Political Fury – and the 1,000,000 reasons not to discuss it

 

At the time of writing this, the United States is in the sixth month of a new presidency.

Donald Trump, the nation’s forty-fifth president, appears to have everyone in the world riled up. His approval ratings are in the tank, his fact-checking is dubious, and his hair is…well…weird.

But he’s still the president.

Everyone I know has an opinion on Trump. Even people who don’t ordinarily care about politics have put away their umbrellas and stepped into the storm.

The insults are endless.

If such things as sides exist – they really don’t – but if they do, both have reached new lows in terms of communicative ability. People identifying themselves as conservative seem willing to prop their guy up no matter his gaffes. Others who call themselves liberal throw a tantrum at each and every presidential slight, real or perceived.

For lack of a better term, it’s a shit-show.

It’s the kind of thing to make me drink.

And so I shall.

To smother any chance of partisan thought brewing in my mind, I’ve chosen a strong pinot noir tonight. Thor’s Well, they call it. It smells of cherries, blackberries, and deep, dark earth. While sipping on such a thing, I’m not sure anyone could possibly dwell in hostile political thought for longer than a few seconds.

Actually…

I’m wrong.

They can.

I’m on an island. Water on all sides. Deep, dark water filled with congressional sharks and democratically-elected men o’ war. The only living creatures in my bubble uninterested in partisan warfare are my cats, the birds, and maybe the mosquitoes.

Even my son, the G Man, has an opinion of Trump.

He gets it from his mother.

Ever wanted to know how to predict an argument? How to tell when someone’s about to launch a political tirade?

It’s easy. Really easy.

It always starts the same way. It goes a little something like this:

“I never rant about politics, but—”

Six little words. Only the one word matters. ‘But’ – the all-powerful term negating everything uttered before it.

“I used to be married, but—”

“I tried hummus one time, but—”

“I never post political rants online, but—”

Notice how none of these sentences need to be finished.

We know what’s coming next.

The year is…I don’t know.

I’m married. I don’t have a kid yet. I’m somewhere between twenty-nine and thirty-four years old.

It’s a beautiful evening in far northern Georgia. The city’s name is Dahlonega, gold rush capital of the southeast, if such a thing exists. The house I’m at is a handsome log cabin. Deep woods and shallow creeks surround it on all sides. A huge garden sits beside it, emptied out ahead of the coming winter.

I can’t imagine a more pleasant way to spend Thanksgiving Eve.

Well…

While my in-laws, wife, and family friends relax inside in advance of the feast, I’m out walking the dog. She’s a large, powerful German shepherd named Maggie. Everyone who knows me knows I’m not particularly fond of dogs; I’ve been bitten more than I can remember.

But — and there’s that word again – Maggie is somehow fond of me. We sprint up and down the hill behind the house. I hurl tennis balls into the woods, and she retrieves them. It’s great exercise and a ton of fun. I’m pretty sure she won’t murder me.

At least I think I’m sure.

More than anything, playing with Maggie keeps me from being cooped up inside too long.

From getting bored.

From falling down the rabbit hole of conversation that always seem to happen this time of year.

Alas, it’s dinnertime.

I can’t complain. Not even a little. My mother-in-law Julie is an excellent cook. This year she’s whipped up a ham, scalloped potatoes, homemade dressing, and biscuits. She’s also serving champagne and wine, which pretty much perfect the meal.

I help set the table.

I pour a deep glass of wine.

And I dig in.

We’re a lively bunch, if few in number. There’s John, as outrageous a storyteller as any in the world. We’ve got Marc, a bitter divorcee with a sharp wit and excellent sense of humor. Beside me sits Larry, my father-in-law and a professional photographer. And there’s Julie, the night’s host and an elegant conversationalist.

And of course, my wife.

The board is set. The pieces are moving.

We begin with a toast. It’s my responsibility this year, same as every year. The smells of fresh, piping hot ham are almost too much for me to bear, yet somehow I weave my way through several compliments aimed squarely at Julie. Always be kind to the cook, I figure. Always tip your server.

We begin feasting. At first, everyone is too busy lifting forks and draining wine to talk much. I’m pretty sure I overhear Marc protest the unfairness of his divorce settlement. And John definitely tells a few stories, none of which are true, but all of which are entertaining.

It’s not while I’m filling my plate a second time the conversation takes its predictable downward turn.

It’s when I head back for thirds.

It’s like they’ve timed it for when I’m happiest.

Before dinner began, I implored the group to stray far from certain topics:

The war in Afghanistan

Immigration

Who voted for whom

But…

I return to the table. I hear the word ‘president’ escape someone’s lips. I halt before sitting. Are we doing this again? I wonder.

Yes. We are.

I listen. I keep eating. I say nothing.

“…worst president ever,” I hear.

“…so stupid. Terrible policies.”

“…I know a guy who voted for him. We’re not friends anymore.”

“…can you believe what he said the other day?”

“Jeremy? Got anything to add?”

No, I want to shout. I came here to eat and relax in the company of friends and family.

But no one really cares what I want.

And so I’m silent.

They keep going. At some point, Julie serves pie and champagne. I do my best to help, heaping whipped cream atop plates, airlifting dirty dishes to the sink. Despite her participation in the dining room warfare, I can tell Julie is uncomfortable with it all. The conversation has adopted a vicious tone. What began as a few barbs directed toward the commander-in-chief is now a full-scale indictment of every aspect of our government.

She’s a resilient gal, our Julie.

But like all the rest, she’s sucked in.

I trudge back to the table, pie in hand. The hour is late. I peer around the house, searching for Maggie, but she’s asleep on her bed. There won’t be an evening walk for her.

The champagne is sweet and strong.

The pie is magnificent.

The conversation is disgusting.

They’re arguing now. Someone dared to agree offhandedly with one of the prez’s policies. Someone else challenged the mild agreement with an expletive. I’m not even sure who said what any longer. I’m pretending my pie is a wall between me and the rest of the dining room.

No, not that kind of wall.

“…illegal immigrants,” someone blurts. I’m not sure of the context, not that it matters.

“…dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“…fucking rednecks.”

“…you sound like a communist.”

There’s a break in the action. Big John is pissed at my wife, and vice versa. Julie is flustered. Marc has retreated to the fireplace. Larry and I just look at each other as if to say, “We knew this was going to happen.”

I’ve done this dance before.

With precision timing, I guide my wife toward the door. Julie intercepts us with bowls of leftovers, which we shuttle quickly out to the car.

It’s gonna be a brutal drive home.

And one thing’s for certain:

We’re doing it again next year.

Not many people appreciate my view of our country’s government. Of the voting process. Of this thing we call democracy.

That’s ok. The small amount of scorn I’ve endured isn’t nearly equal to the frustration I see expressed by other people my age. Everyone’s angry. Even the people who say they’re not angry betray themselves when posting comments online.

As if typing words into Facebook matters.

If they only knew the power of Thor’s Well. I sip my wine. Maybe they wouldn’t be so upset.

Nah.

They’d probably still rage.

It’s late now. The fireflies wink at me just beyond the glass door. A brooding Hans Zimmer soundtrack thrums in the background.

I close my eyes and consider many things.

In our government, the focus lies primarily on winning and losing. The winner, presumably taking power by virtue of earning more votes, has the power to enact policies with only his supporters in mind. He can effectively ignore the will of everyone who didn’t support him.

Or…

If he desires, he can enact policies with no one’s interests in mind save his own.

What this means is: if a politician so chooses, he can ignore the needs of tens of millions of people. Whether he won the election by a hundred-thousand votes.

Or by two.

And what this means is: a large portion of United States citizens will spend a significant portion of their lives with little to no government representation. These people can protest, challenge in court, and vote until they’re blue in the face. But ultimately, barring a revolution, if their candidate loses, the winning party can ignore them almost completely.

With impunity.

Winner-take-all – it’s not a system designed to be fair.

And it doesn’t matter.

Our government isn’t here to save us. Or feed us. Or protect us.

The person – whoever it is – we just elected to office doesn’t care about every individual. It’s impossible. We only know the contents of our own bubble.

And while politicians’ bubbles might be bigger than most, they’re still limited.

Which means we are, all of us, alone.

That’s what the wine says, anyway.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll be slightly more optimistic.

 I wish I had another deeply personal story for this segment.

As it turns out, avoiding partisanship with such escapist vigor leaves me at a loss to describe much of my political experience.

And so I’ll lean back, sip my wine, and illustrate the modern political scene using my trusty friend, the internet.

The date is June 13th, 2017. I’ve pulled each of the following conversations verbatim from the web. The comments were published today, meaning this is but a small sample of the world we live in.

…and the world we’ve bargained for.

*

Our first example is a conversation regarding the Golden State Warriors – the championship-winning NBA basketball team – and their indecision regarding whether or not to attend a meet-and-greet at the White House.

The flames start early.

And burn hot.

*

Angela says:

“Pass on it. Next year when you win another prez will be in office. Hopefully one that has equal respect for all and does right by the country at all levels.”

Frank replies:

“Shut your stupid fkn mouth.”

Jacqueline replies:

FYI presidents are in office for 4 years so get over it, others put up with your choice for 8 long years.”

Michael replies:

“Yea, like Frank said, what do you think? You’re in America and you have freedoms? All bow to Emperor Frank!”

Richard (a white guy) replies:

“Your license plate should read “In African American Racism We Trust”!

Mary replies:

“Apparently you are not familiar with our legal policies. You actually have to break the law to be impeached. Being rich is not illegal.”

Kym says:

“Getting sick of all these celebrities that are only famous because of something they do and we pay money for. YOU don’t have to like someone, but it’s the White House…it’s an honor…people get denied to tour it all the time. I was there last summer and it was an amazing experience. Stop allowing politics to ruin everyone’s ability to experience things that they would never get to do.”

Dave replies:

“I’m sick of women who don’t know anything about sports commenting on them. Back to the kitchen you go. And who told you to voice your opinion on the internet?”

Peter says:

“The problem is that this is really a non-story. The press will not let it go, and will blow it up just to get people hating each other.”

Jerry replies:

“Well Kym, ask the white house if you can take the Warriors’ place.”

Mike says:

“It’s only an honor if the president and his administration weren’t a gaggle of f**ktards.”

Cody says:

“Getting sick of these celebrities, especially the one who got elected president.”

Gina replies:

“You’re all morons.”

*

Didn’t take long, did it? Dave’s women-in-the-kitchen comment is obvious sarcasm, but everyone else is dead serious.

