Under the Covers

It’s a cold, blustery day in North Georgia, but I’m fine with it. I’ve got something to be excited about.

This:

SoulOrbCoverPaperback

 Yep. For the holidays, I commissioned an alternate cover for Down the Dark Path. Our own Amanda Makepeace painted it. I feel it’s a sharp piece, perhaps grimmer than the previous cover, but closer to my own heart. The image is of the Soul Orb, the world-killing artifact appearing in the second half of the novel. This new version of the book is available for Kindles here:  DownTheDarkPath   The alternate-art softcover version will be available by Dec 22nd. Please check it out, read it, enjoy it, and review it. You’d be my hero.

Ok, so we’re done with that little sales pitch. Let’s move on. Reloading with the new art gives me a chance to talk about the book, and how I came to write it.

It all began during a bitterly cold winter night more than a decade ago. I’d long had the tale of Down the Dark Path locked away in the corner of my mind. Back then I called it Tyrants of the Dead, the title which would eventually become the name of the entire trilogy. That night, alone in my office, I sat down at my keyboard and wrote the prologue. I initially wrote it in first-person perspective, a comfortable mode for me, but ultimately I changed it to common third-person prose. This is gonna be a long, long book, I knew even then. First-person won’t quite cut it, imagery-wise.

And so, for the next six years, I hammered away. I knew where the story was going all along, but I’d yet to flesh out the dialogue, the side characters, the small settings, city names, and all the little intricacies that make a book a place you’d like to call home rather than just a pile of words. Six years. Yes, seriously. I wrote at night, during lunch at work, in the mornings before I went to work, and half of every weekend (whenever I wasn’t playing football, watching movies, or reading.) I was obsessed. I’m pretty sure I wrecked a few friendships and dug a shallow grave for my marriage along the way, but hey, I was writing, and that’s what made (makes) me happy.

And then, when I was finished, I rewrote it. The entire thing. I took 400,000 words and pared them down to 280,000. I killed off characters who previously survived, burned villages that’d somehow gone untouched, and turned what had once been a reasonably sunny fantasy novel into a work of fiction rife with shadows. This agonizing (but rewarding) process consumed another two years. I say consumed in a very literal fashion. The book ate up my life, chewed it up, and made entire swaths of time go away.

When I was done, I wrote two more books: Dark Moon Daughter and Nether Kingdom. I should’ve been searching for a publisher, an agent, or at least a print-on-demand service, but I preferred to write, write, and write. I turned the small stories locked away in my mind into a million-word trilogy, and later chopped it down to about 700,000 words. Dark Moon Daughter suffered a half-dozen title changes, but Nether Kingdom was always Nether Kingdom, by far the grimmest thing I’ve ever put to paper. The longer I wrote, the darker the subject matter turned. I touched on murder, betrayal, war, shattered hearts, suffering, and sacrifice. I went through all the emotions my characters did. I sketched out their clothes, their weapons, and I drew scores of maps detailing their travails. Told you I was obsessed.

Since the whole thing began, I’ve been asked a thousand times, “So what’s the trilogy all about?”

Well…  

Down the Dark Path is the story of a world-consuming medieval-era war told from the perspective of six different people. It’s non-high fantasy, meaning no elves, no dwarves, no dragons, through I do sprinkle in quite a bit of black magic. I stray from politics, and focus largely on actions and emotions. Some of the characters, particularly two of the protagonists and one of the villains, consume the lion’s share of the action, but the other three get plenty of screen time. One of the characters, the young woman Andelusia, ended up being my favorite. (Who knew I liked writing women so much? Not I.) In Dark Moon Daughter, I cut the main character roster down to four (actually more like 3.5.) One of their stories I tell exclusively via first-person journal entries, so the character is heard from but rarely seen. I thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace, and continued the journal tactic well into Nether Kingdom, the darkest entry in the series and by far my favorite.

Combined, these three titles have consumed nearly twelve years and countless nights in my man-cave. It’s been one hell of a ride, and now that I’ve committed to a prequel, it seems the end isn’t quite at hand. I’m currently in the final stages of publishing the second two books, and I’m thrilled. Commercial success isn’t really the aim. It’s a labor of love. To all writers everywhere, I suggest a similar outlook. Love the words first. Let all other considerations be secondary. I’m convinced finishing a book or sometimes even a chapter is like an orgasm, except it lasts longer and there’s less cleanup (sometimes.)

And finally, throughout the years I’ve posted tons of images online for the series. Here are my favorites:

Dead trees (2)

A pencil sketch I did a while back. It’s supposed to be the dread fortress Malog as viewed from a distance. Thank goodness I hired professionals to clean up my mess.

Very Dark Buildings

The dark city of Illyoc, hub of Furyon commerce. It’s here our heroes must venture to reach Malog. Art by Eileen Herron.

Furyon Orig

Eileen Herron’s first image of a Furyon knight standing beneath the Emperor’s storm. His armor is Dageni steel, and is nigh indestructible.

Soul Orb Small Image

Amanda Makepeace’s first imagining of the Soul Orb. Notice the subtle runes on the Orb. The language of the Ur becomes a focus of the second two novels in the series.

Ande Best Cover 600x800 for Kindle

Eileen Herron’s original cover. I have the painting in my man-cave. That’s Garrett Croft riding with the blue-flamed sword. The Soul Orb looks angrier here, its thorns reaching to claim Andelusia.

