the poster, the trailers, the TV spots, and the toys. “Where is Luke?!?”

There could be many reasons why they haven’t shown Luke Skywalker in any of the promo material. Maybe he’s not in it that much. Maybe he’s only in scenes that are later in the film and they don’t want to spoil anything. Maybe his entrance into the movie is so motherfucking Orson-Welles-in-The-Third-Man-awesome that they want to hold onto it. Make us wait for it. Because when I see Mark Hamill playing Luke Skywalker, 32 years after he did it last, I’m going to cry. The quality of his reveal will determine whether I just get misty-eyed or curl up into a sobbing ball on the floor of the theater. I want his entrance to floor me. I want to feel like a kid again.

He could also be a bad guy. That would be a legitimate reason not to reveal him until we see the film, as some have speculated. I really hope that’s not true.

Because I don’t know what I’d do. They would have to do it REALLY well to keep me watching.

They could have Jar-Jar and Wickett talk about midichlorians for two hours and I’d still be there for Episode VIII. But making Luke the bad guy…?

Let’s hope not. MCQ-emperor

As this posts, 1:20 pm, EST, I am sitting down with my father and brother at the Regal Cinemas Atlantic Station theater in downtown Atlanta to watch The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D. The last time I saw a Star Wars film in the theater with these two people that I love: 1983. So that, in itself, will be special.

If you are reading this within two and a half hours of me posting it, I am currently sitting in a darkened theater with an appropriately StarWarsian mix of hope and fear. I don’t need this movie to be good. If it’s not, I’ll still be a Star Wars fan tomorrow. I’ll be sad Star Wars fan, sure, for a while, but I’m not walking away. When my baseball team has a bad game, a bad season, even a bad decade, I don’t stop wearing their caps. I don’t stop rooting for them, watching their games, going to see them when they come to town. And even if the last year was horrible, I still start the next season with hope that they’ll get it right this time.

I feel the same way about Star Wars. In all of pop culture, there is nothing that is nearer to my heart. That’s why I wanted to write this before seeing the film. To express my undying love. No matter what I am experiencing at this very moment, I will be a Star Wars fan tomorrow.

As for my opinions on The Force Awakens, I will express them. On Saturday I will be recording another episode of the NEEDLESS THINGS podcast where we will have a round table discussion about the film. The episode will be available online soon after the film comes out, if you really want to hear me talk about it. I’m sure I’ll have one or two or five hundred things to say.

I may even let the other panelists talk. If I’m feeling generous.

Thank you, George.

Good luck, J.J.

It’s time. You psyched? I’m psyched.

Let’s do it. Here we go.

Punch it, Chewie.

jump

May the Force Be with You,

Chad J. Shonk
December 15, 2015

The #NothingMatters Movement

It’s funny the things we decide to care about.

It’s curious the flow of socio-political liquid through the masses.

Do you ever wonder if, a thousand years ago, the hashtag causes would’ve been #SanitationMatters, #PeasantsMatter, or #ArrowsDon’tKill but #ArchersDo?

ArcheryDuring World War II, if Twitter had existed, the Allies’ causes would’ve been obvious (Sadly the Axis’s would’ve been, too.) But what about during the American Revolution? Would it have been #IndependenceMatters, #RedcoatLivesMatterToo, or simply #FuckKingGeorge?

Well?

Nearly every day of our lives, we see someone or some group expelling causes across the internet. Seems everyone has an interest in telling everyone else what should be important. ‘You should care about this,’ they shout. ‘This is important, #TheseLivesMatter,’ but, ‘That shit over there doesn’t matter.’ These days anyone with fingers and a computer has a soapbox. Some folks choose not to stand on it. But a crap-ton of other people are happy to jump on and start talking/typing.

But talking ain’t the same as doing.

And while a hundred-thousand people might appear to agree with a common cause on their Facebook pages, ultimately they’re all just individuals. With their own lives and problems. Most of whom don’t actually give two shits about the cause beyond clicking ‘Like.’

Boromir

If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, did it make a sound?

Yes.

If shit goes down and no one’s there to care, did that shit matter?

Hmmmm…

Every day globally, thousands of humans die. Some from sickness, others by accident, still others by war, suicide, and foul play. Every hour, people are wronged. People are robbed, kidnapped, assaulted, maimed, and abused. Now imagine all these terrible things if no one reported them. No news. No weather channel. No 60 Minutes specials. No hashtags made up to gather attention. Without media coverage, the only ones who’d know about localized suffering would be the survivors, the perpetrators, and a handful of observers.

Compared to the way things are now, the world would be quiet. It might even seem peaceful, even though it wouldn’t be.

Because…without the media storm surrounding the modern world, we’d never know about all these terrible things. Not even the good things. We’d never care. #NothingWouldMatter because we’d never hear about stuff. We’d be the same as most people were a few hundred years ago. The only things that would matter to us would be those affecting our village, our clique, our small sphere of stuff we could actually see, hear, and touch.

Now, I’m not going all nihilistic on you. To say #nothing has any value at all would be a tough sell to most people, especially those with children, lovers, amazing friends, close family, or even pets. However…if we peek just outside our bubble of people and things that matter, what’s out there? What’s really out there? Good stuff. Bad stuff. But mostly just stuff. Stuff that doesn’t affect you. Or me. Or anyone other than the people directly involved in it.