That said, I tend to agree with Gina.

 *

This next battle broke out immediately after President Trump blocked famed author Stephen King from Twitter, after which Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling rushed to Stephen’s defense.

That’s right. A president has embroiled himself in a Twitter war.

You couldn’t make up better headlines if you tried.

*

Robert begins:

“I put Trump on block 3 years ago, that guy was a dumbass then and is an even bigger dumbass now lol. Fuck his twitter.”

Rodrigo fires back:

“Dumbass that is the POTUS and a billionaire. Whats ur claim to fame? A motorcycle lol.”

Alec replies:

Rodrigo is an idiot. After Trump embezzled millions and yet people are like ‘no he didn’t’ when I can pull up multiple occasions of times he’s been fined 25k for his dad buying millions of dollars in poker chips and not using the chips (which is illegal) to help trump with his failed businesses.”

Alec says:

A man that created ‘Trump University’ gave people fake diplomas and then got shut down after not too long and you still think he’s a genius. Maybe at fucking people like you and I over. Lmao.”

Norma chimes in:

J.K. should shut her damn British mouth and stay out of it.”

Kyle replies:

More and more people are complete jerks online. What ever happened to all that crap about bullying?

Ruth asks:

“When is JK taking refugees into her mansion again?”

Bruce replies:

“Trump is jealous of anyone more successful than him. So sad.”

Michele questions:

Why do they want Trump’s attention so badly?”

Holly replies:

“So immature. Hollywood idiots, let the man do his job.”

Bruce says:

He doesn’t want to do the job. He should do his job and forget about Twitter period. So sad you can’t see the humor in this.”

Harry says:

She’ll get blocked, too. Mark my words.”

Melinda asks ironically:

“Does anyone really care?????”

Mary says:

“Guess anyone can block whomever they want, right?”

And then Mary adds:

Both are whiners.”

WD Hawley brings the pain:

Really who gives a shit, damn libtards.”

Susana fires back:

What a coward.”

And a different Mary finishes it off by asking:

“Are we still in high school?”

*

This thread continued for another three-hundred eighty-seven comments. And it was just one of many conversations in which people sounded off on the Trump vs. King vs. Rowling issue.

Which, by my make-believe math, means approximately five-hundred million people took time out of their days to type meaningless words into a meaningless thread in which zero minds were changed.

Go figure.

I actually played a little game while reading these comments. I counted how many sips of wine I polished off before stumbling across the term, ‘libtard.’

I finished one sip.

Just one.

In the wee hours of the morning, I’m still awake.

Maybe it’s the wine. Or perhaps my rare excursion into the online partisan battlefield lit a hotter fire beneath me than hoped.

The reality is – despite people’s appearance on the internet – we’re all individuals. We have our own needs, our own opinions, and all we really want is to thrive within our separate bubbles.

I know it’s hard to believe. My wine is gone, but I’m not sad for it.

I’m sad for people.

I’m embarrassed.

And so I’ll sleep and say no more about politics.

*

Want to keep talking? Go here.

Prefer to argue about politics? Maybe this will light your fire.

*

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Deep Space Drama Part 1

Each of this week’s questions center on space and humanity’s relation to the deep dark cosmos.

The questions are straightforward.

Your answers…not so much.

* * *

The Final Frontier

 In the modern era, the United States government has allocated as much as 4.41% and as little as 0.49% of its yearly budget to pay for deep space exploration and related sciences.

Given the choice, what percentage would you spend?

*

We Come in Peace (or not)

 Imagine you are earth’s emissary to a strange, faraway planet. Upon landing your spaceship, you immediately encounter what appears to be friendly alien life.

What are the first three things you say to them?

*

The Few and the Many

 Imagine the world will end in five years.

The government’s plan is to construct one spacecraft for each family. Each ship can hold a family of four. The ships will fly to a nearby star system and drop you off on a habitable planet.

The problem: You and your spouse have four children.

 Stay on earth and wait for the end? Leave two kids behind?

Or convince your spouse to send the kids alone without you?

* * *

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

How gratuitous violence in video games became a cliché

Guest post by Tessera contributor – Katie Green

 * * *

In the modern gaming world, it appears that over-the-top violence for the sake of violence has lost its appeal. Gamers no longer care about ripping off their opponent’s arms and beating them to death with the bloody appendages. Over-the-top killing in video games is a cliché at this point in time, hardly a selling point for any new title – in this article I will examine what led us here.

The video game moral panic of the early 90s was led by Mortal Kombat. I don’t need to explain what Mortal Kombat is, but we should examine what it was – the heralding of an age of deadly finishing moves, flying blood sprites, and outraged parents. In comes Senator Joe Lieberman, the ESRB rating, and CBS 60 Minutes documentaries, stirring up all this controversy around 2D characters decapitating each other.

Now quickly fast forward to modern era, before we jump back in time again – Mortal Kombat X topped the sales charts in 2015, selling over 5 million copies worldwide. But was this due to the appeal factor of extreme game violence, or simply a successful franchise releasing a highly polished product that captured a nostalgia factor? Because we should take into consideration that MK 2011 sold only 2m units, and MK: Armageddon has sold around 1m units between 2007 and today.

So after the Mortal Kombat controversy of the 90s, video game developers started pushing the envelope – one title, Thrill Kill, was infamously scrapped by EA just weeks before shipping the final product, because they didn’t want to “publish such a senselessly violent game”.

Thrill Kill was pretty much finished and ready to ship before it was cancelled, and members of the development team leaked copies, so you can download it on various emulator websites to experience what never was. But the gameplay itself, hyped up by promises of ultra-violence, “really sucked” according to Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine.

Now I don’t want this article to be a history of violent video games, so bear with me for just a few more titles – Grand Theft Auto obviously generated loads of controversy. Postal 2 sort of flew under the radar, despite being one of the most senselessly violent games in history, because it was primarily sold online instead of retail stores.

Postal 2 was a sandbox-style first-person shooter, where you could literally decapitate people with a shovel, pour gasoline on their body, light a match, then urinate on the flames.

Manhunt also achieved a good amount of controversy, and – you know what, I could list controversial titles all day. But here’s the point I want to make – all of these titles I’m naming are from the 90s to mid-2000s era. What is the last controversial game you can think of? I mean truly controversial, moral panics and all that. None, zero, nada, right? Okay, maybe the “No Russian” level from Call of Duty. But the moral panic of video game violence has pretty much reached its peak and jumped off, and modern titles attempting to cash in on the controversial are jumping the shark, as I’ll show next.

Let’s examine the most recent title that could have generated controversy the likes of which have never seen before. Hatred, developed in 2015 for PC, released via Steam Greenlight. It was basically every Columbine, Aurora theatre, Sandy Hook Elementary public shootings rolled into one game. You played a psychopath mass murderer on a killing spree, mercilessly slaughtering civilians left and right. Not only that, but it was disturbingly graphic – this wasn’t the cartoon violence of Grand Theft Auto / Mortal Kombat, this was a “realistic” portrayal of mass murder – people wept and begged you for their lives as you stabbed them to death in Hatred.

So because gamers love video game violence, Hatred has sold millions of copies, right? Gone on to become the top-selling video game of all time, marketing fueled by Joe Lieberman and an army of CBS 60 Minutes reporters? Wrong. Hatred was panned by critics and gamers alike, before it was even released. Hatred has sold a total of around 155,000+ copies, despite being easily accessible through Steam. User reviews are fairly apathetic to its “violent appeal”, let me paste a few from Steam:

  • “it’s cool for a couple minutes but then it’s kinda lame”
  • “Killing everyone for no reason. Alien shooter or GTA is more fun than this. Waste of money”
  • “bored of it within half an hour”
  • “Bleeds edgy angst that seems more “try hard” then scary. Like your goth friend in high school that makes everything into a violent tragedy.”

 

So I’ll just come out and state the obvious – video game violence is no longer shocking. Decapitating 3D people and setting the bodies on fire is like, so totally 2007. Either we’re desensitized to it by now, or we’ve realized it for the gimmick it always was and expect more from developers than head-ripping fatalities.

The truly humorous thing about all this is the complete 180 the video game market has done. The most popular titles nowadays are cutesy, casual games – I mean even simple online .io games Agar.io and UNO Online get peaks of 200,000 simultaneous players per day, more than what Hatred has sold 2 years. If you’re reading this, game developers of the world, want to know the secret to truly shocking your audience? Release a good game.

* * *

 Katie Green

Contributor – ReadWrite.com, BusinessInsider.com, Cvent.com
Loves – Gaming, Travelling, Business, Tech

Top 10 Artists who inspire the hell out of me

The tricky part about creating a best-of artist list?

…you can’t usually post an artist’s creations without ticking them off and destroying copyright protections.

It’s ok. We’ll figure something out.

Here’s ten artists who’ve shined a powerful light on me (and my walls.)  They’re in no particular order.

* * *

Allen Williams

Allen Williams, master of graphite powder, lord of graphite, is among the most interesting illustrators and conceptual artists I’ve ever stumbled upon. He’s done film work, but the works I’m struck by are his weird, ghoulish drawings, posted regularly for sale right here.

My absolute favorite piece by Allen? This monster here – The Lotus King.

*

RK Post

Back in my days of playing Magic the Gathering, I discovered the best part of the game is the card art. A host of excellent illustrators toils to create some pretty fascinating monsters, angels, and otherworldly entities, all for players’ enjoyment. RK Post’s art is likely my favorite. His sometimes harsh, often dark images bring MtG to life.

His website is here. He creates unique alternate versions of his MtG cards here.

And one of my favorite RK Magic cards is:

*

Terese Nielsen

If RK Post is my favorite MtG illustrator, Terese Nielsen is a close, close second. She blends strong realism with wild, barely controlled elements, and I love it. Angels, goddesses, beautiful women, strong men, powerful animals…she’s a master of them all.

Her website is here. A fine selection of her best Magic the Gathering cards is here.

*

Bastien LeCouffe DeHarme

Sometimes one stumbles upon an artist whose concepts and execution demand immediate attention. Bastien is one such person. Based in France, he specializes in women, often mixing them with mechanical and/or fantastical elements. His themes are often dark and tormented (my favorite) and his execution when blending realism and the abstract is stunning.

I have several DeHarme prints on my walls. Just sayin’.

Enough of my gushing. Go look at his portfolio right here. And yes, some of his work is NSFW.