Dark Moon Daughter – Due out early 2014

Nether Kingdom – Due out late 2014

Until next time…

J Edward Neill

 

It was only a matter of time.

 There’s something I’ve been dying to admit. That I’ve held out this long is surprising. I know I’ve written about inspiration before, about all the movies and books and pieces of art that’ve blown my mind and lit bonfires beneath my imagination. I’m sure I’ve even touched on all my little childhood adventures in the spooky cornfields behind my grandparents’ house, my epic all-night Halloweens, and the time my uncle dropped all his old Dungeons and Dragons books in my lap and said, “These are for you.”

But this time I’m gonna go deeper.

Link

Remember this guy? Yeah, me too.

Yes, it’s true. There’s another medium that shaped me into my special blend of eccentric, obnoxious, and extroverted.  Games. Not board games (though those were certainly involved). Video games. I’m not talking about Xboxes and Playstations, Gamecubes and Segas. I’m talking old school, right after Pong and Asteroids, right in middle of the primordial soup that was the Atari 2800, the original NES, the first Texas Instruments keyboard game system, and yes, even that bastion of awesomeness, the Intellivision.

Who here remembers the Intellivision? I’m guessing 10%, and maybe not even that many of you. That’s ok. Doesn’t matter.  The Intellivision, bless its soul, arrived in my realm of awareness just days after my tenth birthday. My auntie sat me down in front of an ancient black and white tv, handed me a strange-looking and awkward-to-hold controller and said, “This is for you.” And my life forever changed.

Intel

Looks lame, right? But this little thing made for a whole new experience.

Oh, but that was a beautiful day. I mean; I’d already memorized all my Dungeons and Dragons books, read House of the Baskervilles ten trillion times, and used a plastic He-Man sword to wage endless war against the invisible hordes in the backyard at dusk, but this game system was something different. My imagination soared. “Are you sure?” I asked my auntie. “Yes,” she told me. “You can play until bedtime. No longer than that.”

As if…

And so, for the next four-hundred thousand hours, I tumbled into this new medium. For me, video games were never just games. They were a way for me to pretend I was a part of the story, that the hero’s sword was in my hands, the villains’ wicked powers at my beck and call, and whole armies mine to move. On the Intellivision, I played epic titles such as Treasure of Tarmin, Utopia, and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. And later, when the NES rolled up in my face, I lived and died playing the original Zelda, Metroid, Kid Icarus, and pretty much every other game with a fantasy or sci-fi twist. It didn’t stop when I put the controller down. I daydreamed so deeply it fundamentally altered who I was. I made up epic stories in my mind about my roles in each game. I acted as though I was the lead character…and the main villain. At school, I’d draw myself battling the dragons in the games. And when auntie or anyone dared tell me to put the games down, I’d go to bed dreaming of fighting the monster…or of being the monster.

Tarmin

This guy right here. I hated this guy. He kicked my ass and stole ALL my lunch money.

The obsession continued well into my teens. I still read my books, played football with my friends, socialized, pined hopelessly after girls, et cetera. But back then, before I discovered the art of writing, I’d spent my nights with the games. I’d crawl into bed, turn out all the lights, and become Link, Samus, Icarus, the guy from Dragon Warrior, or any of the faceless dudes video games of the 80’s refused to name. I didn’t play just to win. I played for the sake of playing. Things like the eerie music in Metroid and the epic scope of Zelda set the atmosphere for countless dreams…and unbeknownst to me, laid the foundational stones for my entire style of artistic expression. While other kids were bragging about beating Street Fighter or walking through all the bosses in Zelda without once dying, I was storyboarding for the future without even knowing it. Who knew it could happen? Definitely not I.

So yeah, there’s a tiny window into my soul. Video games have come a long, long way since those beloved nights. Even though it’s true I love my Skyrim, my Halo, my Civilization, my Twilight Princess, Metroid Prime, and my Doom, the oldest games remain closest to my heart. If ever I’m writing fantasy, maybe my forests look a little bit like Hyrule’s. Whenever I’m dreaming up a new deep space horror story, the dark mood of Metroid will splash a bit of black paint onto my mind’s canvas. Even blogging about it gives me ideas, some of which I’ll jot down tonight…and finish twenty years from now.

Maybe there’re a few others out there who are affected the same as I. If so, please drop by in the comments section. I’d love to hear your stories.

Until next time…

J Edward Neill

Who in the Hell…?

Blank

Ask anyone who knows. If they’re so inclined, they’ll probably tell you a few things about me. Maybe. Maybe not. What are some things they might say? Well…they’ll tell you I’m about 6′ 1″, that I have cropped blonde hair, a short and bristly beard, and a general problem with authority. They’ll know I’m athletic, extremely competitive, sometimes humble, and just as often arrogant. They might even tell you about my perfectionist nature, my need to keep everything in its place, how I’m comfortable in large groups of people, but generally unreachable in intimate settings.

What else will they know? Very little, I think. It’s hard for people to know a man (or a woman) who spends so much time walling the world out. What won’t they know? Well…they’ll probably have no idea about the strained relationship I have with my parents. They’d probably tell you my gregarious facade is genuine, that I make friends very easily, that I’ve a good work ethic, but am certainly not obsessive. They might even believe I’m not half as haunted as I claim, that I’m a womanizer, and that all I think about is winning, women, and proving myself in the world.