Now let’s take a #DoesItReallyMatter quiz:

Pretend you and everyone you knew got really pissed off at how refugees in a faraway war were being treated, but none of you actually went out to fight the bad guys oppressing these refugees. So. Did the refugees matter to you? As in really?

Let’s say you actually did get up and fight the bad guys, but that one generation later, the refugees formed a country who started doing the same terrible things that had been done to them. Did your involvement matter?

If a city a hundred miles away vanished overnight and all its people were lost, but no one you knew had ever lived there, would it matter to you? Honestly?

If a nation (population 1 billion) you’d never paid attention to were invaded and destroyed tomorrow, would such a catastrophic loss matter to you? Other than maybe make you afraid for your own nation? Other than maybe make you crap your pants? Is it even possible for one person to care about a billion other individuals?

What I’m saying is; for all the things a person really, really cares about in their life, they’ll fight like lions to defend. They’ll make huge sacrifices, they’ll go to war, they’ll spend all their money, they’ll invest their heart and soul. They’ll die to see it done. It’s that important. #ItMatters.

But for everything else, they’ll just go online and ‘Like’ it.

…or talk about it at the water cooler.

…or catch in on the news right before watching their favorite tv show.

Because, just maybe, #ItDoesn’tReallyMatter

No matter how much we like to tell ourselves we care about all the crazy stuff going on the world…

…most of the time, we don’t.

We can only really care about the things closest to us.

And that’s just the way it should be.

#NothingMatters

#Well…AlmostNothing

* * *

Want to start a few hot debates with all the guys and gals in your life? Click here and here.

Want to sit in the shadows and read about people who have it way tougher? Right. Here.

Love,

J Edward Neill

So What’s He Going To Buy With All That Gold?

Currently in rotation on HBO are all the Hobbit films. And while I’m not the biggest fan of the book, I find I’m watching bits and pieces of the movies here and there as I flip through the channels. However, there is one scene that I must turn to and watch in its entirety every opportunity I get:

Weta-Smaug-Breakdown-1

Smaug.

Smaug slowly revealing himself from under a treasure trove that would invoke Dragon Sickness on Thorin. Smaug talking with Bilbo, toying with him, showing him exactly how impressive he might be. And the extremes he goes to prove that the dwarves will never retake the mountain.

I love every minute of it.

Yet, the other night I was watching these sequences and a strange thought popped into my head:

Why does Smaug (or any dragon) need all that gold? And it isn’t just him – so many of these creatures throughout our myths are guarding a treasure horde. It is a staple such that in Dungeons and Dragons it is not questioned. The only questions anyone has any real concern to answer are: how much is the horde worth? Are we powerful enough to kill the beast guarding it?

But I feel like there is more to this idea.

***

The cavern shone whenever the tiniest glint of light broke through. In those instances, the gleam would bounce from coin to coin, making them sparkle. It would illuminate the lighter colored gems so they became tiny lanterns dotting the golden mound. Under this light the true spectacle could be seen. Appreciated. Gold and diamonds and coins and gems and… a myriad of skeletal forms cooked to a crisp inside their metal armor.

That same treasure acted as a beacon to some. Bands of adventurers who wove odd stories about how the dragon claimed their birthrights… their home. How every coin buried there was theirs to recover. Indeed, all of it would be restored to its rightful owners.

Yes, the cavern might have once belonged to dwarves or mountain men or even an orc herd, but it was the dragon’s now and had been for decades. It was his home. And more importantly, so were the riches it used as a bed.

For while the previous owners certainly contributed to its girth, not everything was from a singular conquest.

***

Krench moved into the cavern. Ever a creature of habit, he made sure to bring along a lantern, even if the act was worthless. At the outer chamber a familiar warmth ran down his leg. Long gone were the days he might have made excuses for such an action. How it could have been explained away as an involuntary response to the immense fear coursing throughout his body.

If his nephew smelled the urine, he did not show it. For that, Krench was grateful. There was far too much left to teach the lowly creature for them to become bogged down in such a trivial thing.

“The thing that no one understands is exactly what the Great Wyrm does with all his riches. The outsiders believe he simply slumbers on them. They make up superstitions where he extracts some form of nourishment from the metals in the coin allowing him to generate his awesome flame. They suppose he is vain and loves the way the gold and silver flicker in the darkness.

“Does that even make any kind of sense? It is up there with those who claim he stole the entire amount.

book-316391_1280

“Lies! And I have the numbers to prove it.” Krench patted the large book tucked under other arm. “A quick reading of this would inform everyone that of his original horde, only thirty percent was from what the dwarves possessed. Then there was the twenty-five percent in tribute from the lizard men. Another ten percent from random caravans he assaulted when bored. The last thirty-five percent an investment with the orcs that paid him quite well upon their successful campaign against the elves.”

The tunnel tightened enough that they both were forced to duck. His nephew passed through the narrow opening first and took the lantern and book from him while he made his way. Holding the items, the younglings resembled him decades earlier. His mind would be a swirl, a jumble mass of expectations, questions, theories, and who knows what else. To his credit, no questions were posed, but Ketch knew the sermon was far from finished. There was just too much to prepare him for. To explain how the world really worked.

“Once a week the Dragon’s Accountant must journey here to give a full account on all his holdings.” That got the boy’s attention. “I know your question: how would his horde ever change? He’s sleeping on the lot of it.

“And that’s the secret. He’s not. That’s small level thinking. For a creature such as this, who counts his life in decades or even centuries, you must expand on all of that. And this one has holdings as far east as Silverpool, as far north as the great seas… where ever money might exchange hands the likelihood is very high some of the coin originated here.”