*

H.R. Giger

Sadly, the lord of the Xenomorphs has passed to the next world. Thankfully his creations remain. Surely most people have watched the Alien movies, and yet H.R. (Hans Ruedi) Giger created far more than just a few creepy extraterrestrials. His mastery of biomechanical, necromantic paintings, sculpture, and other media are unparalleled.

I first discovered Giger’s work (Meister und Margeritha) on the cover of a Danzig album.

A selection of Giger’s art books is here.

Necronom IV. (Photo: H.R. Giger)

*

Jeremy Mann

It’s true. I accidentally discovered Jeremy Mann years ago while Facebook stalking a mutual fan. Whatever. Simply put, Mann’s oil paintings and photography are stunning. He specializes in portrait work and breathtaking cityscapes, sometimes blending his subject matter with a dark edge.  Like most of my favorite artists, he walks the line between utter realism and abstract fantasy. Just look at his women here (NSFW.) And his unbelievably haunting cityscapes, implying rain and twilight, are here.

It’s worth mentioning Mann prefers not to sell prints. You’ll have to hit up one of his galleries or buy one of his premium (and personalized) art books if you really, really want to be a fan.

*

John Howe

It’s probable that during the creation of the Lord of the Rings movies, Peter Jackson could not have chosen a better illustrator than John Howe (and Alan Lee.) John’s sketches, landscapes, and character work captured LOTR’s theme in a way perhaps no other could match.

His website is a bit clunky. Doesn’t matter. Check it out anyway.

It’s definitely worth mentioning that John Howe is also an experienced and talented swordsman. He believes the best way to understand objects and motion is to hold, use, and touch the object to be drawn or painted. I tend to agree. Completely.

You owe it to yourself to check out the special features on the LOTR DVD boxed set. Kick back and check out John Howe and Alan Lee’s superior art

*

Alan Lee

The second half of LOTR’s dynamic art duo is Alan Lee. He’s a master of watercolor paintings, often depicting surreal landscapes with incredible detail. His creation of faerie-like forest scenes, with writhing branches and strange, ethereal colors, is particularly inspiring. Alan not only worked as an illustrator for the movies, but also has his hands in several Tolkien-related art books, all of which are worth every penny.

Chase Alan’s fascinating art on Facebook.

An interesting bio of Alan appears here.

*

Marcela Bolivar

I count myself lucky to have found (again by accident) Marcela’s art via Facebook. Marcela is a photo-illustrator specializing in digital recreations of stunning photos. While I don’t typically adore digital art, for Marcela (and a few others) I make exceptions. Her work, especially her women and surreal natural scenes, provide elegance and eye-candy all art-lovers can likely appreciate.

You need to check Marcela’s website here. Especially the stunning piece ‘Hydroponic.’ Thank me later. 🙂

*

Amanda Makepeace

Lady Makepeace is a humble dweller of the central Georgian woodlands, and just so happens to be my personal favorite cover artist. Yeah…I’m a fanboy; her painting Autumn Waters hangs right next to my favorite art pieces at home. She’s an illustrator, using both digital and traditional media to portray mythical creatures, magical birds, wondrous woodlands, and the occasional terrifying sci-fi monstrosity.

Her website is here.

Amanda has created stunning cover work for several of my novels, including:

*

My own not-nearly-as-amazing-as-the-ten-artists-above art can be found here.

J Edward Neill

Coming Soon – Life & Dark Liquor

Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

– Peter De Vries, Reuben, Reuben

*

And so I shall.

At least two cocktails per chapter.

…to soften the senses and open doors long-shut.

*

Coming soon…

Life & Dark Liquor

‘Sequel’ to Reality is Best Served with Red Wine

**

Having survived winter in the Chicago suburbs, J Edward Neill descends to Atlanta, where summers are mercilessly hot and every evening invites new adventures.

In the Deep South, he discovers new places, new friendships, and new cocktails.

Alternatively calm and stormy, exuberant and lonely, his latest bounce between bottles digs into the life of an ordinary author living in a strange and unpredictable world. Life and Dark Liquor is both a memoir and philosophical piece, ranging through topics both small and grandiose:

Single fatherhood.

Holding on to relationships.

Searching for creativity.

Marriage, divorce, and the hardest parts of being human.

And what’s more…

J Edward sips scotch, bourbon, and deep, dark whiskey with every chapter. No topic goes untouched.

No cocktail is spared.

 

*

Life & Dark Liquor

Coming in August 2017

 

Why You Should Review Everything

 StarNursery

 

Where are stars born?

Far beyond Earth?

Deep in the heart of the Milky Way?

Amongst the countless nebulae swirling through the void?

Nope. Not today they’re not.

This one’s for the readers. For all the Kindle lovers, trade paperback eaters, and hardcover crushers. It’s a request…well…more of a plea. Like the song says – “I ain’t too proud to beg.” Except the ‘I‘ is really ‘we‘, and the ‘we‘ is every self-respecting author and artist on the planet.

We need you.

It’s a different perspective on this side of the industry. Used to be, after reading a good book or listening to a great album, I’d say, “I don’t need to post a review for this. It’s good enough. It’ll get plenty of love from someone else.” But no more. I’ve seen the light. Reviews, particularly easily-accessible online reviews, are artists’ lifeblood. And not just the ridiculous, fan-boy five-star reviews. All of them. Better to have fifty 4-star reviews than ten at 5 stars. Better to have a hundred with 3 than twenty with 4.

how-to-get-amazon-reviews<—  See these little guys? These are an author’s ticket to success. Without ’em, the modern artist tends to starve. While a few bad reviews won’t break a book or dry up interest in an album, NO reviews at all is a death knell. When a potential customer arrives at a site and sees ‘Be the first to review this item?‘ the result is usually crickets. Cemeteries. Graveyards where creative dreams go to die.

Maybe the customer will take a leap of faith, but not likely. I know I wouldn’t, not unless the artist was a friend.

I think you get the point. This is my plea to you: If you buy a book, an album, or a piece of art, review it. I plan to make it a habit, an honest-to-goodness lifestyle change. The important thing to remember is that the review should be honest. Don’t auto five-star everything. Be genuine. Be legit. Be thorough.

Need help learning how to review stuff on Amazon? No problem.

Check out this little guide.

And this one, too.

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If you love it? Review it.

Hate it? Review it.

Overcome with crushing indifference? R-e-v-i-e-w it.

And while you’re at it, read and review these. I’ll love you for at least three minutes.

J Edward Neill

9 soundtracks to boost your creative mood

dark treesEver sat down to write, draw, or paint and struggled to restart the movie in your mind?

Ever curled up to read a good book, only to find it hard to withdraw from the rest of your day?

Shutting the real world out and rediscovering the dark corner of your imagination can be challenging.

And yet…

Weapons are available beyond a quiet room, an empty house, or a glass of red wine. I believe music, and more specifically soundtracks, can help artists soar back into the atmospheres of their minds.

Before ever setting pen to paper (or more typically fingers to keyboard) I like to close my eyes, focus on the scene I’m about to write or the tone of the book I’m about to read, and select a song or album from my collection to match the mood. While it’s true I prefer the atmospheres of rain, shadows, clouds, and dark caverns filled with cacaphonies of ringing swords, every book and every chapter therein has its own music.

You need but find your own.

Here are nine of my favorite selections. Whenever I need the rain to fall, the swords to sing, or the bones to rattle in my mind, I call to music. Try these out, and leave the rest of the world behind… (Click the track titles to listen to each song.)

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matte-painting-atmosphere

The Shadows Betray You – Hans Zimmer – Dark Knight Rises – For building up to an intense scene. The Shadows Betray You thumps and thuds its way to a terrifying crescendo. Use it to build the foundation of something powerful on the page.

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C.L.U. – Daft Punk – Tron Legacy – For the big reveal. The thrumming beat here is its own journey. Imagine walking down a long road, a dark city on all sides, and arriving at a tower too vast to see the top of. That’s C.L.U.

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The Prestige (Entire Album) – David Julyan – I can’t say enough about this album. Just put it on repeat and leave it on in the background while you write or read 100,000 words. It’s powerful. It’s atmospheric. You’ll sit up in your bed and feel the rain falling on your shoulders.

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General Zod – Hans Zimmer – Man of Steel – Dreaming up a fierce battle? Reading that chapter? (you’ll know the one) Zod is the battle and the aftermath, the war and the battlefield, the soldiers and the cities burning behind them. Try it.

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The Princess Pleads for Wallace’s Life – Braveheart – James Horner & The London Symphony Orchestra – Need sweet? Need soulful? Need your heart to thump a little bit slower behind your ribs? The only thing better would be to have Sophie Marceau show up at your house and weep on your shirt sleeve.

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Like a Dog Chasing Cars – Hans Zimmer & James Howard – The Dark Knight – This one is for the fleet of alien spacecraft descending on the world, the evil army beating their drums as they march against a hopelessly overmatched castle full of good guys, and for the car racing down the highway at night with the shadows crawling up behind it. The Hans Zimmer theme continues…

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This is Madness! – Man of Steel – Hans Zimmer & Junkie XL – So you say you’ve got two warriors standing off, eh? They’re the last men standing, and the fate of the world hangs on the outcome of their duel. You need drums, lots of drums. You need ten thuds for every crash of their blades. You need This is Madness!

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Am I not Merciful? – Gladiator – Hans Zimmer – By far my favorite on the list. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how it ends. This is tragedy refined into one of the finest tracks ever written. It’s for death. It’s for shattered hearts. It”s beautiful.

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Time – Inception – Hans Zimmer – Time is the triumphant, bittersweet, epic end of everything. Time is the last survivor standing atop the world’s last tower, the wind streaming through her hair as she looks down upon the world she has saved. If you stumble across any track on here, let this be the one.

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Enjoy these. They’re all great on their own or coupled with the albums they appear on. And yes, I do love Hans Zimmer. When Down the Dark Path becomes a movie, he’s the only soul on the earth who’ll touch the soundtrack.

Here’s something I wrote while listening to these over and over again…

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

 

 

A Thought for Every Thursday – Do you agree with these 5 famous quotes?

Regarding quotes…

Most quotes you find on the internet are probably mis-quoted, fake, or attributed to the wrong person.

It doesn’t really matter.

What’s important isn’t who said something or when they said it.

It’s whether or not that something is true.

Think hard on the following quotes and decide whether or not you agree with each one.

Explain why or why not.

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 And here’s one just for sarcasm’s sake…

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For my part, I think these quotes (and pretty much all quotes) are misunderstood and/or appropriate only in specific situations.

In other words, almost nothing we say is true 100% of the time.

The context of everything must be considered.

