Writing about SEX without being creepy

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 So here we are. Tessera Guild is more than six months old, and yet there’s not a droplet of pornographic material on our site. Borderline impossible, that feat. I’m not saying this week’s post is gonna snap the streak. I’m just sayin’. Seems every other site is drowning in sexual imagery and conversation. Hell, even CNN posts the occasional nipple, don’t they?

I guess what I’m saying is; sex sells. Well duh. Why shouldn’t it? Even if plenty of folks are more than a little stuck-in-the-50’s about gettin’ busy, deep down everyone wants it, needs it, craves it. It’s like the prize behind every curtain. Mention any topic, seriously any, and I bet we can tie it (no pun intended) back to sex. It’s in the movies, in every Dos Equis commercial, in Halloween stores, Wal-Mart lingerie departments, and off every other exit on Hwy 75 from Atlanta to Miami. Lion’s Den, I’m looking at you.

And of course, it’s in books.

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“Hmmmm… Missionary or surprise flaming dragon? I’m just not sure.”

Disclaimer: I’m not really here to talk about romance or erotica genres. I like to think everyone knows what to expect when they search the aisles for Fifty Shades of whatever. I’m here to talk about every other piece of literature, every fantasy, mystery, horror, sci-fi, etc written with a central story revolving around something besides sex. Because, you know, people do actually f**k outside of Penthouse forums and Christian Grey’s bedroom. Who knew?

Writing sex scenes in fiction is hard. Yeah. Pun intended. Unless you’re gifted with the ability to  spill your hottest fantasies out and come across as less than creepy, you’ve got a challenge on your hands. You’ve got to appeal to guys and gals. You’ve got to set the right mood (just like in real life) work the reader up a bit, rub ’em down where it counts, and then get the F outta there before you distract everyone from the main story. There’re so many things you can do wrong. You can creep the reader out. You can ruin an otherwise realistic flow with a ridiculous, out-of-place, fairy-tale romp. You can be too dry, too clinical, or you can risk being too graphic (I had no idea our heroine was that flexible!) Unless you’re rocking an amazing knowledge of sex and realism, and maybe you are, you risk boredom or creepiness with every groan, sign, and lip-bite.

Now, I’m not gonna sit in my couch, wine in hand, candles blazing on my table, laptop scalding the tops of my thighs, and tell the world how to write about sex. I’ve written my fair share of scenes, but that hardly qualifies me. Rather than preach, I’ll offer up what I like when I’m reading about the deed, and you can decide whether you agree or not.

My top 6 got-to-have-it conditions for a lovely, mid-book bump:

1. Keep it short. (No, not that.) I mean keep the scene short. A huge chapter about crumpled sheets, six-packs, ripped panties, and sweat-beaded boobs belongs in a different kind of book. Give us just a taste. Our imagination will do the rest. Trust me.

2. Unless it’s part of the story, keep the kink to a minimum. If Boffer the Elf has a spanking obsession, no one really cares. Well…maybe a little. (Announcing Boffer and other Spanktastic Tales – Due to hit Kindles in Fall 2015).  Just kidding. Probably.

3. Make it count. Make it relevant. We don’t want sex between a bored housewife and her distracted-by-football husband. Give us a moment worth remembering. Make us tingle. Make us say, “Whew!” If you’re only gonna have one or two sex scenes in the book, you might as well give us something to think about.

4. Realism. If you’re not sure about how to pull a scene off, read up on it. Find some decent erotica and shave the fluff down by 88%. Or even better, go shag someone. Your wife, your husband, your neighbor. Tell ’em you’re doing research. Seriously. Most writing homework tends to be tedious. Not this kind.

5. Have a woman (preferably several) read through it. Odds are, if they’re not creeped out, the guys won’t be either. But if the ladies are all like, “Ick!” maybe it’s time to rethink the robot gang-bang scene. Actually, I just had an idea…

6. Have a cigarette afterwards. What I mean is; don’t forget about what just happened. If two characters got it on for the first time, things will change. It’s just like in real life. Nothing is the same after the moment. If it’s meaningless to the characters, odds are it’ll be meaningless to the reader.

You can probably tell. I’ve leapt back into reading lately. A lot. Most of the novels I’m shredding through contain their share of oh baby, and most of them do it well. I won’t name names (GOT) but a few otherwise excellent works have contained creep-tastic rape fantasy sex or dry-as-bones got-nothing-better-to-write-about sex. Meh. We can do better. As readers, I think we all reserve the right to demand a little more out of our sex scenes. Give us a little more bang for our buck. And yes, I meant that exactly how you wanted me to mean it.

There’s my two cents. What’re you still doing here? Go get some!

Lovingly,

J Edward Neill

So…now that you’re in the mood for sex, go here.

My Top Six Darkest Movie Moments Ever…

Recently I watched and reviewed The Revenant. Which got me to thinking; what are the gravest moments in cinema? During what scenes does it appear all hope is lost and the bad guys about to win? What’re the deepest, darkest places movies have dragged me? Hmmmm…

Yeah. You guessed it. Here comes a list. I’m gonna wander some pretty random places with this. If you hate spoilers, you may want to move along. If not, let’s roll:

Gluttony

 

 #6. Gluttony – Se7en

Honestly I could’ve mentioned almost any of the rainy, dark, grisly scenes in Se7en. The Sloth scene especially comes to mind, but I didn’t want to post the ick-tastic image of the dude dying in his bed, lest I gross everyone out. The Gluttony scene does just fine. It sets the tone for the entire movie. It’s scary and disgusting. It’s everything most of us never want to be: alone, corpulent, filthy, and dead. Yikes. If this scene doesn’t put you in a grim mood, nothing will.

 

 

KillLucy

#5. Killing Lucy – Bram Stoker’s Dracula

When I say killing Lucy, I more or less refer to the entire 45 minutes during which Lucy descends from being Mina’s pretty BFF into a depraved, child-eating, blood-barfing vampire. Cary Elwes lopping off her head is only gravy on the grimness. Lucy begins the movie as a cheerful soul swimming in an ocean of dour, unhappy Brits. And by the end, she’s ruined. Every part of this movie is enough to put me in the mood to write horror, but Lucy’s fall from grace is just plain…delicious.

 

 

PrestigeUse

#4. Hugh Jackman killing his clone (repeatedly) – The Prestige

It’s no secret. The Prestige’s atmosphere always puts me in the mood. It’s my personal fluffer girl. It’s the ‘uh’ to my ‘huh’. The slow sense of despair that builds throughout the movie sets a tone like no other. That said, the darkness really starts when the Great Danton starts murdering all his doubles. He shoots himself. He drowns himself. He leaves his clones in huge vats of grey water. And then, at the end, as he breaths his last few breaths in an alley of clone-corpses, we wonder which Danton really died during all his magic tricks. The clones? Or the real Danton? Are you watching closely?

 

 

No Country for old men

#3. Anton Chigurh ‘visits’ Llewelyn’s wife – No Country for Old Men

The first time I watched this movie, I never saw this scene coming. I figured we’d already broke every rule, every expectation. What was left to do, right? Chigurh had already killed the good guy (and pretty much everyone else). So what else can I say about this scene? It’s chilling on so many levels.

After Llewelyn’s wife (Carla Jean) says, “You don’t have to do this.” Chigurh smiles and says, “People always say the same thing.”