“That inn located at the crossroads of Madras and Danan. Where all the caravans stop. Where lords and ladies and even princes have stayed… he owns a fifty percent stake. The blacksmith shop in Butte has worked out a nice living for himself because of a certain anonymous investor.

“A fleet of ships supporting the Merchant Guild in Silverpool.

“And the latest Duke of Parthan, who somehow found enough of a foreign inheritance to afford the new title and the lands which come with it.”

Krench let it all sink in.Watching his nephew’s eyes dart back and forth, a mind at work. After a few moments, a toothy grin emerged.

“Not to mention the coinage itself. Think about it, most of the coinage will be old. Then after a time it will be very old. Then ancient. Kingdoms and empires rise and fall in the blink of an eye (well, from His point of view). They mint new coins, phase out the old ones… and no one wants to have worthless coins. So periodic exchanges have to occur. In small enough amounts not to arouse suspicion, but in enough transactions so that you actually gain some ability to pay for what you want to invest in.”

The first of the outer doors appeared at the end of the tunnel. Remnants of the previous owners. A loose stone along the right side of the door, halfway down, provided the opening mechanism. Krench pushed until he heard the click and the engraved doors shifted open.

“What people don’t understand is dragons are ancient creatures. On a long enough timeline, barring random adventurers stumbling in and murdering them in their homes, they might well live forever. Even the ancient elves appear to wither in the eyes of dragons.

“But forever is a long time. And while they may share more in common with cats in their sleeping habits- they still wish to be entertained. And with the level of money they possess… well, pulling the strings on some of the humanoid peoples is a pleasant distraction.

“More than anything else, he knows history will repeat itself if you let it. So he can push and pull. Nudge things along for the better. Well, for his better.

“You see, dragons have gotten a horrible reputation as being evil. But what no one will tell you is the word is made up. They simply don’t realize have the perspective to appreciate everything as it moves and twists and turns. The elves… yes, they might, but the lower races, the dwarves and humans and halflings and gnomes and orcs… the lot of them just don’t live long enough. So they make up new stories to explain the world around them. And more often than not they only have the vaguest of memories as to what came before. The devastation, the wars, the armies… evil.”

They were getting lower now, the tunnel’s slope increased to the point Krench had to hand the lantern over to his nephew. They both stumbled a bit, but neither lost their footing. A hundred feet or so later things flattened out once more, and he took the burden back.

“Of course, they don’t know about the art. Creatives need funding as well. Ancient dragons need songs and maybe stories to be written about them. To be retold for the next generation. And who’s going to pay those bards to make such beautiful art? He is.

“Exotic animals? Seems strange, but my father explained it to me. Some days you want beef and some days you want Minotaur. Nothing wrong with either. And when you exist at the top of the food chain and have this level of wealth…”

Richard_Caton_Woodvilles_The_Battle_of_Towton

Richard Caton Woodville, Jr. [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“My great-grandfather realized one undeniable truth: wars cost money. Conquests. Paying armies to conquer the world. It’s a terrible business plan. First you outlay all of that money on the mercenaries. You pay to feed them. To forge weapons for them. To build the forges. To build the siege equipment. And all of that work and gold guarantees absolutely nothing.

“Up to that revelation, the Dragon’s Accountant merely handed out the sacks of gold to the mercenaries and kept a log of it all in the book. But it was a drain on the coffers, and no amount of caravans would cover the loss. That pile he sleeps on will surely drain until he’s sleeping on stone like some commoner. No! That would not stand! So he dared to pose a single idea: if the Great Wyrm really wished to take over the kingdom, then why not buy it instead?”

Careful to turn the key two times to the left and then once to the right (no one wanted a face sprayed with acid from a trap set to keep the undesirables out), Krench led them into the cavern proper. Pausing to let the younger of them take the sight in, he pushed his spectacles back up his long snout. Long ago the glitter was enough to nearly blind him. Too many restless nights were spent trying to determine exactly how one might extract such a mass from the mountain. When his own father passed the Book onto him, he spent more than enough time to understand how moving even one coin was as important as the whole of it.

Later, when he took a full account of the book, Krench realized some of the investments had gone sideways. A small war between human kingdoms, a great flood, and suddenly there was a loss to report for the fifth year in a row. Such a glorious day filled with fire to signify the passing of duties to the next Accountant.

“Krench…” The Great Wyrm stretched out his name so that it appeared to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once.

The two of them moved over to the large platform where he would deliver the latest news. As they climbed the steps, crafted so long ago by rough dwarvish hands, he pushed the book into his nephew’s arms. There was no need for it anymore.

Dragons were patient creatures, but above everything else they did not like to lose money.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Second Star to the Right and Straight on ’til Compton

StraightOuttaSomewhere (3)I think every young filmmaker has a handful of dream projects in their back pocket. Not only dozens of original ideas but also ones based on preexisting content: an adaptation of a novel or comic book, someone’s life story, a sequel to a beloved franchise, a tale from history, a (gasp) remake of a classic film. Projects filed away under the “When I make it big, I’ll use that clout to get one of these things made” category. Some of these projects you are sure will rock the box office; others, that you don’t really think will make any money but, if all goes well, will net you some critical acclaim.

The two big dream projects for me could not have been more different in tone and subject matter:

I wanted to do a live-action, semi-serious, sticking-to-the-book version of JM Barrie’s Peter and Wendy

…and a biopic about Eazy-E and the creation and dissolution of legendary hip-hop group N.W.A.