But that’s an argument for another time…

 

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

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 Thought for Every Thursday – The 7 Quickest Questions You’ll Ever Answer

Pop quiz, hot shot.

Answer each of the following using five words or fewer.

Go!

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When is war the answer?

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If you could only teach your child two lessons in life, what would the lessons be?

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Is the best defense a strong offense?

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Name one thing that truly, utterly terrifies you.

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Is there anything in the world worthy of worship?

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For $1,000,000, would you agree to never have sex again?

For $10,000,000

For $500,000?

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The three worst things humanity has done over the course of history are:

____________________

____________________

____________________

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 Can both of these be true??

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If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

Atlanta’s Suntrust Park – My review of a modern baseball stadium

I recently jumped at the chance to see a baseball game at Atlanta’s brand-new Suntrust Park.

Why not? I figured.

My ticket was free. My favorite team on the planet – the Chicago Cubs – was in town. It had all the makings of a solid night’s entertainment.

Suntrust Park – impressive, right?

First, a disclaimer: I’m a baseball junkie. Having grown up in Chicago, I attended dozens of games every year at historic Wrigley Field. I was there for the heartbreak in ’84. I suffered through the gut-wrenching loss of the Steve Bartman game in 2003. And I rode high in the clouds when my team won it all in 2016.

I check the standings and watch highlights every day. I go to games as often as I can (even minor league games.) I listen to my team (and many others) on the radio, old-school style. I’ve played semi-pro ball. I like scoring games with a pencil and notepad.

I love baseball.

Every summer, it takes a legitimately big chunk out of my writing career.

And so…

I’ve lived in Atlanta for about twenty-three years now. Am I a Braves fan? Nah, not really. But I definitely enjoy watching them all the same. My earliest experiences at Fulton County Stadium are memories I won’t forget. And all the playoff games I caught at Turner Field – classic stuff. So when the Braves announced they were moving across town into an epic, brand-new stadium, my curiosity was piqued. I didn’t like that it was so much farther away from home. But for a baseball fan, a new field is something to be savored. I knew I’d check it out eventually.

The day arrived on July 18th, 2017.

Tickets were sold out. The weather, although slightly muggy, was perfect. Our group of ten filed into our separate Uber cars and made our way to the park. Hint: you should definitely take Uber if you can; the parking situation isn’t good.

First impression? SunTrust is gorgeous.

Clean pedestrian lanes guide foot traffic toward a host of restaurants, shops, and townhomes. The pathways are wide, accommodating forty-thousand plus people with relative ease. Everything is as expected – Braves’ gear for sale, friendly staff, quick service, and mega-expensive food & liquor.

I partook of a few whiskey sours and settled in for a pre-game dinner at the Terrapin Taproom, just one of many taverns surrounding the stadium. It was loud, as in loud-loud. Cubs fans had turned out by the thousand, and they were thirsty. Despite the crowds, the Terrapin’s staff was up to the challenge. They dished out our food in no time at all. And while admittedly the pulled pork and jalapeno fries were fairly standard (maybe even worse) I’ll be the first to admit no one should come to a baseball game expecting grade-A food. I didn’t, and so I can’t fault the Terrapin.

We made our way to the field…

Yep. Green grass. Brown dirt. White lines. It’s a baseball field, no doubt.

Anytime one visits a new stadium, the tendency is to compare it to the old one. In this case, the comparison is SunTrust Park versus the much-beloved Turner Field. As I plunked down in my seat down the first-base line, my initial feeling was that SunTrust’s sight lines to the field weren’t quite as good. A railing blocked part of our view to home plate, and the constant slow movement of sign-holding vendors obscured the pitcher/batter action. It wasn’t horrible, but it was enough to annoy. In thirty-plus games at Turner Field, blocked action was rarely an issue.

And as a guy who comes to the game to catch every single pitch, you just can’t have bad sight lines to the field. I’d recommend SunTrust tell their vendors not to stand in place too long or wander aimlessly. As for the seats, well…it might be that they’re just not angled quite high enough. Not really much SunTrust can do about that.

A few additional SunTrust pros:

Beautiful field

Comfy seats

Easy-to access food, drink, and restrooms

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And a few mild cons:

Sluggish, lingering vendors

Nothing really stands out as special about the field of play (appearance is as standard as it gets)

Everything is extremely expensive

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Now then…

Let talk about the game experience.

It’s what’s most important, after all.

Before I comment, I’ll admit I’m old-school. I like my baseball straightforward. I don’t need gimmicks, huge graphics, bombastic noise, or fountain-eruptions after every strikeout (yes, SunTrust has a fountain beyond the center field wall.) I don’t need walk-up music, thumping bass, or multiple distractions between each half-inning. I’m there for the game, not to watch the Home Depot tool races or to listen to Cotton-Eyed Joe for the thousandth time.

And while acknowledging my old-school habits, I’ll also say I understand catering to a younger, fresher, lower-attention span crowd. That’s just the way it is. New fans demand a new approach to the game. Loud music, fan contests, side-shows…I get it. I really do.

But…

SunTrust takes the distraction level to obnoxious highs.

Let’s start with the TV above center field. It’s so massive, so mega-gargantuan, one wonders if it’s the world’s largest. Players’ faces appear at 1,000 times real-life size, smiling down upon every possible statistic. It’s bright. It’s big. And it’s loud. Video boards are cool and all, but when they dwarf the game itself, fans like me notice.

And we don’t necessarily appreciate it.

Also…

While I’m aware many (if not most) modern ballparks blast music before every batter, after every play, and between every possible moment of relative quiet, SunTrust takes it to the next level. Every time Braves’ hitters smacked even the most pedestrian of  hits, Spanish hip-hop blared from every speaker at volume eleven. The game score didn’t matter. Even walks earned twenty seconds of ground-shaking music.

Example – in the ninth, an inning during which the Cubs’ pitcher hurled thirty-one pitches, the ‘Chop’ music played between every…single…pitch. I’m not even kidding.

Ball

Strike

Throw over to first

Batter steps out of the box

Ground ball out to the second baseman

After each one, music blasted. The game slowed to a crawl as the pitcher stood and waited for it to end. Some part of me wondered if it were against the game rules for a home stadium to play so many sound effects. Even the Braves fans around me wearied after a few repetitions. It was loud enough to be headache-inducing. And it’s hard to give me headaches, given my love of extreme heavy metal.

But there I was, slowly dying.

This particular game endured an hour-and-eight-minute rain-delay, which stretched the total butt-in-seat length to about four hours. And during these four hours, music or sound effects blasted between every possible moment of game action. I expect this is probably true for many stadiums, SunTrust being no exception. If ever the Atlanta fans had any inkling of generating their own noise, of building their own anticipation without pumped-in music, the stadium didn’t allow it. The sounds thundering out of the speakers were far louder than any crowd could hope to match.

It wasn’t enjoyable.

Ultimately, it felt contrived. Awkward. Like an Enrique Iglesias concert. And not at all like a baseball game.

I guess…maybe in hindsight…the game might’ve passed me by. Maybe I’m old. Maybe I don’t appreciate  thunderous bass as much as I thought I did. I mean…SunTrust is a big, beautiful park with a ton of entertainment plugged in. Food, liquor, shopping – it’s all there. The stadium has almost everything anyone could want.

The only thing it’s missing?

Baseball.

So there it is. I’m sorry, SunTrust. You did your best. Unless the Cubs return for a playoff game against the Braves, I won’t be back.

You’re a great park with some truly cool things, but you’re not for me. And I’m sure, given the prices you charge for beer, you’ll be just fine.

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For more of my Atlanta hot-spot reviews, go here.

And read a ton of my Atlanta/Chicago adventures here.

J Edward Neill

Artist and Author

 

Will she survive?

My name is Lys.

And like most people who survived the plague, my life is something other than what I dreamed.

* * *

In a rotten prison cellar, I awoke. I wanted to believe morning had come, but without windows I could only wish. Rain leaked through the ceiling in more places than I could count, while the rats scurried to escape the widening puddles.

Thunder rolled.

The brick walls clattered.

I feared the whole place might crumble atop me.

Somehow, the other girls slept through it.

But I didn’t.

I’d hardly slept for the last nine years.

I’d left something undone.

I sat up, and my mattress squelched beneath me. The stink made my eyes water. Even though my bunk lay beneath two others, it hadn’t slowed the decay. The rats loved tunneling through the moldering cloth. I’d have preferred to sleep in a swamp.

Our prison, one of dozens in the wretched city of Tiev, had no windows, no hearth, and only one rusted iron door.

I’d been there so long, I’d forgotten what the world looked like.

I clambered out of bed and padded to the round table in the cellar’s heart. My toes hurt every time they touched the cold, wet floor. My waifish dress, tattered and too revealing, sagged on my skinny shoulders. Like every morning, I wondered what I looked like.

I hadn’t seen a mirror in years. The blonde ringlets I’d had as a child were long gone.

No matter what the other girls said, I was sure I’d become an ugly, ruined thing.

I swatted two rats off the table and tore a chunk off the loaf of bread they’d been nibbling. Used to be, I’d run in terror from the rats. We’d never had them at Luka’s house. If there’s one thing the cruel apothecary had been good at, it’d been keeping things clean.

Everything had changed once the men in red and black had come.

They’d murdered Luka and captured our caretaker, Murgul.

I’d meant to save Murgul from their clutches, but I’d failed.

Now I’m here until I turn eighteen.

Until they take me away to become a rich man’s concubine.

One by one, the other girls woke. Marida, the raven-haired beauty, slid off her top bunk and joined me at the table. She said nothing when I broke off another chunk of bread and dropped it into her hands. She hadn’t spoken in days.

She’s knows she’s next.

Next came Breta, Charla, and Yen. The three girls were the best of friends, if something so profound as friendship could exist in our sad little dungeon. They’d been orphaned after a great fire had swept through their city. The promise of a new life far from danger had been a lie, and the black wagons had swept them away with the rest of us.

We were to become chattel, wives to the wretched old men who’d lost their families to the plague.

“Morning,” Breta greeted me. Her dark eyes betrayed her jealousy. If I hadn’t been older and taller, she’d have stripped my bread right out of my hands.

“Morning,” I managed.

The three girls took what remained of the dry, stale loaf. In the light of four lamps, whose fires cast a sickly light across our faces, we stood and ate.

“Look at us,” Breta complained as she chewed. “We’re no better than the rats. You’d think if they wanted us pretty for our new husbands, they’d feed us better.”