Does he kill her? Does he let her live? I mean…damn…

 

the counselor

 #2. The Counselor gets a DVD in the mail – The Counselor

 Most people I know haven’t seen this movie, so I won’t spoil it here. Let’s just say that there are no good guys, only grey, fuzzy shades of morality all too prevalent in the real world. As the Counselor sits in a grungy hotel room, praying for good news, we get a payoff that’s much darker than we expect. The theater I watched this movie in emptied in stunned silence at the end. Meanwhile my brain buzzed with all sorts of new ideas for messing with readers’ minds.

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 #1. Grenouille accidentally kills the apple girl – Perfume, Story of a Murderer

 I’m convinced I’m the only person ever to watch this movie. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. I had no idea what I was in for when I sat down to swallow this little gem. When Grenouille, the creepiest, crawliest, skinniest villain ever, snuffs the apple girl early on, I only just began to grasp where Perfume was taking me. The scene wasn’t particularly graphic or gut-twisting, but sometimes a glimpse of darkness is all a mind needs before the gears start turning. I think perhaps after my kid falls asleep tonight, I’ll pop this one in, watch a little bit, and then get to work.

It’s probably worth mentioning I write some pretty dark scenes of my own.

Until next week

J Edward Neill

Caption Contest (Part 3 of 10,000)

Oops! A week without skulls! What has the world come to?!

This week, let’s dip back into freebie-ville. It’s simple. You blow up the comments section with a funny caption of my favorite animal in the entire world (her name’s Sticky Buns). Whoever makes me laugh the most wins a free, signed, softcover copy of Dark Moon Daughter, which releases in about two weeks. It’s pretty easy to make me laugh. So if more than one of you bust my gut, I’ll consider multiple free copies.

 

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Sah-wing and a miss!

So let’s review. You make fun of this: IM000021 and if you win, you get this:  Dark Moon Daughter Final Front Cover Large (600x900) (600x900)

Contest ends on Midnight -Friday, April 4th.

Boom.

Love,

J Edward Neill

 

How it all began…

Malog J Sketch

 

 

 

Quite by accident, this week’s blog…

 If not for a cup of chance, I’d have drowned Tessera in an entirely different ocean of bones. But an old friend stumbled upon a twenty year-old folder I thought I’d lost ages ago, and I found myself unable to resist writing about it. Not that twenty years is all that long, but to me, still a wee lad, two decades feels like an eon.

I haven’t always been a writer. Well…maybe a little, but not in the way I am today. Long ago, in the primeval soup of early creative-dom, I fancied myself an artist of a different kind. Not with quill, ink, and keyboard, but with markers, pencils, sketch books, and posterboards. I airbrushed T-shirts, made huge Slayer banners (signed by the band!) and silkscreened dark, crazy images onto every bit of cloth I could find. Those were different days. My stories lived on the tips of my fingers, not in the cavernous void inside my skull.

And then one day I started sketching.

I can’t remember the exact moment. It must’ve been cold outside, or rainy, or both. My mind wandered realms both dark and mysterious during those days. I’d already dreamed up the stories and characters which would later become haunt the pages of Down the Dark Path, but I’d gone no further. Lacking the skill or the means to write an epic fantasy, I likely locked myself in my room, climbed on my captain’s bed, and started drawing the images that’d been locked away in my mind’s dungeon. I wasn’t particularly good at it. I hadn’t attended but a few art classes, and while the teachers had taught class I’d never done anything but daydream. I was a novice, an oaf, a blunderbuss of smudgy pencil rubs and cheap not-meant-for-real-art pens. Even so…

So without further ado, I humbly offer my earliest fantasy scribblings. These are the images I first dreamt of when mortaring the bricks of my first epic novel in my mind. I beg only that you forgive their simplicity, and perhaps appreciate the strange glory of passion without talent:

Grae Knight J Sketch

 

My first try at a Graehelm knight. In retrospect, he needs a saddle, but what did I know? Ignore the tree and tower in the background. They were part of a different sketch crowded on the same page.

 

 

Wraith Sketch 2

 

 

– Look at this ghoulish guy. He’s one of my favorites. He never actually appears in any of my novels, but I like to think he could. He’s reaching out for you. He doesn’t want you dead. He wants you to join him.

 

Wraith Sketch 1

 

 

– Another dead dude. A precursor to the Furyon warlords. I always liked the head of his spiked flail. Imagine getting whacked by that thing…

 

 

Undead J Sketch

 

 

 

– Ok, so maybe one spiked flail head wasn’t enough. Here I sketched two. And if you couldn’t already tell, I really liked (ok, still like) imagery of undead warriors. This hasty little sketch is cartoony and anatomically goofy, but I still thought it belonged. Maybe he’s an undead guardian of the Furyon fortress of Malog. Or maybe he’s a Sarcophage, whom we don’t meet until Book II…

 

 

Grimwain J Sketch

 

– I drew this guy with but one villain in mind. Here lies Grimwain, the Sleeper, the mover of all the world’s pieces on the chessboard of doom. His hood should be deeper, but I feel I nailed his beard, his collar, and his white, starry, and soulless gaze. He doesn’t appear until Book II.

 

 

Ande J Sketch

 

– In the beginning, the heroine Andelusia Anderae inhabited a role far less ‘benevolent’ than who she eventually became. She was harder, grittier, more roguish and fantasy trope-like . This was my first conceptual sketch of her. Clumsy? Yes. Are her boobs too big? Probably. But something in my teenage mind saw a rare emotion in her eyes, and thus was born the Dark Moon Daughter.

 

 

 

Thank you for indulging me. I’ve a ton more sketches, some of which I might hurl up on Tessera should even a mild clamor arise. It’s strange to think that once, so many years ago, I wanted to be a painter, a sculpter, and a fantasy artist god. Thank goodness I kept my day job, right?

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

 

 

 

 

 

Three Badass TV Shows (From a guy who never watches TV)

CroMagSkull

 

 

 I’ve been slacking. No skulls for several weeks now. I must be losing my touch.

This week’s skull is symbolic. He’s a Cro-Magnon, this guy, and damn handsome if you ask me. He lived tens of thousands of years ago, and in a way I identify with him. Like me, he didn’t catch much TV. He didn’t have cable. He never got to watch his favorite shows. Such was life in the Ice Age. He probably had a wicked DVD collection, but also like me, couldn’t watch it because his Xbox had long since died. Must’ve sucked some days being a prehistoric guy.

Before we get too deep, I’ve a disclaimer: I strongly dislike TV. I haven’t watched a show regularly in decades. I don’t know who’s hot, what’s funny, what awesome new song came out, or who in the business got caught banging who. When my friends talk to me about Breaking Bad or Timothy Olyphant or Doctor Who or Desperate Housewives of Tijuana, I lose all sense of the conversation. I’m Cro-Magnon in my ignorance. I’m an imposter nerd, so desperately out of touch with all things hip culture.  I’m a wolf in sheep’s clothing, wandering in circles infinitely more TV-savvy than I’ll ever be. Thank goodness for that.

That said

 It so happens that even without a clue, I stumble onto the ocassional show. Whether by accident, being at a house party with a tv on in the background, or by virtue of no football, baseball, MMA, or halfway-decent porn occupying the ole’ boob-tube, I’ve chanced onto a few programs. Most lists on the internet are five, ten, or a hundred long, but not this one. Three is all you’re gonna get. I reckon if these three can shake a savage like me off the TV-hating mountain, chances are they’re pretty good.