And they both got made.

But not by me.

It’s weird seeing these films come to fruition; it’s even weirder watching them. You can’t help but think about what you would have done differently, what they did better than you, what they fucked up entirely. It’s not a crushing feeling; I never got close to making either one a reality. But it’s… strange.

peter-pan-wendy-03What attracted me to JM Barrie’s 1911 novel Peter and Wendy was that it was a version of Peter Pan I had never seen, knowing only the Disney interpretation. The book was darker than the animated film. More violent. More powerful. With a bittersweet message about childhood, both celebrating it and recognizing our need to shed it. Peter himself was full of contradictions: he was charming, fun-loving, sometimes feminist (“Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys.”) optimistic and brave, but also selfish, mean, forgetful, and super-duper violent.

Which all made sense to me. Little boys are terrors. When I was a child, I may have used a stick or wooden sword to fight pirates (or Darth Vader. Let’s be honest here.) but I was imagining a real blade. I wasn’t knocking people over. I was running them through. Cutting off their heads. Killing bad guys. In Barrie’s novel, that’s what Peter does. He kills bad guys. It’s not the bloodless, G-rated action of the Disney film.

The novel has several other dark tropes that few Peter Pan adaptations have yet to explore. Peter’s role as an Angel of Death, tasked with holding children’s hands on their way to heaven. His hatred of adults, parents especially, and how he genuinely wanted them dead. The slaughter of the Indians, an aspect of the story that I admit feels racist here in the 21st Century. And the famous Peter Pan quote, when stranded on an island left to die, a line that has forever stuck with me as probably the most positive outlook on death I’ve ever heard:

to-die-would-be-an-awfully-big-adventureAnd then there’s the end. I’m not going to get into it, but the last chapter of Peter and Wendy is sad and beautiful and a real reminder that Pan is a boy who will NEVER grow up. Which is the main reason why I hate Spielberg’s Hook. I know it’s beloved by the generation after me, and that’s fine, but it’s a bad film, hands down, my Peter Pan purist proclivities aside. But more than anything: Pan doesn’t grow up. He isn’t a child. He’s a demigod, an angel, an imp, maybe even a devil. He will live forever, as the final lines of the novel tell us:

“When Margaret grows up she will have a daughter, who is to be Peter’s mother in turn; and thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.”

Gay and innocent and heartless. That is Peter Pan to me. I have yet to see him on screen.

30521196_1300x1733I’m not going to offer a full review of PJ Hogan’s 2003 adaptation, Peter Pan. I have only seen it once and did not care for it. It got a lot right, especially in the first half hour or so. But then it fell apart for me. And, while it did incorporate a little bit of the adult edge I was looking for, it didn’t go far enough. But when that film came out, I knew my chances of making a film out of Peter and Wendy had just been cut drastically. And then when it failed at the box office, it showed that maybe a big-budget Peter Pan movie wasn’t commercially viable.

We’ll see if Joe Wright’s film, simply called Pan, will be different when it comes out this year. It’s apparently a prequel or something which we know ALWAYS bodes well, right? (see: Prometheus, The Thing, Star Wars, Hannibal Rising). But I doubt it’s the film I would have made.

And, man, the film I would have made is so good. It’s still there, in my head, scene by scene. I could still write it, legally. In 2007 the rights to the novel basically became public domain, leading to a series of disparate book series’ that I have not read. And maybe one day I will. Or maybe one day I’ll come up with a different take on one of my favorite stories, a new way to bring it to life.

Straight_Outta_Compton

“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.”

In the late 80’s, when I was 13 years old, I got hold of a cassette tape I shouldn’t have. It was called Straight Outta Compton, by a band called N.W.A., which I soon learned stood for “Niggaz wit’ Attitude”. It scandalized me, excited me, educated me, and, quite frankly, scared the shit out of me. Especially the song “Fuck tha Police” and the shit storm that came with it.

The group’s frank and often gratuitous depictions of life on the street in a city I had never heard of called Compton, a place so far removed from suburban Atlanta that I couldn’t imagine ever going there, was eye-opening, sure, but it was also dirty. The non-stop assault of profanity, violence, and sex was exceptionally titillating to my white, sheltered, adolescent mind.

Just the use of the word “nigger” (or “nigga” or “niggaz”, technically), which my parents had raised me to strike from my vocabulary forever (“Forever. Forever? Forever ever. Forever ever?”), was scandalous. And, I admit, intriguing. This was a bad word used to describe black people. Why would these guys talk about themselves that way? I sort of understood it, but not really. Not for a long time. But I knew it was controversial and adult and, in the back of my brain, powerful. I just couldn’t tell you why.

18280-n-w-a-1680x1050-music-wallpaperO’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson. Lorenzo “MC Ren” Patterson. Eric “Eazy-E” Wright. Antoine “Yella” Carraby. Andre “Dr. Dre” Young. These are guys whose faces and voices I’ve known since puberty. I can recite all of Straight Outta Compton (the album, not the movie. I guess we have to differentiate now) as well is its companion piece, Eazy-E’s Eazy-Duz-It, word for word. Still, to this day.

"See you at the crossroads."

“See you at the crossroads.”

When (SPOILER) Eric Wright died of AIDS in 1995, it shook me. I was mostly listening to heavy metal and grunge, but I had never forgotten N.W.A. and their 5’ 5” superstar (“Niggaz [his] height don’t fight.”) . I knew the group had broken up and there had been bad blood. If you were alive in the early 90s and remember Dr. Dre’s The Chronic coming out, it was impossible not to know. But Eazy was a part of my adolescence and he was gone.