They’d be wrong, to be sure.

I keep my secrets close…very close. For instance, I doubt anyone in the world save the very best of my friends knows that I’ve only once been in love. The poor girl, no matter how long I’ve known her, doesn’t know as much, but I was dumbstruck with love the first time I saw her, and have been ever since. My best friend, bless his heart, doesn’t really know he’s my only friend, and that everyone else is too far removed by time and distance. More importantly, for all the passion and perfectionism I pour into my work, my duties, and the games I play, I really don’t love those things. I love family. I love my woman. For all my blustering, all I really want is her and my family. I think about it so often my heart threatens to implode, for I so seldom have what I want. I’m too long at my work, too many leagues removed, and too obsessed with being perfect. I’ve been known to sit in the dark and sharpen one of the many swords in my collection, all the while wishing I were sitting at a table, surrounded by all those I whom I love. It’s all I want. I swear it.

 * * *

You won’t know me at all, not the real me. Maybe I’ll help you out and tell a little bit. I’m from a small town in the middle of nothing and nowhere; population: 355. Growing up, I only lived with one parent. I had only one real friend in my youth, a relationship I’ll always miss. My first work was as a bartender, which I was entirely too young to be doing. My customers spent most of their time trying to bed me, and the rest being drunk…and offensive. What did they see in me? I’m not really sure. To this day, I’m still as skinny as a whip, pale as the moon, and so very lost in a permanent state of daydreaming.

Coherent thoughts are rare for me. Honestly, coherant anything is. Since leaving home, I’ve lived in more places than I can recall. Would you believe I once lived in a mansion? It’s true. The place was huge (and full of soldiers preparing for a war!) I once spent a week living in the woods…during the wet season…with only two changes of clothes. It was amazing. And then, after my week in the woods, I lived in the oldest building in the oldest town in the entire country. For a daydreamer like me, it was heaven, though only for a while.

Because you see, in-between all my daydreams, I think extremely dark things. It happens especially at night or during cold, cloudy days. I can’t help it. I imagine there’s something very wrong with me, and yet it’s not as though I can run and tell everyone. Not these things. Never. Whenever I’m alone (often) I wonder when and how I’ll die. Will I be a ghost after I’m dead? I ask myself. Will I wander the world forever? Will the clouds come down and drown me? If I slip beneath the water at night, will I ever want to come up? Am I already dead? Is all of this just a dream?

It’s not that I’m suicidal. I’m not. It’s just that I’m…complicated. I’d apologize for it, but tomorrow I’ll still be the same.

* * *

I won’t apologize for who I am. The word ‘sorry‘ isn’t in my vocabulary. But it’s true; I’ve done many things in my life I’m not proud of. Growing up in my world was never easy. I was a son, a father, a brother, but I also played hundreds of roles far less noble. I’m not a braggart. In fact, I rarely talk at all. For all my failures and successes, no one in the world knows my feelings about any of them. The truth is; I’ve been in more fights than I’ll ever admit. I’ve hurt too many people, good and bad. I never enjoyed it, not once. But I did it, and it’s a part of who I am. This life has precious little room for weakness, and none for cowards. I sound judgemental. I sound harsh. I sound hard. I’m none of these things. I’m as human as the rest of you, only not.

Some people are jacks of many trades. They’re good at conversation, at cooking, dancing, living, and loving. Not I. The reality is I’m only good at one thing, and I can’t tell you what it is. I’d rather you never know. It’s as I said; I’m not a boastful man, but save for one or two others in the world, I’m the best at this one thing. I’m focused. I learn. I set all hope of happiness aside just to excel. Everything that has ever happened in the world was a learning experience for someone. But things don’t happen to me. Things happen because of me, and few of them good. That’s the nature of my talent. I can’t say much more about it.

The strangest thing about me, and the thing some will say defines me, is that I never ask questions. Never. Not ever. I can’t bring myself to do it. The words ‘how, why, who, what, and where’ are foreign to me. I learn nothing from asking questions of people. I learn everything by watching them. People are creatures of habit. Watch them enough, and their habits will become clear. This is true of their moods, the way they work, they ways they argue, laugh, listen, and love. But more than anything, it’s true of the way they fight. And that’s all that should matter to me. I want to be a lover, a father, a soulful celebrant of this beautiful world we live in. I do. I swear it. But I’m not any of these things. I’m only here to do what I’m good at, nothing more.

And that, my friends, seems a shame.

* * *

You won’t believe me. Why should you? By now you’ve heard about me. You’ve seen what I’m capable of. And if you haven’t, you will soon enough.

It’s true, all of what they’ll tell you. I’ve gotten away with murder. Again and again and again. Truth be told, I can’t name or remember a single soul I’ve killed. Why should I? They’re dead. Their part in this world has ended. Mine has just begun.

I’m exactly as they describe me. I’m 6’2″, 200lbs. I’ve hair black as a raven’s feathers and skin as ashen as curdled milk. At least, I think I do. I’m not much for mirrors. I’m not handsome. I’m not noble, wise, or capable of normal relationships. My father lives like a king some five-hundred miles away. My mother is…well…who knows where she is? Meanwhile, here I am, as alone as any soul in the world. So to hell with it. If I’m going to be a part of this miserable, wretched world, I’m going to take a large chunk of it with me…into the abyss.