And so

bigbangtheory

# 3. Big Bang Theory

My first mildly-liked show is probably ancient history for you, but new for me. I don’t care that it’s about nerds who remind me of dudes I knew in high school. It’s not important that Penny is somewhat cutish. The reasons I like Big Bang Theory are its brevity, its punch-and-run brand of funny, and it’s brutal sarcasm (or in Sheldon’s case, the lack thereof). If ever I’m in need of 27 minutes of commercially-interrupted stupid, I watch this show. It’s usually good for a laugh or twenty.

 

 

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#2. Game of Thrones

Ok. Admit it. You saw this one coming. On the low-low, I stopped reading near the end of book four. Mr. Martin’s fiction is a lot too sluggish for me, and that’s saying something for a guy (me) who writes Tolkien-length epic novels. But the show, ah…the show. It’s just long enough, and despite my bitching, tends to hit all the major plot points with a nice, sharp edge. Now, it’s true I haven’t seen any of Season 4 (see the aforementioned lack of cable) but I will, and that says a lot. In the realm of television shows, I seek out almost nothing. But for GOT’s brand of death, murder, and betrayal (all of done with swords instead of guns) I will journey out of my cave long enough to watch. My list of characters I’d like to see dead: Cersei, Sam, Margaery, Jaime, Dany….ok pretty much all of them except Arya and the Others. Did I mention I like bad guys?

 

Cosmos

#1. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

First, ever notice how the Cosmos main logo looks a bit Sauron-y? I mean; that’s reason enough to love it right there. But ok, the real reason: Neil deGrasse Tyson is a modern day science rock god. Is it possible someday someone will prove his assertions incorrect? Yes. Entirely. But does he knock home run after home run regarding the truth as we now know it? Yes. Absolutely. I love his use-a-scalpel-not-a-hammer approach to explaining science. Being somewhat a space-dork myself, I’m mostly familiar with much of what Cosmos has to say. Doesn’t matter. It’s all in the presentation. Elegant. Vivid. Gutsy. And most importantly, true! If you haven’t watched this show yet, get on it. Cancel your hot date. Give your kids a sedative (or better yet, make ’em watch it with you). Shows like this remind me just how crappy most other programming is. Thank you, maker of Family Guy, for making something I can actually show my son.

So there. Likely my only television-related post ever. Time to get back to skulls, books, and general gloom and doom. To disavow today’s nerdiness, I’m punishing myself with a few hundred chin-ups, and I’m chasing it with a giant slab of angel food cake. And yes…I’m completely serious.

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

Making Monsters

Sarcophage

 

 

 

He was three-thousand winters dead, as deaf to Andelusia’s bleating as a coffin full of bones. His very presence was evil, his breaths curling like smoke from beneath his iron mask. As he dragged her through Midnon, his passing withered moths and turned bowlfuls of red apples to ash… – Reference to Mogru, Servant of the Warlock – Dark Moon Daughter

 

 

Few things in a writer’s life are as satisfying as creating a villain everyone can root against. Trust me. I know. While there’s plenty to be loved about the nuanced, tragic villain, (see here) sometimes a story calls for a simpler brand of evil. I’m looking at you, Zombies, Terminators, Orcs, and Godzillas. I’m inviting you to the dance, Nazgul, Octoroks, Balrogs, and all the skeletal guys from Evil Dead. Strip away elegance, reason, and humanity, and you’re left with bad guys worth despising. Authors need these kinds of monsters sometimes. Readers crave them. After all, the main antagonists require cannon fodder. They need spawn. They need an evil army with which to take over the world.  

The picture above is an Eileen Herron sketch of Mogru, one of many soulless villains in my latest fantasy novel. I can’t say I’ve ever had as much fun as I did when writing about this particular monster. For as much enjoyment as I gleaned from penning other villains, Mogru took the cake. He’s soulless. He’s indestructible. He’s a skeletal Terminator, only he prefers six foot-tall swords rather than machine guns. How can he be stopped? Well…he can’t be. Writing about every crackle of his bones and every hapless good guy he carves to tatters was pure pleasure. Every writer needs a Mogru. Every reader will find him easy to hate.

So how does one carve away just the right amount of personality to craft a wickedly good monster? It’s delicate work, to be sure. Take away too much, and you’re left with a cardboard, video-game cutout of a bad guy. Add too much flavor, and you’ll be stuck with a Jar Jar Binks or a BeBop and Rocksteady. What you’ll need, and what readers appreciate, is the just enough/not too much approach.  If the minion must talk, keep it brief and sharp. He’s a minion, after all; his master should do most of the talking. If it’s a monster you’re making (and it is; that’s why we’re here) describe it, but not too in-depth. Our imagination should make the horror in our minds, not two pages of extrapolation about whence he came. More than anything, focus on action. Use words as the monster’s weapons. The skeletal knight shouldn’t walk, he should shamble along, dragging his rusted sword through the muck. The dragon shouldn’t simply fly, but soar through halos of smoke belched from his foul gut. The maggoty goblins should slither and skulk, wandering the glooms in search of children to devour. See what I mean? Hell, just writing those three little sentences made me want to make a new monster.

Some of my favorite baddies in literature/film:

White Walker

 

 White Walkers (The Others) – Game of Thrones (The book and the show) – We don’t get much of them, but the tastes we do get leave us salivating for more. Raising the dead, living in the frozen wastes…you’ve got to love their deathy style.

 

 

Alien

The Xenomorph – Alien & Aliens – They’ve no personality, which makes them perfect. They’ve nothing to love, nothing to live for save to spread across the galaxy. Loathsome. Horrifying. Killing one is nothing, since there’re thousands more coming.

 

 

 

Nazgul

 

Nazgul – Lord of the Rings – Scaring the shit out of Middle-Earthlings everywhere. We know just enough about them to terrify us, but not so much as to burn away their mysteriousness. Definitely easy to root against, though I admit getting teary-eyed when Eowyn butchered the Witch King.

 

 

There you have it, my shout out to all the lesser evils of the world. What’s a master without a minion? What’s a wicked wizard to do without an undead host to serve him? If nothing else, monsters give the good guys something to do. And thank the stars for that, else their heroic lives would feel woefully boring.

It’s dark now. I’ve a rare moment alone to work. I think I’ll sculpt a new villain. You’ll see her soon enough.

J Edward Neill

Cover Reveal – Dark Moon Daughter

DMD Slider 1

 

 

 We will bend the Father and bury his children. We will curl the roots of every tree and strip the clouds from heaven. This is what we adore: the midnight, the bottom, the end.  – Excerpt from the Pages Black, lost text of the Ur

 If I’m extra happy this week, don’t blame me. Blame my cover artist, Eileen Herron, for rocking out the new cover art for Dark Moon Daughter. I’m thrilled with her vision of the next installment in the Tyrants of the Dead series. My dark little heart beats a little faster every time I see it. My underwear definitely needs changing.

So let’s break this down a bit. The first sliver of the cover (above) gives us a glimpse of Andelusia doing battle. The pale, multi-eyed, razors-for-fingers beast in the upper right is the Mortician, one of many wicked creeps our heroine (or villainess, depending) must contend with. In the upper left, we’ve an image of the moon, only not the moon you’re used to seeing. In Ande’s right hand, she wields the fabled Ur flame, an errant drop of which can melt a city…or the world. Look closely and you’ll see the Ur language on her forearm. This is why I love Eileen’s style. With so little room in which to work, she includes elements I’d have never thought of. Hell, in Down the Dark Path I even changed a chapter based on what she painted.