Yen, wisest of the three friends, shook her head. Even with the scar on her cheek, I envied her prettiness.

“In Tiev, no one eats better than the rats,” she said.

No one.

I peered at the five little girls across the room. In a single bunk, they huddled and whispered fearful things. I hadn’t learned their names yet. They’d only arrived three nights ago, and were mostly too terrified to speak to us.

“I wish they’d feed the young ones better,” I said. “They’ll never last on bread and water.”

Breta shot me a glare. Cruelty blazed in her dark eyes. I pitied her husband-to-be.

“What are you saying?” she snapped. “We don’t deserve as much food as they do? We’ve been here for years. We’re closer to being married than they are.”

“Feed the fattest pigs first, is that it?” I said without raising my voice. “And you assume our marriages are real. For all we know, we’re to become breeders. Or mine workers. Or food for the Iritul hounds.”

I felt sorry the moment I said it. I saw Marida, oldest among us, close her eyes.

She could go any day now, I knew.

I should shut my mouth.

“What do you know?” Breta wouldn’t give it up. “You’re only here because you’re stupid. What kind of fool leaves her home and abandons her friends? Don’t you know, Lys? There’s no such thing as the Branded. They don’t exist. You were chasing a lie.”

It’s not a lie, I wanted to say.

And I did it for the only friend who mattered.

If I’d wanted, I could’ve argued with Breta for hours. But there seemed little point. She was right, after all. I’d run away from a safe life and sought help from a vagabond. In my wild, nine-year old mind, I’d fled into a world I hadn’t fully understood.

And when the men in red and black had caught me, I hadn’t even screamed.

I retreated to my bed. While the older girls played Oubliette using worn pieces and a weathered board, I sat and watched.

I’d almost drifted to sleep when they came for Marida.

The first man swung the door wide on its rusted hinges. The second two, dressed in blackened leather, stormed into the room.

They didn’t have to ask Marida’s name.

Everyone knew she was the most beautiful.

With heavy boots and armored shoulders, they tore her from her stool at the table. I saw her breath leave her as they closed their gloved fingers around her narrow wrists, hauling her away as if she were lighter than air. The man waiting at the door dropped a dark sackcloth over her head. She sobbed just once. Then she was gone.

And then they came for me.

I didn’t expect it. My eighteenth birthday hadn’t yet come, or so I’d convinced myself. The truth was – I didn’t know my birthday. Like the others, I’d been orphaned at birth.

“Come ‘ere, pretty,” the impossibly broad man took hold of my upper arm. His breath reeked of wine, and his grip was the strongest I’d ever suffered.

I didn’t resist him, and yet he dragged me across the room as though I were a sack of potatoes. I managed a last look at Breta, who for the first and final time wore something resembling sympathy in her eyes. And I saw the children, who clung to their blankets and shivered so hard their bones must’ve hurt.

A dark hallway opened up before me.

The sackcloth came down over my eyes.

Grunting, two men led me up several stairwells. I heard Marida a few steps ahead, breathing hard beneath her sackcloth. I felt the urge to fight, to tear away the daggers I’d seen on the men’s waists and carve my way into the sunlight.

But I didn’t dare.

I knew what happened to those who resisted. I’d seen the men in black and red light pyres, sharpen axes, and tie nooses by the hundred. The Inquisitor who ruled Tiev had no time for mercy. Most times, I’d wondered how anyone in the city survived his reign.

The men hauled me outside. I felt my bare feet sink into the mud, the wind caress my neck, and the fragile sunlight fall on my shoulders. It felt so good I wanted to cry. But crying was something else I hadn’t done in years.

“Get inside.” One of my captors pushed me into a dark space. I heard Marida beside me, choking back her tears. They’d put us into a wagon, the same kind in which they’d kidnapped me many years ago.

“If you behave, there’s more than bread for you,” a man said. “You’re bound for Eos. Your husbands await you. It’s a better life than most girls your age ever see.”

A better life? I thought.

No. It’s death. Slow, but still death.

They shut the wagon doors. Although the autumn breeze had chilled me, the dark space inside the wagon felt stuffy.

I couldn’t help myself.

I removed my sackcloth.

“Tiny windows.” I inhaled the cold, dank air. “Doors barred from the outside. There’s another compartment, but it’s empty. Wherever we’re going, we’re going alone.”

As expected, Marida heard me.

“You took your sack off?” she said. “They’ll kill you for that.”

“No they won’t,” I said. “Someone’s paid money for us. If we show up dead or bruised, whoever bought us won’t be happy.”

“How do you know that?”

“I don’t,” I admitted. “It’s just a guess.”

The wagon jerked into motion. The horses pulling it must’ve been powerful to pull the huge wooden coffin with such ease. At first, we bounced in our seats. Tiev’s roads were as rotten as everything else in the city.

But soon our ride became smoother. Tiev’s clamor fell away, and we rolled along with ease.

“We’ve left the city,” I said.

“Is it night?” Marida asked. “Which way are we going?”

“No. Not night.” I peered through a barred window. “It’s noon, I think. The way the light looks, it feels like mid-autumn. That’s just a guess. It’d be easier if you took off your sackcloth. They’re not going to hurt—”

“I’m not afraid of being hurt,” she said. “I’m afraid of where they’re taking us. I don’t want to go back.”

“Back? Where?”

“To Eos. Or to Othis,” she said. “I hated the city before it burned. Imagine it now…so many dead…only the worst remain. And Ulka…he’s there. They say he can kill anyone he touches. The other girls don’t believe in the Branded, but I know. You’re right to be afraid.”

I heard only his name – Ulka.

I shivered so hard Marida must’ve heard me.

“You claimed you wanted to escape,” she said.

“Yes,” I murmured. “…escape.”

“How come you never tried?”

“I—”

I’m afraid.

Afraid of Ulka.

Afraid of his men.

Afraid they killed Murgul, my only friend in the world, long ago.

“I wanted to,” I said. “But I couldn’t. Our dungeon…too many guards. And even if I escaped, where would I go? No one’s looking for me. I have nothing.”

“Oh,” was all she said.

I heard much more in her voice.

I had a plan.

I was willing to risk everything for him.

I’m a coward.

For many hours, we rolled on. Except to shove a cup of water through the door, the men never troubled us. I gave the water to Marida, who held the cup in her hands, but never took a sip.

Lost in my head, I barely felt the wheels splinter.

The wagon groaned to a stop. I heard men cursing outside the windows. I knew a long while had passed. The light shone through the bars weaker than before, as pale and cold as the lamps in our prison had been.

“We’re not moving,” said Marida. She hadn’t uttered a word in several hours.

I tried to peer outside, but through the narrow window I saw only the flat horizon and the falling sun. I sensed we were far from civilization, somewhere in the wasteland between dead and dying cities.

I waited.

And I listened.

“…get the new wheel on,” one of the men spat.

“…night’s coming. Be quick about it.”

“…how far to the outpost?”

“…still a few more hours.”

I felt the wagon creak beneath me. The day’s last light crept through the window bars, warming my face for but a moment before fading.

“Murgul,” I said. “His name was Murgul.”

At last, Marida removed her sackcloth. She’d made a noble effort to keep it on, for all the good it had done her.

“Your friend?” she asked.

“Yes. More than a friend.” I closed my eyes. “He saved us as children…twice. When the men in red and black killed our keeper, it was Murgul who found food for us. He protected and loved us. He was horribly disfigured, but it didn’t matter. He was the best human I’ve ever met.”

“And you said—”

“Yes,” I interrupted. “Ulka took him, and I know why. Murgul was Branded. When he touched the sick, they got better. It felt cruel for him to be so ugly, yet have the power to drive others’ illness away. It’s why Ulka kidnapped him, I think. He must’ve hated Murgul’s power to give life, when his was to make death.”

“That was so long ago,” she reminded me.

“I know,” I said. “Doesn’t matter. I dream every night he’s still alive.”

“Even if he is…” She sounded sad. “…in Ulka’s hands, no one goes free.”

“That’s why I needed to find—”

The wagon lurched. I was sure they’d fixed the broken wheel, and that we were back on our way to the outpost they’d spoken of.

No.

We’re still not moving.

Something’s wrong.

I heard a crack beneath us. It sounded like a tree falling, only louder. The wagon tilted to its left, and Marida slid into my shoulder, knocking both of us into the hard wooden planks beneath the window.

The horses cried out.

The men cursed.

The axle split, crushing one of their legs.

A tangle of arms, legs, and hair, Marida and I floundered to sit upright. The wounded man’s screams made it no easier. He wailed loud enough to wake the dead, and though the others shouted at him to be silent, his cries shattered the twilit air.

We waited.

He suffered.

And as the darkness deepened, our fear arose.

“Did you hear it?” whispered Marida.

“Yes.”

The Iritul are coming.

The men tried without luck to push the wagon upright. I knew what they wanted.

“They’re trying to get inside with us,” I said.

“They’re afraid,” Marida agreed.

Though they tried with muscle and fear, the men couldn’t tip the wagon upright. The two doors leading inside were pinned too close to the wet earth. They shouted, spat at us, and called us names I’d never before heard, but we were as powerless as they.

“Cut the horses,” screamed one man. “We’ll ride them back.”

“Gods,” said another. “It’s too late.”

Howls cracked the eve. My skin crawled at the horrid sound, the chill in my bones hurting me. I looked at Marida, but we were both too terrified to make a sound.

In moments, the Iritul fell upon the wagon.

I heard a sword drawn and a gargling sound as its wielder died.

I felt shadows falling over us, the light dying faster than it should.

Horses reared and tore at their lashings, but they stood no chance. The sounds of their ligaments popping and bones breaking made me sick.

When three men fell silent, the fourth lay with his leg trapped beneath the wheel. I dared one glance out the window, and I saw his eyes full of horror. With his knife, he sawed at his boot.

Too late.

I looked away as the shadows darkened his face. He cried out one final time, and the Iritul made ribbons of him.

I knew the horrors smelled us. They were supernatural, the Iritul hounds, but retained all the senses of the noble beasts they’d been before the plague. They were living death, so evil in nature every child knew to fear them above all other things.

Even the plague itself.

The horrors finished their feast. I tried to shut out the sounds of bones breaking and flesh tearing, but I heard everything. They wanted to reach us, to feed on me and Marida. With claws and fangs, they rent the wagon’s outsides, carving deep gouges into the heavy planks.

But in the end, the wagon became our salvation.

The Iritul tired, and fled into the night seeking easier prey.

I woke Marida at dawn.