In the end, it won’t matter. I’ll be just as dead as all the thousands I’ve laid in the grave. All the fires I’ll set will eventually go out. The world, if it’s lucky, will go back to the way it was before I set foot in this damnable country. Or maybe not. Maybe all the hard work I’m doing will change everything. Maybe all the wars will end forever. And that’s ultimately why I’m doing this. I’m tired. I weary of it all. The human wheel of war, peace, and war needs its cogs shattered. If, by the sheer stench of the fires I light, the cycle should snap, my bones will smile in my coffin. If it takes a few million dead to accomplish it, I’m fine with that. It’s my happiness that matters, and no one else’s.

* * *

Ok, the jig is up. None of these truths are mine. None of these stories belong to me. Had you going for a moment there, didn’t I? Forgive me. Each one of these is a profile for a primary character in Down the Dark Path. The only question is; which belongs to who?

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

 

Death and Cranberry Sauce

It’s Thanksgiving week. For some of us that means roasted fauna, houses packed with kids, and huge dinners with family. For others it’s a chance to raid retail America at 4AM to wage jihad against our rival shoppers. And perhaps, for a few, it’s a chance to reflect upon our good fortunes and spend a few hours or days among those we cherish most.

Let me level with you. For me, it’s mostly a chance to write even later into the night than usual.

turk

Turkey: “So I’m safe?”
Me: “Only until I finish one more chapter!”

As I sit here in the dark, my laptop humming away, I try to think of appropriate topics to fill the holiday void. Maybe, I think, I’ll write a nice piece about turkeys. Nah. Too ridiculous. Everyone already knows how amazing turkeys taste. Well…what about a nice anecdotal essay of all the glorious Thanksgiving feasts I’ve devoured? Nope. Too hunger-inducing. Ok. Maybe a nutty short story about zombie pilgrims, seven-barreled blunderbusses, and cranberry sauce gone evil? Meh. Maybe next year.

As it turns out, aside from Halloween, the holidays just aren’t that inspiring word-wise to me. With all the reindeer, jingling bells, and Stove Top stuffing, everything merry is pretty much covered. Seems I’d rather write about castles crumbling, warlocks trying to end the world, and maidens not-so-fair. Yep. Fantasy tropes galore. Santa was never very good at swordplay anyhow.

And so, lacking anything holiday-appropriate, I’ve decided to tackle a much darker subject this week. Death. Yes, death. Specifically the killing off of fictional characters. More specifically the way I like to do it when I write.

Why, you ask? “It’s the holidays, J Edward. You’re supposed to be cheerful.” Well…perhaps it’s the weather (grey and sunless) or maybe it’s the chill in the air. Or more likely it’s because I’m neck deep in putting the finishing touches on Dark Moon Daughter and completing the final episode of Hollow Empire. A glimpse at the names of these two titles should be enough to let you know. These are dark fantasy works. And that means lots of characters need killing.

I suppose some writers agonize over ending the careers of their favorite characters. After all, these fictional folks become a part of us. We are them, and they are us. The longer we spend with them, the more we come to know and love them. The same goes for readers of fiction. I’ve been there. I know. When Gandalf the Grey plummeted off the bridge with the Balrog, I suffered some heart stoppage. When Javert threw himself in the river in Les Miserables, I felt all, “WTF?” Heck, when Sauron got spanked in Return of the King, I was a little sniffly.

Writing a character’s death, however…that’s a whole other matter for me. I crave it. I love it. Having marched so many miles in their mud-encrusted boots, having survived with them through war and darkness, I’ve lived inside them and experienced things I never could in my ordinary life. But when the curtain falls and the lights go out, it’s time for them to meet their makers. Not all of them, mind you. Just enough to keep the reader wondering.

Ending a character’s life, no matter how beloved, has become a way for me to move on to the next hero, the next villain, the next part of the writing experience. When most readers close a book they’re reading, the characters live on in their hearts. It’s the same for me. But when I slam shut the cover of my own works, I want to remember the way my characters left the world. I like a story finished, all the loose ends tied up, all doubts ended. And for some characters, that means a sharp shovel and some cold earth. Those of you who’ve read Down the Dark Path might snicker at that last part and say, “I call BS, J Eds. There’s this part at the end in which...” Yeah, I know. To you I say, “Just wait for Nether Kingdom.”

So let’s talk about technique. How’s it done? How do you reach out and snatch the reader’s heart out of their chest? How do you become a killer? For starters, let’s talk about how not to do it. In a popular novel I recently finished (not to be named for fear of retribution) two clutch characters are murdered in the same chapter. One, fittingly so, gets a few final words, a vivid description of his end, and even a zinger of a quip mocking the man and his life. The other…well… she gets none of these. In fact, we’re not even sure she’s dead. We’re left wondering, not for mystery’s sake, but solely due to poor description, whether this woman has been murdered or not. The result is that I cared about the one death, but felt totally ambiguous about the other. Not good. Made me mad. You cheated me, Mr. Author. You promised two, but only gave me one.

brave

Yeah I know it’s a movie, not a book. Maybe I just enjoy seeing Mel Gibson suffer.