DMD Garrett v Sarcophage

 

 Our next slice of the painting gives us Rellen Gryphon doing battle with a Sarcophage. (What’s a Sarcophage, you ask? – You’ll have to read DMD when it comes out!) I like the classic, almost Dungeons and Dragons appeal to Rellen’s handsomeness, as well as the horror of the masked and armored monster he’s fighting. Not to be missed is Andelusia’s leg. What’s an all-powerful witch to do without showing a little skin, right?

 

 

DMD Warlock Image

 

 At the painting’s bottom we have one of the antagonists. It’s a great smirk he’s wearing, isn’t it? I happen to know the guy Eileen used as a model, and she really captured a part of his inner evil here. The shadows swirl around him, hiding the rest of his body. It’s appropriately mysterious. What’s this guy doing down here? Why’s he smiling so deviously? The reasons are many…

 

 

And now, the final product in all its glory. There’s tons going on here, from small story elements to hidden visuals only the keen reader will spot:

DMD Original Cover

 For any writer, cover art is key. For me, it’s doubly so. I wanted movie poster appeal. I wanted many story elements colliding. I wanted a sexy girl, a terrifying monster, and shadows galore. Eileen delivered. I hope you like it as much as I do.

If you like the cover, just wait ’til you read the book.  Dark Moon Daughter – Due out any day now… Forget about elves, dwarves, dragons, and vampires. Let’s go deeper. Let’s get darker. Let’s go all the way to the bottom.

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

 

How to write Dark Fantasy Novels (and shave decades off your lifespan)

Skull Party

 

 

Look at these guys. They’re dead, but still having a grand time of it. Makes me want to start hosting poker nights at my place. There’ll be just one rule: everyone has to dress up as their favorite dead person. For one night a week I can pretend I’m having a drink with Poe, Shakespeare, Attila, and Stalin. Who’d want to dress up as Stalin’s bones? I’m not sure, but I know some pretty strange people.

Ok. Look. This isn’t really a how-to article. I’m in no position to tell anyone how to do anything short of throwing footballs, kicking things, and losing at video games. I’m writing this week to take myself down a notch, put a lid on the can, and cork up my fountain of sunshine.

I write better when I’m in a terrible mood.

There. I said it. I’m sure I’m not the only one. What is it about creative people that allows them to make masterpieces out of misery? I’m not saying I’m capable of creating a masterpiece, but I think you get my point. Why are the best novels full to the brim with tragedy, suffering, and death? Why are history’s finest artists at best obsessive, at worst sociopathic? Why is human misery so appealing? Go click on a news site. Go google murder, kidnapping, terrorism, war, or Bieber. It’s a never-ending worldwide horror story. Why, why, why?

I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking you.

A few years ago, while riding a half-year span of dumb-stupid-happy, my writing crashed and burned. I couldn’t even spit out a page a week, to say nothing of my current pace of five pages per night. I was just too damn pleased with life to concentrate on dragging my readers through the abyss. It was awesome, but it sucked. I mean; if darkness renders us blind, intense sunshine does the same, right? Try seeing through your car window while driving directly at the rising sun. Can’t see a damn thing no matter how you adjust the visor, can you? You’ll think you’re on the road, and meanwhile you’re about to run over a line of kids on their way to the school bus. All the sun’s fault. Maybe vampires are on to something.

So tonight I’m sitting beside a dark-shaded lamp, surrounded by silence, floating on a cloud of gloom and doom. I’m pissed off. I’m bored. I’m willing to fight anyone who dares come through my door. My morbid sensibilities smolder inside me. It’s perfect. It really is. After I finish this blog, I’m betting on 2,500 words and a satisfying night’s sleep. Here’s the proof: right beside my ugly old recliner, my Buddha statue is smiling at me. ‘How much did you write tonight?’ I ask him. ‘Nuthin’,’ he says. ‘I’m more of an eater these days.’ And over there on the wall, the knights on their murals look peaceful in their repose. ‘You guys ever paint anything?’ I ask. They’re so damn happy they don’t even bother to answer. See what I mean? What artist does his best work while feeling bubbly? None, I tell you. You need passion, fury, wrath, and darkness. To cast a shadow, you need light, and something big to block most of it out.

They say all good things must come to an end. Whew. Thank goodness for that. If I’d have stayed on my bus to happyland, I might’ve given up writing altogether, and that would’ve been a different type of low. Maybe I’m wrong about this whole sad-makes-awesome thing. Maybe Fred Rogers and Barney the F’ing Dinosaur really are on to something, but I doubt it. How does one make beautiful, tormented art without knowing how it feels to walk alone in the night? The answer: they don’t. Sometimes, to create you must first destroy.

What’s it all mean? Well…maybe tomorrow I’ll be even gloomier than tonight. Why not? If it helps me finish my latest book and write deathier, bloodier, and grimmer stories than ever before, I’m game. I’m ok with that. What about you?

Until next week,

J Edward Neill

As ever in Shivershore

Illyoc

 Year 12, date unknown

 It is cold outside, as ever it is in Shivershore. The sea’s salted foam crashes outside my window. The sun sets beneath a dreary, unhappy sky. Save for my lonely candle, my little friend who likes to dance with each draft of air seeping between the shutters, I have little light to write by. I sit here, inking words no one will ever read, squinting to see the page before me. I am too anxious. This will be my final entry. I wonder if I am ready.

Today will be my last day in the tower. This crowded pillar of tired, sea-bleached stones has been a good, if humble home. The corner hearth keeps it warm enough, while the tower’s perch amid the tangled rocks and battered shoreline cliffs affords me the sort of privacy and solitude I have found nowhere else. Though my comforts are few, my years here have been useful. I have unraveled the secrets I sought and brought many intangible truths to light.  I have sacrificed much in living here, but soon all of it will be worthwhile. Today marks winter’s last gasp. Tomorrow a new season begins. And so I bid you a fond farewell, good tower. I hope to never see you again.

I packed my things yestereve. I slid a few important sheaves of paper, a loaf of bread, some wine, and an extra set of boots into my weathered satchel. I suppose I might even find room for this journal, though it seems rather meaningless, considering I will not tend to it again. Looking at my bag, small and crumpled as a peasant’s hat, one would never know the places I am bound for.

 I dreamed again last night. I have dreamed often of late, too often, suffering many doubts while I sleep. My nightly imaginings have been particularly dark, twisting my life’s hopes and ambitions into nightmares, poisoning my mind with images of death and failure. Even so, every time I wake I feel no weakness or perturbation. This strikes me as comforting. Perhaps my dreams are trying to send me a message, whispering horrors into my ear and reminding me of my simple beginnings, while at the same time fortifying me. Though I tremble as I slumber, the very moment I wake I feel strong again.

Last night while cleaning out my cupboards, a number of unexpected questions tumbled into my mind. I suppose I had been concerned with the execution of my plan for so long that certain possibilities escaped me. I sat at my lonely table, chewing on a brick of hard, stale bread, and the questions struck me just as the sun began to set. I wondered; how will my coming be perceived? How will my subjects view me? When I stand on my pulpit at the world’s twilight, what will they think? Will I be adored and praised or feared and reviled? Will they see me as a savior from their daily futilities or will they look upon who I am and what I have become and turn their cheeks with wordless scorn? Kneeling upon the earth, stretching fearfully from meadow to sea, what will they whisper? Tyrant, I wager they will name me, destructor of the earth. But it is not certain, not knowable for now.