“We’re dead, you know,” she said while rubbing her eyes. “We can’t get out. If no one finds us, we’ll starve in here.”

“No,” I said.

It felt likely someone would find us, I explained. We’d broken down on the road between Tiev and Tolem, as well-traveled a trade path as any.

But I didn’t want to be found.

I wanted out.

“We should already be dead,” I gazed out the window above us. Grey light from the rising sun slanted between the bars. I wasn’t sure why it made my courage swell inside me. I felt something move within my heart, a feeling I hadn’t known since I’d been a child.

Hope.

“We’re getting out of here,” I said. “I’m going to find Murgul.”

“But—”

“Just help me.” I silenced her. “We have to get out long before night, else we’re done for.”

Marida didn’t have my fire. She never had. But whatever strength lived inside her, she found. And together we worked.

We kicked at the door beneath us. The Iritul had graven deep lines into the wood, which we hoped would make our work easier. We clawed at the gaps between each board. We stomped with our bare feet. When our legs tired, we beat on the wood with our fists.

And our elbows.

And our knees.

Marida wanted to give up. She talked about our lives not mattering, how we’d just end up in a slum or as slaves to cruel, lustful brigands. Each time she fell too low, I lifted her back up. I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I was the fire beneath us both, the whip behind the tired horse.

After four hours, we loosened one plank.

After five, I tore it loose, reached the dead man’s dagger, and carved a hole wide enough to put my leg through.

“Don’t stop. Next plank. Keep kicking,” I told Marida.

And she did.

* * *

The story above is continued here…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Life and Death Shopping

It feels shallow on the surface.

But your answers reveal much more than just how you’d spend a hundred bucks.

Answer it yourself. Share it with friends and family.

It’s…

*

Life and Death Shopping

 You have exactly $100 to go shopping with. What are you buying?

$25 – One ‘Kill Someone Else Instantly’ Card

$50 – No Enemies, Ever

$50 – One ‘Avoid a Fatal Accident’ Card

$25 – Get Away With Any 2 Lies

$50 – See One Single Event Before it Happens

$100 – Lifelong Wealth

$25 – Cure Any One Person’s Disease Once

$25 – Avoid Any One Emotion (name the emotion)

$75 – Immunity to Fear

$50 – Immunity to Pain

$25 – One ‘Change Someone Else’s Mind Permanently’ Card

*

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

Read this heart-stopping short story

Lys & the Heart Stopper

A new $0.99 short story

Now available on Amazon

* * *

Imprisoned as a little girl, Lys awakens in the world’s lowest prison.

She’s to become a concubine to a faceless noble in a land far from her native home. But when fate intervenes, she seizes her only chance at freedom.

To save her long lost caretaker, she means to cross the wasteland of Vhur, in which the diseased Iritul have hunted humanity near to extinction.

No distance is too great.

She’ll do anything to rescue her friend.

Even if it means a confrontation with the deadliest man alive – The Heart Stopper.

*

*

Lys & the Heart Stopper is a standalone short story in the Hollow Empire – Night of Knives universe.

J Edward Neill

10 questions to mess with your mind

 10 Questions

Each one deeper than the last…

* * *

Revenge Algebra

 Complete the following equation.

Use no more than three words per blank.

______________________________

+

______________________________

=

A suitable punishment for a serial killer

*

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

 In your own words, define what you believe the difference is between a terrorist and a normal soldier.

*

On a Scale of 0-10…

…in which 0 is ‘not at all’, 5 is average, and 10 means ‘highly’:

How intelligent are you?

How physically attractive are you?

How charming?

How artistic?

How generous?

 And how narcissistic?

*

Monopoly Money

 You’ve just received three GET-OUT-OF-DEATH-FREE cards.

Anyone who has one of these avoids the next time they would die.

Once a death is avoided, the card vanishes.

So…

Keeping all three for yourself?

Giving any away?

Distribute your cards and explain.

**

Picket Fences

 You’re madly in love.

Tomorrow you’ll have the chance to marry the love of your life.

You’ll have a huge house full of beautiful things.

Your children will be smart and loving.

On the surface, your marriage will appear ideal.

But here’s the thing: You’ve glimpsed the future and have seen that while your marriage will be stable and polite, it will ultimately become passionless and empty.

Knowing what you know, are you still walking down the aisle tomorrow?

*

Angel of Death

 You lucky bastard.

Or maybe not.

You’ve just acquired a new ability.

From now on, you can wish anyone in the world dead.

If you use this power, not only will the person die instantly and painlessly, but you’ll also gain a million dollars for each person you use it on.

How many times (if any) do you think you’ll use this power?

On whom?

What would you do with all that money?

*

Little Bang Theory

 Some people have theories about how the world began.

And how it will end.

And maybe even theories about what it all means.

But…

What if you— yes you—could decide how it all began, what it all means, and how you’d like it to end?

Play god for a moment:

How would you like for the universe to have begun?

How do you want it to end?

What do you want it all to mean?

*

Dying Stars and Sabertooth Tigers

 Name something that is both beautiful AND terrifying.

*

Hard Scales of Justice

Imagine the following scenarios.

In which of these (if any) would you support the death penalty?

  • After fifty years of marriage, an elderly woman shoots her husband in his sleep. Her motivation is to claim life insurance money
  • A pair of eleven-year old boys lure a little girl into the woods, where they murder her for no apparent reason
  • A man foreign to your native country guns down ten people in a small, peaceful café
  • A politician orders your military to bomb a village in another country, killing one enemy combatant and two-hundred civilians

*

Behind the Veil

Throughout history, many millions of people have reported seeing ghosts, apparitions, aliens, monsters, and other strange, unexplainable phenomena.

Which of the following do you believe probably exist?

Ghosts

Aliens

Angels

Demons

ESP (extra-sensory perception)

Alternate Dimensions

 Got any proof?

*

If you like answering lots of questions, go here.

For the original 5 Deep, Dark Questions, go here.

J Edward Neill

Dark Art Giveaway Contest!

It’s time for an Art Giveaway Contest!
It’s easy…
All you have to do is:

  •  Visit this Facebook page.
  • Post which one of J Edward Neill’s book covers you like the most AND add a brief explanation of why. (The link to the covers is here.)

Then…
From amongst everyone who posts, a winner will be chosen at random.
To the winner, we’ll ship one of the two 8×10″ paintings below (winner’ choice.) We’ll even cover shipping.

Winner chooses:

Cinder Tree

or…

Trapped in Amber


The contest starts now!
We’ll accept entries through Monday, July 17th at noon.
Good luck!

The Book of Wine…and Life.

In J Edward’s latest book, he promises to drain one bottle of red wine per chapter.

That’s the rule. 

There’s no breaking it.

 And while deep in his cups, he takes readers on a sometimes funny, sometimes poignant journey.  Playful yet serious, funny yet honest, the bounce between bottles takes readers on a stroll through everything. 

Dating. Religion. Politics. That one time J Edward and his friend built a dam and met the world’s most relaxed water moccasin…

 It’s all here.

One bottle per night.

Every night.

At least…that’s the idea.

Now Available!

   
* * *

Reality is Best Served with Red Wine

Anecdotes and philosophy by J Edward Neill

That time I almost got murdered by an old guy in a Chevy

I’m nine years old, and life is pretty good.

For an early September day in the ‘burbs outside Chicago, the weather is stunning. The winds are milder than usual, and the great northern chill has yet to descend. My classmates and I adore it. A mob of us have just walked a few miles to school. We pour into the hallways just before opening bell. It’s a private school, and so the boys are dressed in matching gold shirts and dark pants, while the girls wear classic plaid skirts.

We look pretty slick, all things considered.

But…

The moment we pile into our classroom, we can tell something’s up. Miss Calvin’s late, and she’s never late. I hear people talking out in the hall. One of the voices comes from a man, a tall man. He’s wearing a police uniform.

That’s weird, I think.

After a few minutes, Miss Calvin and the policeman enter our room. No one asks us to settle down; we’re already quiet.

“Morning, kids,” the policeman says. He towers over Miss Calvin. He towers over everything.

“I’m from the JPD, the Joliet Police Department. Your principal and several of your parents have asked me to talk to you today.”

This is no big deal, I figure. We’ve had police visitors before. The message is always the same: don’t do drugs, don’t talk to strangers, look both ways when crossing the street.

I almost check out.

Almost.

“Kids, I’m here for a special reason today,” the officer continues. “You see, there’s been some trouble, and since so many of you walk to and from school, we think it’s important to have a little talk.”

At this point, the class is riveted. Even I, the class clown, am itching to hear what he’s about to say.

“Two children from the public school have gone missing.” He drops the bomb.

Gasps.

Open mouths.

Incomprehension.

“Both children were nine years old, and both were last seen approaching a late model Chevy Nova. It’s a smaller model, olive green. Other children have reported that the man driving this vehicle called the kids into his car while they walked home from school.

“And neither of the children has been seen since.”

He lets it sink in.

And then he goes on to explain that if any of us see a green Chevy Nova, we’re to get away as fast as possible. Most of us don’t know what a Nova looks like, but he describes it in detail:

“Small.”

“Sporty.”

“Loud engine.”

He also describes the alleged man inside the car. I’m only half listening anymore. Being a young kid, I’m sure this whole event will end up having nothing to do with me. I’m afflicted with the same sense of invulnerability most nine-year olds feel.

The only thing nagging me: the officer never tells us anything about the missing kids.

Not even their names.

The officer departs. The rest of the day is normal. We work on our multiplication tables. We play kickball. I manage to not get into any trouble. Everyone’s whispering about the man in the green Nova, but only for a while. Without knowing the missing children’s names, it’s hard for us to be afraid. The kidnappings are a thing that didn’t happen to us.

They happened to someone else.

We’re safe. Right?

A few days pass. Everything goes back to normal.

The weather stays nice. In fact, it’s perfect. We can’t remember the last time September stayed so warm, so sunny, and so ideal for walking to and from school. Late in the month, the same as every afternoon, I decide to walk home with my friends, Stephanie and Brenda.

We’ve walked this route hundreds of times.

Only…we’ve never walked it with a green Chevy Nova trailing us.

As we turn onto Lilac Lane, it’s Brenda who spots the car. Stephanie and I are too busy plotting out our afternoon’s mischief. We’d never have noticed a thing.

“You guys…” Brenda shakes us out of our daydreams. “Look.”

We glance to our left. There, just beyond a row of young oaks, gliding along the street at maybe five miles per hour, we see the ugly green car. We can’t believe it. It’s almost not real.