How then do you do it? I won’t claim to be the expert on character death. Far from it. But I’ve some practice in the realm, and here’s my process. Foremost, unless the plan is to resurrect ’em or purposefully trick the reader into thinking their favorite huggy little elf or blundering hero has died when they haven’t, then make sure you kill ’em dead. The first time. Leave no questions. Let the Grim Reaper walk right up and snatch the character’s soul away with his cold, bony claws. Be absolute. Second, and here’s the key, make it vivid. I’m not talking about fountains of blood (although sometimes…) or pages upon pages of last words and, “…tell my wife I love her.” I mean give us the skinny. Was the character sick before he died? Well…tell us about his shivers, his eyes gone cold, his wide-eyed stare at the heavens once he’s gone. Did the princess burn alive in her ivory tower? Ok…give us her pain, her dress turning to ash, her arms curling across her chest. What about battle? Did Ser Bigsword meet Lord Darknuts and bite off more than he could chew? Good. I want to read about the bad guy carving his armor to ribbons. I want to know his terror. Admit it; so do you.

Because ultimately, that’s why you’re so invested in the characters’ lives. Because maybe, just maybe, your favorite knight, scullery maid, or kindly, soft-spoken wizard could suddenly meet their end. And if the author insists on doing that to you, you’ve every right to insist he does it right. I’ll do it for you. That’s a promise.

So…Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your feasts, your shopping, and your families. I’ll still be here in my dungeon, awaiting your return. If you’ve a favorite character in Down the Dark Path, I’d worry for their health…

J Edward Neill

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Movie Makes the Man (Sometimes)

Once upon a time, I contended for the title of the world’s biggest movie buff.

Every week between 1990 and 2008, I’d scan the roster of movies coming out that Friday (or Thursday night, if I felt like wrecking my sleep patterns). Typically between 5-8 new movies would pop up on my radar. Honestly, I wanted to see almost all of them. I’d set aside a large portion of my paycheck to see the ones that excited me first, but early in the next week I’d shell out more cash to see the ones I felt only ‘meh’ about. The quality of the movies became less important than the quantity. I found things to like about ALL of them, no matter how terrible, boring, or absurd.

You're right, Arnie. I will be.

You’re right, Arnie. You will be. And so will I.

And then…

After I cleaned out the theaters of anything even remotely watchable, I’d rent VHS tapes (remember those?) and later DVDs from Blockbuster. I went back and watched movies I’d already seen a hundred times (I’m looking at you, Terminator, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Braveheart). I’d rent foreign films whose characters’ names I couldn’t pronounce and whose titles have largely leaked out of my mind, but whose subtle lessons stuck like super glue. I’d watch and watch and watch. I’d go to work and quote, quote, quote. I’d try to help all my friends by telling them which movies were awesome and which ones sucked and which ones, “…just aren’t for you, Russell.”

At some point in 2009, I fell off the wagon. Real life began to shove my movie obsession aside, and the urge to write novels late into each night defeated my lust to consume endless film. I went from ‘…watches 4-7 flicks per week’ to my current state of ‘…has only been to the theater twice in three years’ and ‘…hasn’t sat on the couch and watched a good movie in eons.’

And yet…

To this day, some of those movies, however random, stick with me. Some have influenced my tastes, others contain quotes I can’t let go of, and still others I’ve absorbed parts of for use in daily life. Yes, I know that’s weird. Eating movies and find them nutritious. Copying fictional characters’ behaviors. What the f@#$(? .

So here are some of the ones that really stuck. Go ahead and laugh, roll your eyes, and maybe reminisce a little bit. But mostly, enjoy:

Office Space. Milton. You remember him. To this day, I hide my stapler. Admit it; some of you do, too.

Office Space. Milton. You remember him. To this day, I hide my stapler. Admit it; some of you do, too. Come to think of it, I hide everything at my desk. Ask me to borrow a pen, and I’ll deny I ever had one.

Arizona

Everything about this movie. All of it.

 

Everyone else in the theater (about twenty people) fled within the first hour. I stayed. And then I watched it twice more that week. In the same theater. What the hell was wrong with me?

Baseketball: Everyone else in the theater (about twenty people) fled within the first hour. I stayed. And then I watched it twice more that week. In the same theater. And this wasn’t even the worst movie I did this for. What the hell was wrong with me??

 

Look I washed

The not-so-famous ‘Look, I washed for supper!’ scene from Saving Private Ryan. Even today, I sometimes quote this line and mimic the Germans’ hand waving. And people get all like, ‘What the F is wrong with J?’

  • I try to wear shades resembling the Terminator’s. Yes, really. And no, I don’t (…look like the Terminator. Sadly…)
  • Whenever it rains, I quote Braveheart’s, “Oh it’s fine Scottish weather, madam. The rain’s falling straight down. Well, slightly to the side-like.”
  • I keep three naked female vampires in my castle’s basement, a la Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and I feed them babies (ok, that’s not actually true)
weather

In 2005’s The Weather Man, Nic Cage runs out of cash in his wallet after buying a single cup of coffee. His dad, the mighty Michael Caine, asks, “”You had enough money to buy a coffee, but not a paper?” Ever since I watched this seemingly innocuous scene, I’ve been a little OCD about having at least $20 in cash in my wallet…at all times. I’m completely serious. Mostly.

Willow

In 1988’s Willow, the High Aldwin asks Willow which finger contains the power to control the universe. Willow almost chooses the correct answer, which is to pick his own finger. No lies; ever since watching that scene 487 times, I force myself to look inward when solving any problem. (Plus I developed a brief crush on Sorsha, quickly dispelled when she later showed up in that movie with Bill Murray)

Fight club

Fight Club is top ten for me. One of my fav quotes (besides ALL of them) was and is: “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”
Modern day philosphy at its finest…

Speaking of movies, I hear this will one day make for a great one.