These questions and more pummeled my mind for too much of the night. As I swallowed my bread and dwelled upon them, I came to no meaningful conclusion. I decided I did not know the answers. I cared not. I cannot fathom the emotions of others, nor do I wish to. What the people will think at the end does not concern me, nor will it when I become king.

King. It has a pleasant taste to it. I say it often to myself, and it snaps so easily off my tongue. No wonder the term is so often misused. The local lord risen to power, the snot-sniffling heir, the winner of some inconsequential military affair, they all think they are kings, and that they above all others know what it means to possess power over mankind. If only they knew what I know, they would not think themselves so wise. They would wet their gilded chairs by day and shiver in their beds by night. They would beg for a taste, a single lash of their tongues just to lavish their minds with a fragment of what I know. What horror would befall their minds were the truth to strike them? But now I am rambling again. I do it too often. I am nothing if not someone who talks too much. 

Each time I reflect upon my long, slow years of study, I realize my greatest sacrifice has been living here in this tower. Because of my choice, I have had no one to talk to, no one to share a cup of tea with or sit beneath the night with and discuss the meaning of the stars. During the endless days, this journal was all that kept me from madness. I have been drawn to it every night, dithering for a moment before penning to paper the least significant parts of my day. How quaint it seems, a child’s diary. How ordinary. How weak.

My things are packed. My cleaning is complete. I am ready for a last night’s sleep. As I stretch upon my sagging bed, I feel a moment of longing. It is a strange sensation. I almost wish someone else were here, a woman perhaps, a pretty thing with a sympathetic ear. I wonder how pleasant it must be to lie with a beautiful girl or to be a man with many friends. But what do I know? These things are forgotten to me. Rather than sit and pine for the world to comfort me, I must remember my chosen path. My own thoughts are the only ones I shall ever know. I will be alone from now until the end.

 The winter fails. The sea rages outside. I am weary of writing. I have come to it at last, the end of my preparation. My candle, my only companion, is dying, the victim of too many nights spent watching over these sad little pages. When I lift my pen, my hermit’s life shall end. Not long from now, perhaps on an evening not so different than tonight, the skies will fall, and I will be the last living soul in all the world.

* * *

Prologue to Dark Moon Daughter – Book II in the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy

J Edward Neill

 Illyoc painting by Eileen Herron

 

Top Five Most Memorable Book Chapters Ever

a-skull-on-the-open-book

 

Perhaps it was the way the leaves went utterly still, or perhaps the sudden silence of the birds, but she felt watched, as though a creature from the pages of her book had leapt from the parchment to stalk her. – Excerpt from Dark Moon Daughter

 

Enjoy this week’s expressionist skull. It’s a painting by Vladimir Tatlin. If anyone wants to sell it to me, here I am.

 As I prepare to do some damage to Tessera Guild tonight, my fingertips are crackling. The hour is late. I’m parked in my comfy recliner, honey mead in hand, laptop humming away. About a week ago, I launched my new personal website here. My deep, dark wish is that you’ll visit the site, clickity click the subscribe button, and follow me into the abyss. I’m excited about it. Forgive me.

Now then…

For as much as writing is an art form, it’s my belief the art of reading is no less a beautiful thing. Learning to read is our own personal One Ring. It’s sacred. It’s precious. It’s powerful. We conquer the words as children, but it’s not until much later we grasp their true meaning. It’s with this reverence in mind I hunker down to write this piece. Some lists will give you the best books. I mean to dig deeper and give you the most memorable chapters. These are the five chapters whose pages own the tallest bookshelf in my overcrowded head, who sit front and center in the card catalog floating inside my skull. (See, I always bring it back to bones.)

I am legend

 

 

#5 – I am Legend – Final Chapter

We begin with a chapter not known for its quality, but perhaps more for its brevity. After our journey with Robert Neville takes us to the lowest cavern of loneliness, despair, and even depravity, we are treated with an abrupt end to it all. I’ll not confess to love the way Matheson ended an otherwise engrossing novel, but the way he terminates his protagonist will forever haunt me. No, the good guys don’t always win. Yes, sometimes the point of our existence is that there is no point. In a way, we should’ve expected Neville’s death in the exact way it arrived. Who among us could live alone in the world surrounded by death? Well, perhaps I could, but anyone else?

Shrike

 

#4 – Hyperion – Remembering Siri

‘But Siri knew the slow pace of books and the cadences of theater under the stars. I knew only the stars.’ – The Consul

For those not familiar with Dan Simmons’ epic Hyperion series, here’s your crash course: Hyperion is a futuristic semi-retelling of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, with loving homages to the poet Keats sprinkled liberally throughout. Remembering Siri is not a single chapter,  rather an entire sixth of the novel from the perspective of the Consul. Let’s be clear; Hyperion is not really about the sci-fi-ness of it all, the weapons, or the technology. These elements are everpresent, but the stories of the novel’s inhabitants, their lives and feelings, are what makes the novel gripping. Nowhere is the emotion more powerful than in Remember Siri. The Consul has lost the love of his life (Siri) and all his movements through space and time are shadowed by her memory. I’m not really a love-story kind of dude, but even my inky soul warmed up to the Consul’s tale.

the-count-of-monte-cristo

 

 

#3 – The Count of Monte Cristo – Final Chapter

Perhaps no more powerful tale of vengeance exists than The Count. It’s a challenging novel, not only for its length and depth of exposition, but for its themes. I’ll say only this; the payoff is worth the struggle. At the bittersweet end, having doled out more than enough vengence for those who’ve wronged him (and a few who haven’t) the Count reflects upon all he has done. Is he God’s justice or is he no different than the people he’s destroyed? In my mind, the true mark of excellence in writing arrives when the author confronts the reader with a moral dilemna. Would you have gone as far as the Count? Do the ends always justify the means?

300px-Red_Wedding_by_FatherStone

 

# 2 – A Storm of Swords – Red Wedding

It is nothing, she tried to tell herself, you are seeing grumkins in the woodpile, you are become an old silly woman sick with grief and fear. – Catelyn Stark

There are rocks some people live under…and there are mountains. Most folks, either via the book or the cable series, have already read or seen the Red Wedding. If you haven’t, get on it. I’ve seen both, and I’m here to tell you the book version is better. From Martin’s buildup in previous chapters to Catlyn’s gathering dread to the crossbowmen dressed as minstrels (who can’t carry a tune), the reader isn’t quite sure what will happen. And then, once it begins, we think, “When will someone rush out and save Robb? When…when…when?” But it never happens. In a few quick pages, Martin delivers the best kind of death. Quick. Bloody. Permanent.

Gandalf_fights_the_Witch_king_by_ChristianTsvetanov

 

 

# 1 – Return of the King – The Siege of Gondor

“Old fool!” he said. “Old fool! This is my hour. Do you not know Death when you see it? Die now and curse in vain!” – The Witch King of Angmar

When Grond comes to your door, you’d best pay attention. In the Siege of Gonder, I get a lot of everything I want in a chapter: A sense of dread. A battle raging. A lord setting himself on fire. A confrontation between a wizard and a monster. Forget the movie. In the book, you can actually believe the bad guys will win. When the Witch King stalks alone through Gondor’s shattered front door (an entrance antagonists everywhere should emulate) you feel the horror, the blood running cold, and the city of men breathing its last. Chapters like this only turn up every once in a while. Any author planning to write a battle scene, take heed. The Siege of Gondor is where it’s at.

So then, what’s your favorite chapter ever? Inquiring minds want to know.