I wanted to make a movie about Eazy-E and the formation of N.W.A. I did some reading and found that there was a lot of drama to be mined. The music would be center stage, of course, but there were also political, financial, racial, sexual, and societal themes to be explored. Were these men artists pretending to be gangstas or gangstas who stumbled into being artists? I wanted to explore that question.

And, morbidly, films about actual people are more satisfying if they have a definite ending. And by that I mean death. It’s fucked up, I know, but it’s true. And the more tragic that ending, the more drama you can conjure. And (SPOILER) Eazy’s death was tragic, to be sure. He was destroyed by his own reckless behavior, sure, but dying of AIDS made Wright an icon of the 1980s. He not only helped birth a style of music that rules the airwaves over 25 years later, but he was struck down by the 20th Century’s Black Death, just at the point where we were starting to understand it. As Eazy said, from his hospital bed, after being told he had AIDS: “But I ain’t no fag.” That was the attitude then. For a lot of people.

I tried to pitch this movie to anyone who would listen. Every one of my L.A. friends knew about it. But I was never able to get through any doors of consequence. People I did get to talk to weren’t interested. Plus, there was the matter of clearing the music, an incredibly expensive process that meant the film could never be made independently. I still held out hope for 15 years. Just like with Peter and Wendy, I had the whole movie in my head and “damn, that shit was dope!”

maxresdefaultRight now, for the second straight week, F. Gary Gray’s film, Straight Outta Compton, is on top of the box office charts. I was both excited and nervous to go see it. I mean, the subject matter is obviously attractive to me, but, motherfucker, I wanted to make this movie. And I was weary that the film was produced by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. That meant that rough corners were going to be sanded down. Certain less-than-flattering things would be omitted. I was especially worried about how the film would depict Eazy, who would have been my protagonist.

I really liked the movie.

It’s odd. It’s not at all the movie I would have made but it’s also exactly the movie I would have made. It doesn’t look like the movie in my head. Doesn’t feel or sound or flow like it. But it covers the exact story beats I would have. Its Point A is my Point A and its point Z is my Point Z. It told the story I wanted to tell, just not in the style I wanted to tell it in.

And that’s fine. Because I liked it. And a lot of people seem to feel the same way.

(Especially after the mind-blowing clusterfuck that was the Biggie Smalls “movie”.)

I do wish it had explored a little more of the dark side of things, especially the famous incident involving Dr. Dre and Dee Barnes, an omission that is getting a lot of press over the last week. It should be in the movie. It really should. The first step to atonement is to acknowledge what you’ve done. Dre has done that in the press this week, releasing statements that seem genuine. But it would have been much more powerful to explore these themes in the film. Let it all hang out. Show your ugly side. The movie has to stand on its own and Dre’s history of domestic violence isn’t something that should be discussed in a press release.

osheajacksonjr_withicecubeBut the performances are great, especially by O’Shea Jackson Jr, who not only looks like his father but does a spot-on impression. The music is of course awesome. The cinematography interesting. The script could be better and sometimes the “bio-pic-ness” of the thing hurts it, with its need to make sure you understand who all these people coming in and out of the story are. Hey guys? I’m at a movie about N.W.A. I know that guy is playing Tupac. I am aware of his music. No need to point him out to me.

Surprisingly Eazy, the drug-dealer turned hip-hop mogul and star, comes across as the one of the biggest heart. He’s actually the soul of the movie. This makes me happy. Because that was going to be my way in, too. Through him. And when (SPOILER) Eazy dies, I was shaken, teary, even though I knew it was coming.

The only thing that pisses me off about the success of Straight Outta Compton (the movie) is… its success. It’s making BANK. All those years I was told no one wanted this movie. That it would be too expensive to get the music rights. That who cares about some gangster who died of AIDS? And now it’s ruling the Summer box office. Beating the crap out of more traditional Summer movies. I TOLD YOU, YOU MOTHERFUCKERS.

the-devil-in-the-white-city-by-erik-larson-book-cover-960x1459Do I have more dream projects in my head? Of course. Novels I want to adapt (not telling you which ones). Life stories I want to tell. Historical incidents I’m dying to recreate. And I will hold onto them, along with the countless original ideas I have in my head, until the next one gets knocked down by someone who got to it before me.

One of my favorite books, well, ever, is Erik Larsen’s Devil in the White City. I would love to make it into a movie. Recently, it has been announced that Leonardo DiCaprio will be starring in the adaptation, with our greatest living filmmaker, Martin Scorsese, behind the lens. I will defer and gladly give up that dream. Because while I think one day I could match the talents of PJ Hogan or F. Gary Gray (both accomplished, not taking anything away from them), I will never-ever come close to Mr. Scorsese. So make that movie Marty. I can’t wait to see it.

 

I don’t know how interesting this has been. I just had this gut reaction to seeing Straight Outta Compton (the movie) that made me sit down and write my first blog post in forever. Sitting there, watching a movie I have dreamed about a thousand times, not looking at all like the film I would have made but enjoying it all the same.

Now that I think about it, that’s probably how I’m going to feel about The Force Awakens, too, because I know I have at least 3,263,827 Star Wars movies in me.

And I’m not giving up entirely on Peter and Wendy. Some dreams die harder than others.