Brenda doesn’t wait for Stephanie and me to make up our minds. She bolts away from the road, skirt swishing as she vanishes between two houses. Within seconds, she’s gone.

Brenda’s pretty smart.

The car rolls closer. I’m trying to play it cool, as if my indifference can save me. Stephanie says something to me, but I tune her out. I think she’s shouting my name. It doesn’t matter. She takes off in the same direction as Brenda. Her house is the opposite way. I’m not worried for her. Everyone in our neighborhood knows everyone.

She’ll be fine, I figure. She’ll get home.

Still in disbelief, I finally give the ugly green car a good look. The man inside is older. He’s wearing a hat.

He looks exactly like the creeper the policeman warned us about.

I think I see him stop and start rolling down the passenger side window.

And I’m gone.

I’m a fast runner. Faster than Brenda and Stephanie. Faster than anyone in my class. In my neighborhood, among houses I know better than anyone, the old man has no chance of catching me. I’m gone in five seconds. I don’t even know which way I’m running. What’s important is that he’s gone, too.

You’re not stuffing me in your trunk, buddy, I think.

Not today. Not ever.

The next morning at school, we hear the announcement over our classroom speakers:

The man in the green Nova has been caught.

He’s in jail now, charged with several kidnappings. Not just the two kids from the public school. Several more.

The streets are safe again. Brenda, Stephanie, and I agree never to tell anyone about what happened.

But the thing that nags me for several weeks afterward:

No one ever says the names of the missing kids. I’m sure it’s mentioned on the news, but at our school, within our insulated bubble, no one ever speaks of it again.

It’s as if those kids never existed.

As if, because we didn’t know them, their lives weren’t as important as our own.

* * *

The story above is true.

Want more like it? Read Reality is Best Served with Red Wine.

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Your Chance to Time Travel

In contrast to the deadly serious questions we’ve asked recently, we’re going to get scientific-lite.

Break out your beakers and glasses.

Let’s do this…

*

There and Back and There Again

 You’ve been given a time machine.

It will work three times before it breaks.

When and where are you going?

Do you use the final time to return to your present life?

***

Fight Club Time Machine

 Suppose you’re given the chance to travel back in time to fight any one historical figure to the death.

If you defeat them, the course of history will be changed in accordance with their absence.

The fight will be hand-to-hand. Your foe will be in their prime.

Whom will you fight?

*

Back to the Future

 You’ve built a time machine. It only goes one direction in time. Do you want to see how it all began? Or how it all will end?

*

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

Painting with Darkness – Part 15

Collaboration is the name of the game.

Sculptor T. Morrison & I have been doing it in spades.

She invents wild ideas, sculpts them with lightweight spackle, and I add deep, dark backgrounds. She even did a funny tutorial.

Our latest pieces have been getting ever darker. We held a challenge via Facebook to select a new painting’s theme, and the people decided on Itsy Bitsy Spider. (Sleeping Beauty was a close second.)

Only thing was…

We decided Itsy wasn’t so itsy after all…

Itsy

Around the same time, we wanted to do a painting with a gypsy girl. She had to be strong. We decided she also had to be a vampire.

And so…

Blood Gypsy

And then we went straight up spooky, crafting a haunted woodland no one would dare enter.

Would you wander here?

Gravewood

We’ll continue pumping out paintings as fast as we can sell them. We’re currently working on a Frankenstein piece, and then there’s the huge skeleton-filled tower we’re conceptualizing.

You should keep coming back for more.

Our prints are available here.

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

I, II, III, IV, V, VIVIII, IX, X, XI, XII. XIII, XIV, XV.

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

Author of darkness

A Thought for Every Thursday – Are these famous quotes true?

Fact or fiction? Idealistic or realistic?

Each of this week’s questions centers on famous quotes from real life and literature.

And the pressure’s on you to answer…

*

Life Long or Die Hard

In Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, the following line is uttered:

“Cowards die many times before their deaths;

The valiant never taste of death but once.”

 In other words, Shakespeare means to say that those who live in fear die a small death every time they back away from something that terrifies them.

Do you agree with this?

Why or why not?

**

That thing Thomas Jefferson said

 Are all men truly created equal?

If so, are they equal despite physical and intellectual differences?

If not, name the characteristics causing them to be less than equal.

*

Soul Armor

 J Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atomic bomb, once quoted:

“In battle, in forests, at the precipice of a mountain,

On the great dark sea, in the midst of javelins and arrows,

In sleep, in confusion, in the depths of shame,

The good deeds a man has done before defend him.”

His point was that he hoped that all the good things he’d done in his life might shield him from the darkness of his bad deeds.

Do you believe a person’s goodness can protect them in any way?

*

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

Water Under our Bridge

The year is 1992.

It’s raining now, just like I hoped.

In the heart of July, an afternoon that would otherwise be insufferably hot finds itself laid low by an unseasonably cool wind. The storms roll in from the north, dumping rain into the woods behind my tiny house.

Summer vacation. Can’t beat it.

As I stride between the maples and swaying pines, I know I’m living a different life than other sixteen-year olds. Most kids who attend Parkview High come from wealthy families, and are off vacationing at faraway beaches, mountain retreats, and golf resorts.

I don’t know anything about those places.

I’m right where I belong.

By the time Liam shows up, I’m thoroughly soaked. We hardly greet each other – just a shared grunt and a nod. We decide the day is too wet to enjoy our usual pastime of cul-de-sac Koosh ball, but far too perfect to flee inside and play video games.

“What should we do?” I ask Liam.

“Wanna play rain volleyball?” he says.

“Nah.”

“Wanna see if Tessa’s home? I know you like her, but she doesn’t know, so it’s—”

“Nah.”

“Ok.” He says with his hands on his hips. Liam’s a year younger than me, but at least four inches taller. He’d be imposing if he weren’t so skinny. “You got any other ideas?”

“Yeah,” I say. “See the creek over there?”

“Yeah.” He glances toward the narrow waterway trickling beneath a nearby bridge.

“Let’s dam it up,” I say.

He’s all in.

It begins. Without reservation, Liam and I descend to the creek. It’s a pitiful little thing, just eight feet across and six inches deep. Below the bridge, it trickles toward us through two huge concrete pipes. The pipes are big enough for us to walk through, but the dangling webs convince us we’d best stick to our side of the creek.

For now.

And so we do.

The thing about north Georgia is that it lies in the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains. The soil is mostly clay, and rocks are everywhere. Big granite stones mixed with quartz are strewn across the entire northern third of our lovely state.

We’re going to need some of those rocks.

That afternoon, Liam and I get the best workout of our young lives. We move hundreds of rocks, including several small boulders. We don’t have any tools. It doesn’t matter. The soil is rain-softened, meaning we’re able to pry rocks out with ease.

In just one little day, we build a two-foot high wall. It’s at least twenty feet long. The shallow creek slows and deepens. The water is up to our knees.

The hours slide past.

The outside world doesn’t exist.

We’ve never had so much fun in our lives.

“Again tomorrow?” Liam says.

“Definitely.”

Over the next few weeks, we meet below the bridge almost every day. Our parents don’t care – or really know. We’re both latchkey kids. His mom and my dad both work multiple jobs.

We’re as free as two teenagers can get.

Better still, it’s the wettest July we can remember. The rain crashes down on a daily basis, keeping the rocks loose and the creek flowing.

Our dam grows:

Two feet deep.

Three feet.

Up to our chests.

Deep enough to swim in.

We finish one dam only to start on a second. We’ve got a little waterfall going, tumbling from the tiny lake we’ve built into the pond we’re constructing below. Fish start showing up. Frogs, too. No one else in our neighborhood sees what we’ve built. The trees on either side of the bridge are too thick.

Sometimes I think this is as close as we’ll ever get to living meaningful lives.

Instead of planting ourselves in front of video games or getting into mischief – which Liam and I are known for – we’re building our own world in the woods. It costs nothing but our time, which we’re glad to give.

We expand our journey. We follow the creek into the woods. We even brave the pipes, using big sticks to clear away the giant spiders’ webs. We find a real lake downstream, complete with a snapping turtle. We claim a two-mile stretch of creek as our own.

And then one day, as we’re wading in our self-made pool, Liam looks at me with horror in his eyes.

I figure he’s just messing with me. We’re master pranksters, after all. It’s what we do.

But then I see what he sees.

A water moccasin, slow and serpentine, is in our pool. It’s swimming atop the water, winding its way between us. The water moccasin, otherwise known by its deadlier name – cottonmouth – looks calm.

But we’re frozen all the same.

The five-foot snake heads to our waterfall and slithers into the shallower pool below.

We survive.

After that day, we never stack another stone atop our dam. We never wade in its shallows again. And while we occasionally stroll along the creek and journey deep into the woods, our little lake is forgotten.

The school year begins.

The rain ends.

It all happens so fast.

* * *

Not all that long ago, I braved a trek back to my old neighborhood. Rocky Hill, it’s called, in the quiet suburb of Lilburn, Georgia.

Our dam was still there.

I wonder if the snake ever came back.

*

*

This story is true. It really happened.

For more like it, go here.

*

J Edward Neill

Creator of Coffee Table Philosophy

Painter of Shadows

A Thought for Every Thursday – 3 Absurd Scenarios

Let’s have a little fun this week.

In contrast to the deadly serious questions we’ve asked recently, this week’s trio will border on the absurd.

Three questions.

Three strange scenarios.

Go for it…

*

Magic Potion

Suppose scientists created a cheap and tasty beverage.

If you sip it once every morning, you’ll be relaxed, alert, and happy all day.

And you’ll sleep like the dead.

The only side-effect: whenever you’re under the influence of this beverage, your IQ is 10% lower than normal.

Drink or no drink?

*

Brain in a Bottle

 Imagine that scientists have developed a new technology for extending human consciousness.

After the body dies, a special device captures human intellect, emotions, and personalities. Bodies are replaced by humanlike robots, and brains swapped out for powerful computers.

Would you want to extend your life in such a way?

Why or why not?

*

Remember your Cardio

 A zombie apocalypse has occurred.

Society has utterly collapsed.

People are turning undead in droves of millions.

Considering the real-life location in which you live, what’s your plan for survival?

Think short-term and long term.

**

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

Shadow of Forever – my last sci-fi book for a while

First, let’s get business out of the way.

I’ve just released Shadow of Forever. It’s the sequel to this, and my fourth sci-fi book overall.