J Edward Neill

 

Strategies for the Obsessive Mind

working_my_fingers_to_the_bone

 

 

  Let’s get back on topic.

 Let’s work our fingers to the bone.

 Ever been obsessed? Ever not been? Not with a person or an object, but with a concept, an idea, a ‘We’re taking the One Ring to Mordor’ type of life journey? Search your heart. You know you’ve been consumed at least once in your life. It’s part of the human experience. To want. To need. To live and die with your obsession until it’s done, devoured, destroyed.

For the most part, I don’t have an obsessive personality. I’ll close a book after an hour to recharge. I can’t remember the last time a movie came out I needed to see. I’ll flip off the tv always. I try to make big deals out of saving money, being a better man, living life to its fullest, but when these ideals escape me, I generally shrug it off. Perhaps my absence of I need to do this is a weakness. Perhaps it’s a strength. Sometimes it’s a struggle just to find something worthy of caring about. Sometimes I want to lose myself in obsession, and it eludes me.   

But then there’s writing…

You may have seen the title Strategies for the Obsessive Mind and thought, ‘Oh great, another writer telling us about his writing process. Joy of joys.’ Never fear. Not gonna happen. I’m neither interested in processes nor compelled to criticize people who are. Discussing the anatomy of ink and quill just isn’t for me. What I am interested in is finding balance. We all need balance, right? If we indulge our obsessions too often and tip the scales into a shadow too deep, we risk losing ourselves. But…if we never dip our toes into dark waters, we’ll never know what lies beneath.

The truth is; it’s already too late. I’ve gone and lost myself.

 I can’t remember when it happened. A year ago? A decade ago? Last week? At some point in time, after teetering on the edge of the abyss, I let myself fall. Gravity claimed me. All the things that used to be important crumbled into dust. And here I am at the bottom, well and truly haunted. I still go to work, play with my kid, eat, sleep (a little), and force myself to exercise, but at all other times, whenever my mind strays from my daily routine, I fall, and fall, and fall. In the deep dark of my man-cave, I gloom over the end of one book, pen handwritten notes for the beginning of another, plan a total rewrite of another, and pepper light edits into still another. Whenever I’m not hammering out words, I’m contemplating my surroundings: Would new art in the man-cave provide even more inspiration? Should I paint the walls black, a la Rolling Stones? If I shaved my cat and dressed it in plate mail, would the other cats respect their new overlord?

And if that’s not enough, whenever I’m not distracted by the mundane, I’m dreaming up new stories. I’ve got more tales in liquid form than I know what to do with. Protagonist sent alone to alien world with purpose to destroy it, aware that if and when he returns hundreds of years will have passed and everyone he ever knew will be dead. – Protagonist unearths a relic that makes him godlike, and then becomes the antagonist. – Prehistoric civilizations discover the secret of fire, and then start the world’s first war. Go ahead. Steal them. I’ve got hundreds more. I’ll be dreaming in my grave long before I can write them all.  

 I ask myself if I’d like control of my mind back. The answer is, ‘Not really.’

 The way I see it, if you can’t beat obsession, bargain with it. Cut a deal with the devil in your mind. Obsession isn’t quite like addiction. We who are magnetized to the object(s) of our desire have a fighting chance…sometimes. I’m not talking about love, by the way. People in love are pretty much screwed. I’m talking about you, the I need to do this in order to be happy person, the writer, the reader, the movie maker, comic-book artist, painter, fighter, soldier, backyard car rebuilder. Embrace your obsession, but let it go sometimes. Fall into your work, but come back up for air. Don’t burn every bridge to reach the promised land, just most of them. Don’t let your passion kill you, but don’t stop until you’re dead.

Or ignore everything I just said and let yourself plummet into the lowest cavern of your desire. Either way is awesome.

Just don’t forget to shower.

J Edward Neill

 

My Top Six Video Games of All Time

 

Skulltula

This week’s skull…the most abused creeper of all time.

I’m in my man-cave at 11-something PM. It’s raining outside. Save for the streetlamp’s flicker beyond my window and the low-key illumination of my laptop, the world is dark. I’m happy to be alone. Ecstatic, actually. If I can squeeze in about 700% more of this kind of time, I’ll die a happy man.

So then. Like video games? Me too. They’re a passion of mine, and although I seldom play them anymore, I’ll always reserve a special place in my chest cavity for them. Anyone who’s ever been in love with video games knows there are two types available for consumption. Foremost, you’ve got games that are just that: games. You blast or hack your way through this or that horde, sort colored baubles to win imaginary prizes, collect coins and 1-ups, or just generally bust the laws of physics for fun. While these kinds of games provide an excellent way of murdering several days/weeks/months of your life, they’re not the type of game I’m talking about today.

What am I talking about? The second type. The games that aren’t just games, but mood-setters, sensory-devourers, mind-benders, and experiences. A long, long time ago, I blogged a related piece  – http://tesseraguild.com/was-only-a-matter-of-time/  but this time, I’m goin’ balls deep. I’m throwing my top six games out there. These are the pixels most palatable to my grim, grey state of mind. Subconciously, I’ve no doubt that playing these six remapped entire swaths of my brain.

So let’s get started:

2263102-diablo_head

 

 

 

#6 – Diablo (The original)

Playing Diablo for me isn’t the same as it is for other folks. Sure, I get a mild kick out of the treasure hoarding, demon slaying, and level upping, but for me Diablo is all about the mood and the music. Before I ever knew I liked to write, I’d sit in the dark at my paleolithic IBM 486 and play it until my eyes hurt. I’d wander ancient ruins with the game’s masterful 12-string guitar soundtrack thrumming in the background, the pixellated rain clattering atop dead men’s roofs. Hell, in recent weeks I’ve hunted down some of the music from the original game. If I ever move into a video game city, I’ll probably pick Tristram. It’s always cloudy there, and the mood suitable for my state of mind.

Metroid Prime

 

 

#5 – Metroid Prime

To be fair, I feel any of the Metroid games (sans the one that really sucked) fit this niche. I’ll go with Prime because if I go too far back I’ll confound the ‘what the hell is a NES?‘ crowd. Metroid for me was always more than a simple space opera. I never cared that the protagonist was a girl, nor that the villains were bland and underdeveloped. What I liked (and love) about the game is its atmosphere. One hero. Alone. Creepy music. Creepier monsters. There’s something elegant about the game’s fusion of far-out science with primeval alien mythology. I’ve always thought the game might’ve made a great movie, maybe even a killer novel. Hmmmm…

Deus Ex

 

 

 #4 – Deus Ex – Human Revolution

When I first picked up Deus Ex, I figured it’d fall in line with most other games. There’d be some cool moments, some blah, blah shooting, and a few dramatic cut scenes. I was wrong. In many instances, Deus Ex walks the line between game and art. Forget how tense and fun the action is. It’s like Blade-Runner blended  with Seven. It’s the not-too-distant future, rain-riddled and fraught with ‘What would I do if this happened to me?‘ moments. It’s fun + gorgeous to look at + elegantly dark. I. Love. It.

Witcher

 

 

#3 – The Witcher – Assassins of Kings

As far as games in the genre I prefer to muddle in, Witcher might be the best of them. The story (pariah accused of regicide) is pulled off better than in most movies. The love affairs, the rivalries, and the this-could-actually-happen feel as powerful as any fantasy novel. Heroes should be likeable and hateable. Love interests should be worthy of our affection and able to beat our asses. Villains should have believable reasons for hating the world. The Witcher has it all. If I didn’t have a three-year old kid, I’d buy the new Xbox and play the sequel.