A Writer’s Late Night Rant

Hi folks. Mind if I just ramble a bit?

::silence::

I’ll take that as a yes.

I’d planned on writing about a camping trip from hell that’d I’d experienced as a young lad. Gripping stuff. Hilarious now, though at the time not so much.

I’ll save that one for later.

I decided instead to talk about writing. Not a “laying out the tools/ tips of the trade” post, but more so about my personal experience with the craft. A little “ranty”, but not obnoxiously so.

To understand my love of writing, lets first start with an early obsession of mine: reading. Reading, and I’m not exaggerating, was my drug of choice. Books were, and still are, my narcotic, and libraries and book stores were my corner dealers.

Boy Reading Book in Classroom

I sucked up everything I could get my hands on. The Hardy Boys. The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner. Nancy Drew. The Phantom Toll Booth. The House of Dies Drear. Choose Your Own Adventure books. Encyclopedia Brown. John Bellairs. Mark Twain. Stephen King. Octavia Butler. Christopher Golden. The list goes on and on.

If I added comics to this, we’d be here all day.

Let me give you an example of how deep this went with me: I had the route to my lunchroom  in elementary school so ingrained in my little noggin’, that I could walk the path to the cafeteria, nose deep in a book, without bumping into one of my fellow classmates.

I was that far gone.

In a good way though.

As I continued to read, and read, I found myself wanting to create my own stories. Take my own characters to these fantastical, adventure filled worlds, and just have fun. I knew I wanted to do it.

So I did it.

b2fThere was “Robert’s Time Machine” 1 & 2 (the less said, the better), then came the Double O Dwight series.  We even put on a skit at my school based on the adventures of Dwight and company.

Maybe I got a little playwriting in at an early age? That might be pushing it a bit.

Point being, I wrote a lot. This ran into short stories in middle school, joining my high school’s literary magazine, my college newspaper/ web magazine, freelancing on a regular basis once I got out of college, and now working as a comic book author.

Writing’s been a huge blessing for me, it’s something that I don’t ever see myself not doing.

It’s the thing (my marriage coming first) that I’m most proud of in life. Its something I do well. Its something that gives me a sense of sanity in a world where I’m assaulted by all sorts of B.S on a weekly, if not daily basis.

That’s life for you.

It’s something that, if you commit to it, deserves to be treated with the utmost respect, and love. And sometimes that doesn’t happen, just being truthful. I’ll admit there have been plenty of times where I’ve come home from a long day at the 9-5, and have just thought “no writing tonight. I just want to let my brain rest after dealing with the B.S of the daily burn”.

And believe me, there’s always gonna be B.S.Tired-employee

I will never say that this hasn’t happen, because it has, and it probably will again.

The best advice that I can give in this regard is to Just Do It, as difficult as it may be. Sometimes I’ll write a page, and that’ll be it for the night. And then I’ll write another the next, two more the next day, three more the next day, etc.

But what really gets me back in front of the computer is that same love and desire to tell stories that was sparked in the little kid reading at a library in Dolton, IL. It’s what drove me to break out of my shell and chase stories  for the Atlanta Voice Newspaper. It’s what got me to approach the fine folks of Terminus Media at Dragon Con.

I have so many damn stories that I want to tell. Some of ‘em might be great, some duds.

Some folks will love them, others won’t.

What I’m finding though is that at the end of the day, who can care less about what other people think? I’m still working on staying strong to that line of thinking.

But when such doubts crop up, what I tap into, as it was when I was younger, is that I’m doing this for myself. And to have fun.

Screw what anyone else thinks.

Ok, I wasn’t saying “screw” as a kid, but you get the point.

I wrote for myself.  I had fun. I just did it.

It’s time to write.

writer-laptop

 

A book is a book (Right?)

Mummy Skull

 

 

New week. New skull. I’ll try to make it relevant at some point during the post. But probably not.

 

Years ago, after I’d finished the first draft of my first book, I took a respite from writing. It didn’t last long, but I needed it…badly. I’d just completed a novel spanning a half-million words, and my fingers were tired. You think I’m kidding. I’m dead serious. I was bone-weary in the way only three years of living in a word-dungeon can produce. For a span of a few weeks afterward, I thought, “I’m done. I’ve finished it. I need do nothing more.” I didn’t understand that my journey had only just begun.

During my miniature exile, I didn’t lie in bed with a stupid, self-satisfied smile. I had no laurels, and even if I would’ve, I wouldn’t have rested on them. I wasn’t really content with having finished a book. My brain thought I was done, but my heart knew better. So rather than sleep on my small success, I found other ways to pass the time. I did homework, so to speak, searching the web and pestering my already-published friends for tidbits of wisdom. How am I gonna get this damn thing published? I asked anyone who would listen. What about editing? A half-million words is way too many; how am I gonna fix that? What? Why? When? 

Thus began my first assault on the realm of publishing. I gathered my troops (me) and started researching in earnest. I would finish this thing I’d started, the world be damned. I decided I’d sooner become the mummy in this week’s pic (see, told you) than give up. And so, after two weeks of learning, unlearning, and sharpening my sword for the world’s throat, it all came down to: What the hell have I written? How am I planning on marketing this thing? What category is my novel? What neat little box does my life’s obsession fit into?

Well, the publishing world asked, what’s your answer?

Did I write fiction? (Yes)

Is it epic? (Yes)

Fantasy? (Mostly)

Sci-Fi? (A little)

Romance? (Maybe)

Young-Adult (How would I know?)