This too.

Love,

J Edward Neill

 

 

 

Caption Contest – Part 1 of 10,000

Who likes free stuff? I know I do.

Who likes captioning random pictures? Yes. Have some.

For the first contest in my ten-thousand part series, I’m offering a sparkly, brand-spanking-new softcover edition of Down the Dark Path. If you win, I’ll sign the inside cover, box it up, and ship it to your house (on my dime) wrapped in a scrumptious bouquet of potpourri and ancient Mayan bone fragments. Ok, that last part is only partly true. The fragments will probably belong to my neighbors. I prefer to shop locally.

Anyway, the rules are simple. Whoever’s caption of the G-Man sporting his new ink amuses me the most…wins. Add your comment in the comments section of the blog, and I’ll choose a winner. All entries must be submitted by Friday, Nov 15th at Midnight. If you win, I’ll contact you somehow (probably by knocking at your door, a la the dead son in my favorite short story of all time, The Monkey’s Paw) and snag your shipping address. No international requests, please. Unless you’re a publisher. And rich. Or if you’re Ken Jeong.

Here’s the photo. G-Man acquired this ink courtesy of All or Nothing Tattoo after a night of binge drinking and building Thomas the Train puzzles:

GTat

‘Got this one in Afghanistan, 2011. Pretty f’n sweet, huh?’

Enjoy, and good luck.

J Edward Neill

Dark Moon Daughter (An excerpt)

Greetings everyone. The following is an excerpt from the final draft of Dark Moon Daughter, Book II in the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy. The chapter this text appears in is named Dance with the Dead. It has long been of my favorites.

Please enjoy:

Three Skulls

Andelusia awoke when night was at its deepest. The air was cool, the breezes gliding like ghosts over her skin, and the trees still and soundless. The moon, though nearly full, spilled precious little light into the forest, its glow barely bright enough to glaze the topmost limbs with a sorrowful, sallow light. She expected to be blind in the dark, but when she blinked away the last vestiges of sleep she found she could see as though it were early twilight beneath an open, cloudless sky. She did not ask her eyes to do as much. They just do, she thought. They work the way they were always supposed to.

She took a moment to gather herself, brushing the dirt and bone gristle from the front of her pants. Her terror was gone. Her heartbeat was steady and strong. She did not know it yet, but her hair, once the color of rubies and red wine, had turned blacker than pitch during her sleep, while her eyes were the blighted hue of spent charcoal. She was altered beyond her own understanding. I am more alive than ever, she knew. Though not by any natural means.

Her new power pounded through her veins and into her skull, a thousand shadows whispering in her mind. The feeling was fresh to her, too fresh, and at first she felt dizzy with it. When she tried to take a step away from the tree she had slept beneath, she staggered. When she looked to the moon, its light was as blinding as the sun.

After she gathered her feet beneath her and shook the moonlight from her eyes, she stood beside the tree, flexing her fingers and staring into her palms. What can I do with this power? She wondered. So many things.

She shut her eyes and let the night take hold. The world became a murky place, half real and half dream. All sound drained away. After a few breaths under, she opened her eyes and swished the flat of her hand like a dagger through the air. It worked as she knew it would. She felt her skin fade into shadow, rendering her invisible, her body becoming more ghost than woman. I can do this anytime I desire, she knew. If only I had known…

With a flick of her wrist, she snapped her palm above her head. When she did, the moonlight blazing on the nearby limbs vanished. The thickets around her fell into impenetrable darkness, a black darker than any ink, though she could still see through it. I can create night. She smiled. No more broiling beneath the sun. No more light creeping into my bedchamber. The world shall be as black as I dare to ask for.  

And then she tried something else.

The idea slipped like a moonbeam into her mind. She cupped her hands as if to catch water from a fountain, and when she did a dark fume began to broil between her fingers. Hot enough to melt iron and burn bone into ash, the black flame smoldered and smoked, and yet she was unscathed. The ebon tongues of fire felt as mutable as clay in her grasp, and more dangerous than any substance in the world. It danced wildly on the tips of her fingers, threatening to leap into the trees until she closed her fist around it, snuffing it out.

When the black fire fled, she quaked and stared wide-eyed at her fingers. What was that? She felt stunned it had not slain her. The voices. I remember what they said. ‘The weapon,’ they whispered. One touch can kill a person. Much more can kill thousands.   

She had no more time for experimentation, she knew. She did not understand why her magicks had chosen this moment to awaken, but it does not matter. This night has been long in coming. I have what I need to defeat the Uylen. I must find the Pages.  

She left the ancient tree behind. She became one with the shadows. Like a slip of winter wind, she glided effortlessly between the trees, who dozed like the dead, heedless of her passing. She made no sound where she floated, no crunch of dry leaves or snap of sharp twigs, for she was only a passing shade, a blot of ink, a shiver in the night. She might as well have been a spirit, for no living creature heard her, not the crow whose tree she flew beneath, not the bats, not even the Uylen, several of whom she floated treacherously near to.

The darkness was her playground. She roamed an hour deep into the forest, then two, until she came to another clearing riddled with Uylen totems. Ten skulls hung from a thick strand of human sinew, their empty gazes falling upon her like a morbid audience. She was not afraid. She emerged from the shadows and walked right up to them, clicking several with her finger. Everyone in Thillria will look like this, she imagined, if the Uylen have their way. 