Shadow_of_the_Colossus

 

 

 

 #2 – Shadow of the Colossus

Never played it? Unacceptable. Set aside three rainy days and get ‘er done. If you’re not interested in video games, buy it for your girl/guyfriend and watch them play it. Yes, really. Shadow of the Colossus is not the game you think it is.  On the surface, it looks like a dude fighting huge monsters to save the world, his woman, his dog…whatever. It’s not that game. In playing Shadow of the Colossus, you’ll find out what it means to be misguided. You’re the bad guy, and you don’t even know it. You’re a murderer, a destroyer of beautiful art, a sociopath, a monster. What’s the matter with you anyway?

Zelda

 

 

 

#1 – Zelda – Twilight Princess

As if you didn’t see this coming. Those who know me will roll their eyes and say, ‘Well that was obvious.’ Now, as far as atmosphere, I’ll admit most of the Zelda series doesn’t measure up to the Witchers and Metroids of the world. The music is good, but not soul-stunning. The graphics are neat, but not particularly immersive. Why then have I put Twilight Princess at #1? It’s easy. You’ve got a beautiful world worthy of saving (Hyrule), a familiar, likeable, and best of all silent hero to save it, and a dread-inspiring evil to overcome. Twilight Princess beats the other Zelda games by virtue of its edge, its willingness to embrace adult themes, and most of all, the presence of a villain you knew was coming, but likely spent the whole game asking, ‘Where is my arch-rival? I need that guy, else life is incomplete.’

Honorable mentions:

Doom – Grim atmosphere. Pinky demons. What else do you need?

Portal – Was pissed about not getting cake…

Skyrim – Too epic not to be included, but damn so many of its characters for being cardboard.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll indulge my inner geek. I found my old Gamecube in a closet last weekend. Time to visit an old, old friend.

* * *

And if you think you know video games, take this 114 question quiz. If you score 60 or higher, you’ve got skills.

J Edward Neill

Longing for Rain

Rain

 

 

 

 There’s a place I want to be.

 Let me try that again. There’s a place I intend to go.

As I gaze from my office window on this cold, grey winter morning, I am compelled by what I feel. My door is shut. A melancholic soundtrack thrums against my walls. The sky is the color of slate, the clouds are seamless, the skeletal trees swaying, and the branches shivering in the wind. I am almost alone. If such a thing as genetic memory exists, this is the kind of day my ancestors must have walked beneath. My blood lived on the smallest island off the northeastern coast of Ireland, and I have to imagine this is what the sky looked like so much more often than here in north Georgia.  

If I close my eyes, I can almost go there. Not northern Ireland. Out there. Beyond my window. Beneath the clouds.

I long for the rain. However strange it might sound, the clouds, the trees, the wind, and the rain shape my most powerful memories. Not only the memories of childhood, but all the way to this very morning. I remember an early spring day during the second grade. I walked home through a cornfield having forgotten my little blue umbrella. The sky looked the same as it does today, only gloomier. The rain made a mess of me, and I loved it. I remember my first season in Georgia. In the dead of summer, for what felt like a fortnight, the clouds never departed. Storms roamed the sky at all hours, and the rain tore the earth ragged. Back then, I lived virtually alone in my house. After breakfast each morn, I wandered into the forest beyond the backyard and didn’t return until the rain had soaked me to my bones. The streams in the forest were swollen. The trees wept. The world had no colors beyond green and brown and grey. I was utterly alone, and I loved it.

A large part of me never returned from the woods, the cornfield, or the myriad grey skies I walked beneath. When I dream, and especially when I’m awake, most of me is still out there, still shadowed by the trees, still alone, and still happy.

This is the place I long for. I’d give up almost everything to return to it. I’d forsake football, tv, video games, movies, computers, and cell phones for it. I’d trade in my truck for a dinghy. I’d turn over my neatly-trimmed lawn to the wilderness. I’d set aside dinners at fancy restaurants, slugs of ancient scotch, and long stretches of hot, sunny, beautiful Georgia weather. It’s not a specific location I desire, nor a vague, fantastical, unrealistic dream. The rain is a state of mind I need. I need it. I need the clouds. I need the thunder. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) isn’t something I suffer from. Give me long stretches of sunless sky, and you’ll see a happier J Edward than ever you knew. Actually, you probably won’t see me at all, but you can rest assured what my state of mind will be.

I know I’m not alone in this. Perhaps my waking dream is somewhat more all-consuming that yours, but no matter. Close your eyes and dwell in silence for a short while, and maybe you’ll see the forest, the house, the sandy shore, the mountains, or the people you wish you could return to. Where your desire lives is not nearly as important as how you intend to get back to it. It’s a feeling more than a place, an emotion more than a fixed point in time.

There’s a place I intend to go. Perhaps not today or tomorrow. I’ve a child to raise and bills to pay. I’ve resources to gather, plans to perfect, books to finish, and research to do. But no matter how long it takes, I’ll get there. It’s a bucket list of one. It’s more sacred to me than writing or possessions. Honestly, if I get where I want to be, I won’t need half of what I have now, and my writing will likely improve tenfold. Who needs entertainment when one has imagination? All I want to do is look out my window across a vast, grey, rainswept woodland, and then walk out my door.

Maybe next week we’ll get back to skulls, medieval warfare, and world-burning warlocks. For now I think I’ll kick back and look out the window for a while. Out there lies inspiration. Out there is the rain. It’s near. I can smell it.

J Edward Neill

 

A book is a book (Right?)

Mummy Skull

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Did I write fiction? (Yes)

Is it epic? (Yes)

Fantasy? (Mostly)

Sci-Fi? (A little)

Romance? (Maybe)

Young-Adult (How would I know?)

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

Bisexual Vampire Steampunk (Huh?)

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

Parchment

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

So…

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

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

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

Love,

J Edward Neill

 

Reclaiming the Night

Spiking

No skulls this week. I promise.

 

 About five minutes after I publish this article, Super Bowl XXXVVVIIILLYZ will commence. No one on this earth, save maybe the players and coaches, will be more zoned in to the game. For the thousandth year running, I’ve vowed not to miss a single snap, kickoff, punt, or PAT. Yes, it’s true. If I’ve a drug, it’s football. There’s nothing in this world I love more than NFL gridiron barbarism except my son, and even he’s only barely in the lead (kidding). During the NFL season, I eat, sleep, and dream of football. Hell, on Sundays I play football, recklessly abandoning my health to hurl TD’s (and INT’s) over guys twice my size who want nothing more than to eat me and send my body parts to the four corners of Scotland, William Wallace style.

So maybe you can see my conflict of interest.

For five and a half months each year, during prime writing season, what am I doing on Sundays, Monday nights, Thursday nights, Thanksgiving, and a few Saturdays? I should be writing, right? I should be locked in my man-cave, lights dimmed, a bourbon beside me, and my laptop where it belongs, in my lap. And yet, there I am. On the couch. Maybe I’ve got the bourbon, but I’m definitely not writing.

It feels like a strange contrast, these two loves of mine. Football and epic fantasy writing…not exactly the type of match you’d encounter on a dating website. On one hand, I’m in love with the violence of the NFL, the crowds roaring, the bodies breaking, and the beautiful mathmatics swirling in the players’ heads. As for writing, I’m nuts about sitting in the dark and painting with words in the silence. There’re no commercials during writing, no cheeers, no collisions, and no blood (well, maybe a little blood). Football and writing are a marriage based on the principle of opposites attract. One is a game; the other is a way of life. It’s a miracle the relationship has lasted this long.