Chick-Lit (WTF is this category anyway??)

Bisexual Vampire Steampunk (Huh?)

Before I began answering these questions, I’d no idea about all these categories. A book was a book was a book. The only two divisions were fiction and non-fiction, or so I’d believed. The concept that I needed to refine my work into a neat little genre box was foreign…and mildly offensive. I didn’t understand. I was confused. I was angry.

Parchment

Fiction? Non-fiction? Allegory? Or maybe a YA Vampire scroll?

So…

After being clobbered with the inevitable: We like your work, J. But it’s too long to publish, especially for a rookie. Define it into a clear genre and carve about three hundred-thousand words out, and we’ll talk, I decided to crawl back into my cave. I rewrote my first book…twice. I tapped out one sequel, then another, and then a prequel, and…you get the idea. I took a long hiatus from caring about categories, blurbs, agents, double-agents, and query letters. I stopped giving a rat’s ass about the notion of genres. I allowed myself to be as free as I had been while writing Down the Dark Path. And soon enough the words began to flow again.

When asked what they like to read, most people will give you a few authors’ names or a short list of their favorite books. Most won’t sit down and say, “I only read YA Dystopian novels with surfing sub-themes, and nothing else.” Even so, I know a lot of writers who decide what genre they’re going to write in before they actually write it. Maybe it’s just me, but that approach feels manufactured. Readers might benefit from cracking open a book whose genre they’re oblivious to. Writers will definitely benefit from letting the words flow sans inhibition. While it’s true eventually every published book will end up in a tightly-defined category, I believe it’s in readers’ best interest to ignore these categories, and writers’ to write without worrying about what the publishing world will call their masterpiece.

Because, let’s face it, most of us don’t write because we want to make tons of money doing it (Hint: we’re probably not going to.) We write because we find it compelling, tortuous, wonderful, terrifying, and everything in-between. It’s the same experience readers go through. Don’t try to define it. Don’t put shackles on it and lock it in a box. Let it be what it is: beautiful. Agonize over the details afterward.

Love,

J Edward Neill

 

Dear _ _ _ ,

writing-letter

Dear _ _ _ ,

I hate writing you this letter. A decade ago, five years ago, it would have been unthinkable. I would have never thought I’d be writing these words. But the last few years have been hard for me, and I can no longer deny it:

I’m not in love with you anymore.

It happens. To everyone at some point. You fall in love. Hard. The object of your affection becomes the only thing you can think about. You can’t sleep. You can’t eat. You want to know absolutely everything about your love, inside and out. The time you spend together, well, it’s electrifying. Comforting. Glorious. You invest your emotions so wholly that if anything goes wrong, you feel it for a week.

Because for every cheer there is a rolling tear; for every pleasure, there is lingering pain.

But without the droughts, the showers wouldn’t be nearly as sweet.

You and I have been in this relationship for a very long time. To be honest, it’s been hard on me. You have not been kind. Sometimes you’ve been flat-out mean. There have of course been some amazing times, but more than anything you have been a cruel tease: every time I felt as if magic was going to happen, you yanked it away from me.

snoopy

But it’s not the pain that brings me to write this letter. As a wise and dashing dread pirate once told us: “Life is pain…anyone who says differently is selling something.”

No, the reason this long-overdue letter is being written now is simple.

We’ve changed.

It’s not you.

It’s not me.

It’s us.

I’m a guy that likes to arrange my thoughts in bullet points. I know that seems rather formal and cold given the delicate nature of this communication, but it’s the best way to explain how I feel. So the following is an itemized list of why we cannot be an…item…anymore.

1) You are both too violent and not violent enough.

ALeqM5jOgcX3DOZ256fvvETFrLkRIaY_eQap61395003898full16513a905058d51e3c0f6a7067002853

You are by your very nature a brute. A rampaging, violent freak that smells of blood and sweat. You thrive on carnage,  and whether it’s broken bones or crushing blows to the head, you know how to throw down. And every year you get stronger and you get faster and you get more intense and every time I watch you I’m afraid someone is going to get killed.

That shit used to turn me on.

But you’re starting to change your behavior. And I appreciate that. You’re doing things to curb this facet of your personality. You will never be a pacifist, but at least you are trying to be safe. More responsbile. You don’t want anyone to get seriously hurt.

It’s happened before. Remember Joe? You hurt him bad. Sterling, too. Poor Mike from Detroit was never the same. And what about Bo? Everybody knows about Bo. Especially Bo.

You are going to hurt people; that is unavoidable. But you are making great strides in stemming that tide. There’s only one problem…

It makes me less attracted to you.

I never thought I was into bad boys, but I guess I am. The less dangerous you get, the less interesting. Less fun. That edge was such a thrill and now you’re doing everything you can to blunt it.

And I hate myself for thinking that. You’re not doing anything wrong. You are being responsible. My brain knows that. But my heart…

My heart wants what it wants.

And, to my shame, it wants blood.

This one’s on me.

2) You’re kind of a thug.

michael-vick-piers-morgan-1-e1342634946901-520x436bigben062713-NFL-Patriots-Aaron-Hernandez-BR-G_20130627181852265_600_400

I’m no saint but I’ve never been arrested. A few traffic tickets but the only time I’ve ever been detained was in elementary school for talking in class.

But you, you’re trouble. Way badder of a boy even for the likes of me.

Theft. Drunk driving. Drugs. Domestic assault. Rape. Murder.