And then she saw them, five Uylen dozing beside the blood-mottled trunk of a nearby tree. The creatures had a campsite, if it could be called as much. She glimpsed their filthy blankets spread across the wet the loam, a pile of dust-covered pillows, and three white jugs filled with a nameless liquid. The Uylen were skeletal, so emaciated that their flesh puckered between their ribs, which were countable even at a distance. Even as she tapped the last of the totem skulls, their eyes, as useless in their heads as river rocks, snapped open. They are aware of me. She froze. They can smell me.

The Uylen creaked and groaned and rose to their feet. The moonlight shined upon their faces, white on white, their skins livid as dead men. She knew she could escape any time she wanted, so she stayed right where she was. They sniffed the air and clicked their daggerlike nails. Watch this. A foolish thought came to her. Standing in the clearing’s heart, she teased them into coming closer with a snap of her fingers and a cluck of her tongue. Their knees popped and their jaws fell open. They came within ten paces, but then halted. They lost me, she laughed inside. They need me to make another noise.

She exhaled, and the Uylen moved three steps closer. My heart. They can hear it beating…

* * *

Dark Moon Daughter – Kindle and Paperback versions to arrive in early 2014 – Prologue and First Chapter currently available on the Tessera Guild Downloads page.

J Edward Neill

Calling all Bloggers!

imagesCACU84DE Happy Halloween hangover, everyone. Alas, the best non-holiday holiday of the year has come and gone.

Typically, Fridays are somewhat slim here at Tessera. That’s because, at least for the moment, we’ve got five days to fill, but only four artists. Much as we’d love to blog 24/7/365, we’re spread out over our many projects like cream cheese on a box of bagels.  We’re delicious, but there’s only so much of us to go around.  

That’s where you might come in.

We’re currently seeking talented guest bloggers to help us make our Fridays more exciting. We’re interested in anyone with something interesting to say. Got a unique perspective you’d like to share? Got a crazy story you’re dying to tell? Got a comic book, a novel, a painting, or a photo album of your latest cosplay event in Tijuana you’d like to show off? Maybe you’re the one we’re looking for.

BestWrite

The pen is mightier than the sword. The keyboard is stronger still.

So if you’re interested and willing to submit to our terrifying gantlet of questions (usually we’ll just ask for a small sample of your writing/storytelling skills) send us an email HERE. We’ll check you out. If you’re qualified, we’ll find room for you on one of many, many Fridays to come.

Much love,

J Edward Neill

Clearwater Chronicle

Clearwater 2013 View from WindowI recently made the long drive to Clearwater, Fl.  And no, it doesn’t mean I love George Zimmerman.

I made this little journey with two goals in mind. The first: to see an old friend who’d arrived in the States from Denmark. The second: to carve a few days out of my routine life and recapture some mojo for writing. Both, I think, proved successful.

Beach at twilight

I wish the water looked just like this for far longer than three minutes each night…

While walking the beach each morning, day, and night, I tried to pay better attention than during previous vacations. I picked my gaze up out of the water (which was too cold for swimming anyhow) and observed my surroundings. And wow, the things I saw:

  • On the first day, after a grueling round of sand 2v2 volleyball, I watched as a British family near the water argued. Ah, the Brits. Their colorful language attracted the attention of everyone within a half-mile. But the real action started when the mother walked right up to her foul-mouthed daughter and punched (not slapped) her right in the chops! No one could believe what had happened. The daughter howled. The dad…laughed. The mom unleashed a stream of profanities I haven’t heard since the last time I watched Snatch. It…was…awesome… More importantly, I can’t get enough of the way the Brits drop the F bomb
  • That night, I saw The Counselor. Now, without getting too deep in spoilers, I’ll just say I love it when the bad guys win. It’s rare in movies, but utterly realistic. The monologues delivered by several characters were deeply philosophical. No one would ever talk like that in real life, but it didn’t matter. Truth is truth, especially grim, hard truth. Movie Review – A
  • On the first night in my hotel, I arrived in my room on the top floor. I had an ocean view, just as requested. The dark water was spread out beneath my window, roiling beneath the stars. I thought to myself, “This is perfect. I’ll get tons of writing done tonight.” But…just as I sat down by the window, the hotel’s elephantine AC system kicked on atop the roof, making my room shake as though a helicopter were landing three feet above my head. I’m all for white noise, but this was absurd. “My night’s ruined,” I feared. “And besides, the concierge is a dead man.” And yet, as it turned out, I was able to tune out the sound of my room shaking and write an entire chapter for Hollow Empire, my joint venture with John McGuire. Strange indeed
Dark Water

The ocean. At night. What else do you need?