You’ll find the Amanda Makepeace cover art below. Amanda has created more than half my book covers. She does great work, don’t you think? I’m glad our shared time in high school didn’t result in her hating me. I’d have lost a valuable friend and ally in my creative endeavors. 🙂

Click me to buy!

Shadow of Forever – available in ebook and softcover formats. Joff Armstrong and Callista return for their deadliest adventure yet. Think space vampires, star-killing machines, and galaxy-wide viruses…

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Anyway…

I’m here to admit that while Shadow of Forever and its predecessor were challenging and rewarding to write, I’m moving on from science fiction for a bit.

Does that mean I’m going to stop writing books? Nope. Not even close. I’m currently working on a non-fiction story during which I’ll drink a different brand of wine while writing each chapter (yes, I’m serious!) It’s tentatively named Reality is Best Served with Red Wine. I’m also working on several short stories (they hurt less) and exploring Season Two of this, in which I’ll reunite with author John McGuire.

So…

Why the temporary withdrawal from sci-fi? Well…it’s complicated. I love, love, love penning stories about humans in deep space, cool scientific theories, and eldritch horrors lurking between the stars. But my challenge is…sci-fi just doesn’t sell as well as other genres. Even when one writes approachable-to-everyone sci-fi (as I do) the stigma remains. When many readers see the word ‘sci-fi’ they assume a male-dominated, violence-filled orgasm of spaceships mixed with bizarre scientific theories. That’s not really my gig, but many readers have been conditioned to think otherwise. It’s a hard mountain to climb.

Fact is, non-fiction and fantasy are where it’s at. Let me explain.  I can punch out 5-6 non-fiction titles in the same span of time as one full-length novel, meaning multiple mass-appeal entries into the market. And with fantasy (my favorite genre to write) the readership isn’t as narrow. Fantasy has so many nuanced sub-genres, so many plot and world-building options, the audience is easily ten times that of sci-fi and horror offerings.

Will there be a Shadow of Forever sequel, thus making a trilogy of the Eater of the Light series?

Quite possibly.

Will I complete a follow-up to A Door Never Dreamed Of, my wildest sci-fi tale yet?

Maybe.

But probably not for a year or two.

If I sound like I’m waffling, it’s because I am. My newest love, painting 3D canvasses in collaboration with other artists, takes up more and more of my time these days. I admit that relaxing on warm evenings with a paintbrush in one hand and a glass of pinot noir in the other makes for a pretty good life. It’s easier than writing, editing, and marketing books. It tends to satisfy my immediate need for peace and tranquility.

And yet…

The writing bug remains.

So stick with me, loyal readers. I’ve got thirty-two titles on the market, meaning I’m committed to this writing gig for pretty much forever :). As the years roll on and the words keep flowing, I’m planning to touch every major genre (except maybe romance and were-bear erotica.)

That’s a promise.

Give Shadow of Forever a shot. It’s my counterpunch to hyper-technical sci-fi.

And if you prefer quick & quiet quizzes (yeah…alliteration) just try this out.

Love,

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Choose your God Carefully

Here we go.

More serious stuff.

This week’s questions center on religion and the pursuit thereof. Here at Tessera Guild, we typically stray from religious and political discussions.

Maybe these are non-inflammatory enough to sneak by our editors…

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There Can Be Only One

 If tomorrow you learned that one of the world’s religions were absolutely and irrefutably true in every way, would you convert?

Assume this religion is not one you currently practice.

If you wouldn’t convert, explain why.

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Describe your God

Set aside your current religion (or lack thereof.)

Imagine there is definitely one single god in charge of everything currently happening on Earth.

Given the modern world around you and everything you’ve observed within it, use five single adjectives to describe this god’s personality.

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Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

A Deadly New Romance Novel – Fire and Mist

Fire and Mist, Book 3 of the Well of Souls series

Now available!

 

Derek Mackay, 16th century laird and Druid extraordinaire, is doubly cursed—with knowledge he isn’t supposed to have, and by a goddess whose wrath he didn’t mean to incur. The curse promises sure death to any betrothed of his, including the beautiful woman surrounded by Immortal magic who suddenly appears in his life and arouses in him a wellspring of bittersweet desire. The only way to save her is to stay away from her.

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Erin Kelley is restless, craving the missing piece in an otherwise contented life. Romance. A man to take her breath away. A man to keep for life. A family to cherish with him. Swept back in time on a dare, she’s confronted by an angry Highland laird—an alpha male both irresistible and determined to keep her at arm’s length. His words push her away, but his emotions pull her in. Ordinary contentment will never again be enough—not when the world contains the extraordinary Laird Mackay.

Get it here!

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Yes, it’s a romance, but it’s also about adapting to the curveballs life throws at us. Struggling to persevere against the odds. Becoming victorious in the end, despite the sorrows we’ve endured in getting there. Okay… and being able to shake our fists at the universe and yell, “You can’t break me,” because that’s a fun thing to do. I hope you enjoy the journey.

 

And if you haven’t read any of them yet, Immortal Desires, book 1 in the series, is on sale for .99 right now. Go grab your copy right here!

 

About the author:

Cerise Laudine loves sexy Highlanders, seductive alpha males from the Otherworld, and bold women who can bring them to their knees and rock their world. Time-travel, star-crossed, or interdimensional, her stories always have a happily ever after. Though the twisted path of laughter and tears is the real journey, isn’t it? Come walk the paths with her and share in the experience.

She also writes darker tales, using the twisted side of her brain, as River Fairchild.

Cerise’s Amazon page is here.

Trees and Towers 2017 Calendar

It’s never to late in the year to slap a calendar on your wall.

Especially when it’s full of art.

Introducing my new 2017 wall calendar – Trees and Towers. It’s a collection of sky-cracking towers and sylvan trees, each of which I painted in the comfort of my deep, dark dungeon. There’s something for every season in this colorful and melancholic calendar.

Check it:

January features my original piece – Ghost Tree.

Here’s all the images – January through December:

Snag my new calendar on Redbubble right here.

And look out for 2018’s Damsels of Darkness…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – We’re Probably ALL wrong

This week’s pair of questions center on truth, the discovery of knowledge, and whether or not people should be wary of those who claim they have the absolute correct answer to any of life’s mysteries.

 Question 1.

Think Twice

 French author André Gide once posed:

Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.”

Do you agree with this statement?

Have you ever believed you knew a significant truth, only to find out later you were wrong?

And are you more objective as a result of that experience?

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Question 2.

End of Ages

 Is it possible (or even probable) that ages from now, much of the science and philosophy we now take for truth will be revealed as false, and a newer, truer system of knowledge be put into place?

In other words, could many of the things we think we know be completely wrong?

Also…

Is it possible (or even probable) that the only period of time during which humanity will know the truth of everything (or close to everything) will be mere moments before the end of our existence?

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Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

How to react when hit with bad reviews

It’s no longer debatable.

Self-published authors are a force to be reckoned with in the publishing world.

As of June, 2017, more than 45% of all new published works are from non-Big Five, non-publishing house writers. And while a majority of readers’ money is still used to purchase traditionally-published works, indies  consume an ever-growing piece of the pie.

This is the world we live in. This is the new face of books, writing, and marketing.  Perhaps one day the pendulum will swing in another direction. Or…perhaps not.

The device that changed everything…

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And yet, behind the scenes of the indie revolution, there’s a battle brewing. The most coveted resource of the modern writer isn’t always money, recognition, or even literary success.

It’s reviews.

Wander the social media accounts of most self-published writers, and you’ll find one thing in common: requests for reviews. New and established authors alike believe the key to getting noticed on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and Smashwords is having reviews…and plenty of them. This is true for any product, but perhaps doubly so in the minds of the self-published. The perception, if not the reality, is that a pile of four and five-star reviews will earn authors more clicks, and thus more buys.

And while it’s a common theme amongst indies to state, “We’re not in competition with each other – we’re all allies here,” it’s simply not the case. Savvy and successful self-published writers know full well that all resources are limited, that readers aren’t in never-ending supply, and that while good reviews are little chunks of gold, not everyone cares to write them.

Trouble is; while in search of reviews, many authors are in the habit of shooting themselves in the foot.

Here’s just a few of the negative behaviors exhibited:

  • Authors spend more time appealing to readers’ willingness to review their books…rather than presenting appetizing stories, blurbs, and cover images
  • Authors chastise (either directly or indirectly) readers who either leave no reviews or less than favorable reviews
  • In frustration, authors publish full-length articles complaining about negative reviews
  • Authors post complaints directly to their social media accounts
  • And most grievously, authors forget their audience isn’t other writers, but readers

We all get it. We know marketing is typically the least enjoyable part of the self-publishing process. For a new (or even established) author to leap into the world of selling books is intimidating. Unfair reviewers do exist. Trolls are out there. Readers probably could help out and leave honest reviews more often than they do.

Guess what?

It doesn’t matter.

Authors new and old need to consider:

  • In self-publishing, just as in all other parts of life, no one really wants to hear complaints
  • The vast majority of people who read aren’t authors, and have no interest in the laundry list of issues self-published writers face
  • Time spent complaining online and publishing negative articles would be better spent creating, marketing, and practicing one’s writing craft
  • It doesn’t take much negativity to drive potential readers away – they’re here for the story, not a diatribe about the publishing industry

It’s almost understandable. It’s human nature to suffer frustration. The temptation to vent, complain, and commiserate is powerful.

But authors (and in fact, everyone) would do well to resist.

Truth is, a few negative reviews won’t sink a determined writer. Nor will a handful of bad reviews kill sales for a high-quality piece. If an author’s story is truly a work of art, chances are it’ll rise above the others regardless of a smattering of one-star pings. And it’s worth mentioning that authors who earn passionately negative reviews are probably authors who provoke feelings among their readership.

And that’s kind of the point.

Also…

Rather than take to the web in droves to protest negative reviews, authors would serve themselves (and their contemporaries) well to write more, write better, and to brush away the sting of readers’ disdain like so much dirt off their shoulders. The humble, self-aware author absorbs one-star hits privately. They’ll know every reader is different, that trolls and ill-intentioned people do exist, and that their book, while painstakingly created, probably isn’t a groundbreaking masterpiece beloved by every single reader in the world. Those kinds of books are rare. Most of us will write our whole lives and never create such a thing.

And so most of us will suffer bad reviews now and then.

And that’s ok.

So…

What should one do when a beloved story gets one-starred?

  • Consider whether the review has any valid points
  • If so, address them in your writing, not on Facebook
  • If not, shrug and move on with your life

You’ll be happier for it.

J Edward Neill

Author and Artist