Remember that time you put a gun in your sweatpants and went to a club and accidently shot yourself? So, so, stupid. Who wears sweatpants to a club?

And the dogs? Really, man? Those poor dogs.

It’s hard to keep making excuses for you. To defend you to my friends. I have to accept it.

You’re a fucking thug. And I don’t think that’s going to change.

3) The Man upstairs.

Denver Broncos v Oakland Raiders121202_wk13strickly_inside

This may not seem fair, but your religious views bother me. Not the fact that you have them, but that you display them so ostentatiously. How you thank the Lord for everything that goes right but never curse His name when things go wrong.

If there is a God, do you really think He’s your personal good luck charm, your magic genie you can rub for wishes? Do you think He gives a He-damn about these trivial things you pray about?

You probably do. Humility has never been one of your strong suits.

4) You’re kind of a racist.

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5) You’re such a cheat I can’t believe Miranda Lambert hasn’t killed you in a song yet.

Posted by Mike Florio on May 1, 2013, 7:02 AM EDT

The NFL bans HGH use.  The NFL still has no test in place to determine whether players are complying with this rule.  Not surprisingly, players still ignore the rule.

Dan Patrick mentions from time to time that a starting NFL quarterback privately told Patrick within the past two or three years that 60 percent of the league uses HGH.  Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that HGH use is “rampant.”

 

Everybody knows it but no one wants to talk about it. We all look the other way, myself included.

Sure, other guys cheat. Barry, Alex, that dude Lance. But while we’ve condemned them, no one ever accuses you, even though, by all accounts, you’re the worst of the bunch.

You’ll do anything to get what you want. The law, honor, and your health be damned.

It’s become obvious that you can’t even function without cheating. And no one seems to care. It’s disgusting and I can’t just sit idly by and perpetuate the illusion.

As someone who loves you, it has hurt so much to learn about how chronic your cheating has been. I feel betrayed. It’s almost enough for me to take a Louisville Slugger to both of your headlights.

 

 

 

6) You’re stuck in a fantasy world.

league-banner-102909

I played Dungeons & Dragons in high school. I have logged over a 100 hours on my copy of Skyrim and have started over so I can log another 100. I know what an owlbear is.

I know fantasy.

But your entire life has been taken over by fantasy, like a guy who just discovered Game of Thrones and now runs around draped in furs calling himself ‘King of the North’ (I do kind of wish I had named my Siberian Husky ‘Ghost’). You’ve built this alternate self that may resemble you, but it’s not you. It’s a twisted, Bizzaro version where it doesn’t matter what you do but how you do it. In this world, the means are king and the ends don’t mean a thing.

I used to visit this fantasy universe with you and I have to admit I enjoyed it for a while. But it really started affecting the actual time we spent together. I couldn’t tell which one of you I was with at any given time and you became a lot less enjoyable to be around. When I was playing in this fantasy, I did things, said things, thought things, cheered for things that I never would have in real life. It changed me. And I didn’t like it.

Some people only like the fantasy you. Don’t you get that? They don’t care who you really are, not in your heart. They only care about your measurements, reducing you to a set of sexy numbers. Do you really like being objectified like that?

I guess you do, because you have so embraced it as part of your personality that every year the line between fantasy and reality blurs a little more. Who cares why they love you? You’ll take any attention you can get. It doesn’t matter to you how you get it, does it?

Whore.

7) You drive people crazy.

 Junior-Seau-2012-Cover-of-Sports-IllustratedDave Duerson

And I don’t mean in a Fine Young Cannibals sort of way.

I mean in a life-destroying, brain-swelling, personality-changing, driving people to suicide sort of way.

I don’t have any jokes about this.

You know what you’ve done.

8) THIS.

21st Century Fox, Inc And FOX Sports 1 Rings The NASDAQ Stock Market Opening Bell

I mean, what the fuck?

9) There’s someone else.

 votto-reds-swing-2012-horiz-apjpg-f6fa32e27d58bc67phillips-barehand-grab-tribe-2012-apjpg-6720abb402b918c5

I have a confession. This whole time I’ve been with you, I’ve also been in love with someone else. A friend of yours, actually. Well, more of a rival. And while my love for you has waned over the years, my passion for the other has grown and grown to the point of eclipsing you entirely.

Look, me and this other guy, we’re just a better fit. He’s more laid back. Takes his time. He brings me the same ups and downs as you, but, while every bad day with you seems like a catastrophe, with him you just brush it off and try to be better the next day. He is a marathon and not a sprint and you know, deep down, I’m not a sprinter.

I just love him more than you. When he’s around, I don’t pay one lick of attention to you.

I know that must hurt to hear, but it’s the truth.

I’m sorry. It’s not me. It’s not you.

It’s us.

————

reggie-bush-sad

Don’t be so sad. Look, we can still be friends. We can still hang out on Sundays, but I can’t promise you the whole day. Our Monday night date will stand, but I probably won’t wake up looking forward to it. I don’t want you out of my life. I’ll still come to your party in February, but I won’t be on your arm. I just don’t feel that way about you anymore.

And don’t worry. There are literally tens of millions of people out there who will love you more than I ever could or did. You will never be alone.

This is not good-bye, but I am sorry.

I just don’t love you anymore.

Best wishes,

Chad

P.S. If you’re worried I’m going to hook up with your little brother, don’t worry. He’s more screwed up than you. At least all of your bullshit is above-board. Who knows what’s going on with him behind closed doors? Well, we all know. We just don’t talk about it.