Falling Star over ClearwaterOther random events I observed while walking the city:

  • A homeless guy pretending to be a broke tourist. I’d seen him try his little game the previous day, so when he walked up to a young woman and said, “My wife and I are in town for the weekend, but we lost our credit cards. Do you think you could spare me some cash? She really needs her coffee,” I laughed a little bit inside. Sorry, homeless guy, you need to work on your approach. Begging for coffee money isn’t going to cut it
  • A woman with a giant (I mean enormous) tramp stamp of a volleyball. I’ve seen bad tattoos, and then I saw this. It was huge, as in actual-size huge. Just…no…
  • A dude at a Halloween (Best non-holiday holiday ever, btw) party dressed as Christian Grey. His costume: 50 grey-shaded sample paint cards from Home Depot duct-taped to an otherwise unremarkable shirt. While he didn’t win the best costume prize, he won the admiration of every woman at the party
  • Jesus playing Sweet Home Alabama on guitar…with an actual crown of thorns worn over a head full of dreadlocks…drinking Fruit Loop flavored vodka. Yes, really

What does any of this have to do with regaining  mojo for writing? In a nutshell: people-watching. Observe the interesting things people do, listen to the crazy things they say, and add the experience to the card catalogue in your brain. Or, if people-watching doesn’t inspire you, try walking along the ocean at night. If that doesn’t bring you peace, you may want to try vicodin.

Next week I get serious, delivering an excerpt from Dark Moon Daughter, Book II in the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy.

Much love,

J Edward Neill

 

Getting in the mood…

dark treesEver sat down to write, 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 that dark corner of your imagination can be challenging, but weapons are available beyond a quiet room, an empty house, or a glass of red wine. This writer believes that Music, and more specifically Soundtracks, can help the artist soar back into the atmosphere of his mind. Before ever setting pen to paper (or more typically fingers to keyboard) I 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, I believe every book and every chapter therein has its own music. You need but find your own.

And so…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…

matte-painting-atmosphere

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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…
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

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.

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

 

 

Welcome to Tessera – a Creative Guild

Hello. Welcome to Tessera – A Creative Guild. My name is J Edward Neill. You can call me J. It’s great to meet you. I’m glad you stopped by.

A few months ago, three fellow artists and I opened a door together. We’d been friends of a sort, long ago, but we’d been flung apart by life, circumstance, and the pursuit of our separate dreams. But…on one unremarkable day in the summer of 2013, something unexpected happened. The four of us were involved in a slow-speed, four-car collision at the intersection of ‘We want to spend our lives creating’ and ‘How in the hell do we do it?’ We’ve always been that type, they and I. We want to live, breath, and die in what we create. We want our art to define us. And so here we are.

In case you wondered, we are:

Amanda Makepeace: Painter, Photographer, Web-Warrior Princess, Blogger, Writer, and Lover of Wilderness. I wish I were half as web-savvy as Amanda. Were it not for her, I’d have drowned in the internet long before Tessera saw the light of day

Chad J Shonk: Movie-Maker, Author, Blogger, and Brave Escapee to the Wild, Wild West. I envy Chad his escape from the Southeast, but less so his status as a new father

John McGuire: Comic Book Crafter, Author, Serial Novelist, and general badass neighbor. John is one of few folk alive who can thank himself for inspiring me to write, though I’ll never tell him the why or how of it

J Edward Neill: That’s me.

I still remember my first encounters with John, Chad, and Amanda. We were different people in the dark ages of our youths, but somehow we were the same. Even then, long before we reconnected for Tessera, we existed in a guild of sort. We used to meet in the school library well before the bell rang to announce first period. We were the Breakfast Club, the Goonies, and the White Council all wrapped into one juicy, creative enchilada. If you’ve ever been a part of a group like this, you know exactly what I mean. It’s sacred. No matter what happens when we grow up, it never leaves us.

And so, in the dead of summer 2013, the four of us e-bumped into each other and decided, after very little angst, to crack a door open. It was a musty old portal. Its hinges squealed. Its planks were dry and warped, but as sturdy as stone. The sunlight slipped in through the crack we made, along with a few shadows. Many years had passed us by since last we convened like this. Our individual works were so vastly different than each other’s. Across the eons, we’d scripted movies, painted haunting works of art, created edgy comics, and written novels. We knew we wanted to present a unified front, but not how.

Enter Tessera. If you’re wondering what Tessera means, look it up. It’s Greek. Old Greek. The name fits, and so we stole it away into the night. After we pilfered ourselves the name, we went to work. In a very non-literal sense, the four of us hunkered in a room with a lamp, plucked our pens and paintbrushes from their hiding places behind our ears, and started to write…and draw…and paint…and write some more. We’re not kidding. We take our work seriously. That’s why we’re here.

So…what can you expect from Tessera? Content. Lots of it. We’re driven, we are. I like to think we’d all gladly move to a cabin on the side of some lonely mountain, and create from now until the end of time. Instead of that, we’ll be here every weekday, blogging our wee hearts out. We have downloadable content, including free art, excerpts from novels, short stories, and more. We have stuff for you to buy: books, art, comics…delve deep enough and you’ll find something for everyone. We’d like to connect with you, our readers. If there’s something you want to see on Tessera, we want you to tell us. We’re also receptive to guest bloggers and new guild members. Pour water on us. Let the sunshine in. We want to grow.

There you have it. Tessera…the four of us in a nutshell. In the coming days, you’ll read introductions from the other members of the guild. I hope you’ll get to know them. They’re good people, and damn fine artists in their chosen mediums. In the coming weeks, you’ll see us flood Tessera with ideas, images, stories, thoughts, hopes, fears, light, darkness, and everything in-between. We hope you’ll visit us every day. We’d relish that. We’re a guild, and every guild needs loyal patrons.

J Edward Neill – Author of the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy, Co-author of the Hollow Empire web series, writer of innumerable  short stories, and lover of everything beneath the clouds

Check out my personal corner of Tessera here

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Contact me here