Writing Dark

See, I promised no skulls this week.

And so, as the NFL season winds down and I find myself with no football to watch until September, I’m happy for it. My nights will be available again. I’ve still got the G man to tend to, but after he’s asleep I’ll have a few moments of freedom to escape to my dungeon and write. I’ll have no temptation to turn the tv on, no dissection of every NFL play disrupting my thoughts. Football is only a temporary mistress. She’s not the kind of woman I’d ever want to marry. She’s too needy, too loud, and too all-consuming. I’ll date her for a few months every year just for the excitement factor, but I’ll be relieved whenever she goes on vacation. I’ve got books to finish. That’s where the real satisfaction is. In the words. Writing is the kind of a woman you can bring home to mom. She’s not flashy, but if you love her, she’ll love you right back.

Until next year, football mistress. Thanks for giving me my nights back. We’ll meet again, but not before I pop off a few hundred thousand more words.

Love,

J Edward Neill

 

Top Ten Villains of all time

The Skull

 

It’s simple. To achieve perfection, abandon morality. I’ve been doing it for decades.” – Archmyr Degiliac, Pale Knight of Thillria

 

It’s no secret. I love, love, love the bad guys. I love to read about them, write them, watch them, and (gasp) root for them. I’m the kid who got pissed off every time Skeletor lost to He-Man, the teenager who pulled for the Alien to wipe out everyone (except the cat), and the guy who wept a little bit inside when Sarah Conner flattened the Terminator. I find a strange sort of beauty in antagonists’ raw emotion, be it their mania, their arrogance, their self-loathing, or their cold, cold dedication to being evil. Better still are the rare little moments when the sunlight cuts through the shadows and the bad guy glimpses himself as a better man…and then plummets straight back into darkness.

I’ve looked forward to this for a while. And so, without further delay, I present to you my top ten villains (in film, literature, and video games) of ALL time:  

Shrike

 #10: The Shrike – Hyperion 

 Memorable Quote: None. The Shrike has no voice

 Bio: It time travels…backwards. It slows time for itself, but not for its victims. It moves at will through the universe, vanishing on one planet only to reappear an instant later on the other side of the galaxy. It’s nine feet of shining, stabby chrome, and it’s nigh invulnerable to conventional weaponry. Among all the villains on the list, the Shrike is probably the most powerful. It enjoys the luxury of emotionless power, which most other baddies should be jealous of.

Moriarty

 #9: James Moriarty – Sherlock Holmes short stories (and one novel)

 Memorable Quote:You stand in the way not merely of an individual, but of a mighty organisation, the full extent of which you, with all your cleverness, have been unable to realise.” – Speaking to Sherlock Holmes 

 Bio: The evil genius of all evil geniuses. The puppetmaster prime. Even though the Professor appears in limited capacity, he defines his antagonist role flawlessly. What he lacks in raw evil power, he makes up for with his wicked wit. I envy his genius, if not so much his obviously tortured soul.  

Spacey

 #8: John Doe – Seven

 Memorable Quote:What sick ridiculous puppets we are, and what gross little stages we dance on. What fun we have dancing and fucking, not a care in the world, not knowing that we are nothing. We are not what was intended.”

Bio: John Doe is a sick, sick man. He’s not the sort of villain even I could root for. That said, he’s marvelously effective at what he does. Grimmer so, he believes in what he does. And his speech about the innocent (a bit too long to post here) still gives me chills. What’s in the box, John? What’s in the box?!

 Harkonnen

 #7: Baron Vladimir Harkonnen – Dune

 Memorable Quote:Alone and vunerable at the edge of the universe, Duke Leto Atreides will finally come face to face with fear. When I’m done with him, he won’t know who to trust, not even that Bene Gesserit whore he sleeps with. They’ll all be turning on another like rats in a flood. By the time the traitor is fully revealed, the fate of Atreides will already be sealed.”

Bio: The universe’s hugest hedonist. The Jabba the Hutt of the Dune milieu. He’s rich, he’s hideous, and he’s chock full of good (bad) ideas. He sprinkles sleeper agents around like candy. He delights in imprisoning his relatives. He corrupts his enemies and makes them his allies. Hell, even after he’s gone and his imperial army crushed, he’s guaranteed to live on in his enemies’ bloodline. We need more baddies like the Baron. He’s just so…damn…thorough about his work.

Ganon

 #6: Ganon

 Memorable Quote:My country lay within a vast desert. When the sun rose into the sky, a burning wind punished my lands, searing the world. And when the moon climbed into the dark of night, a frigid gale pierced our homes. No matter when it came, the wind carried the same thing… Death.”

Bio: Zelda’s antagonist takes many forms: a pig-faced mutant, a blue-skinned desert nomad, a godlike warrior. He’s the only video game villain to crack my top ten. Ganon is not particularly mysterious. He just wants the Triforce (and who can blame him?) Link whips him again and again, but he doesn’t care. Another entry in the Zelda series due out soon, and he’s up for it.

Dracula Book

 #5: Dracula – Bram Stoker’s

 Memorable Quote:Listen to them—the children of the night. What music they make!”

 Bio: Dracula is the best kind of villain, leastways to me. He’s ancient. He’s terrifying. His desire is not to do evil simply for evil’s sake, but for vengeance against God, for the preservation of  his immortality, and for love. He’s much more romantic in the movie than in the book, but both versions have villainous value. Bram Stoker wrote him indelibly. Gary Oldman played him perfectly. Forget Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Nosferatu, etc. Vlad Dracul is where you want to be. And better still, some of his most brutal acts are based on real events. Chilling, just the way I like it.

 Satan

 #4: Lucifer – Paradise Lost

  Memorable Quote:Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

  Bio: I have to tread lightly here due to Tessera Guild policy regarding religion. That said, I believe Lucifer is history’s most easily sympathized-with villain. I plunged into Paradise Lost some dozen times during my high school years. It’s no easy read, but more’s the better. Poor Satan. He’s tormented by his position of servitude. In the beginning he desires freedom, but by the end…hmmmm. His journey through the abyss might be considered a noble quest were it not for the religious aspects of his rebellion. By no means is John Milton’s work canon as far as Christianity is concerned, but I urge everyone, religious or otherwise, to try it out. Shove aside what you think you know. No evil is absolute.

 Darth Vader

 # 3: Vader

 Memorable Quote: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

 Bio: Forgive me this, my most obvious of entries. For a long while, Vader was the standard by which I held all other villains. He has everything. He’s a warlock. He’s a swordsman. He’s physically intimidating. He casts a huge shadow (literally and figuratively) across every room he’s in. What better story (I’m looking at you, Empire Strikes Back) than one in which the bad guys win? And what villain has ever entered a room with such Force (pun intended) than Vader?

Darkness

 # 2: Darkness 

 Memorable Quote:Every wolf suffers fleas. ‘Tis easy enough to scratch!” 

 Bio: Now we’re getting somewhere. If Darkness is so high on my list, it’s because he’s the purest embodiment of an antagonist. He’s not a man corrupted by tragedy or an angel cast down by his creator. He always was, always will be. And yet…even so…I find him worthy of sympathy. He hungers, as we do, to be loved. He suffers just like mankind. Like so many of us wish we could, he is passion, fire, and he wears it all on his sleeve. No matter that he wants to cover the world in eternal night. Never mind that his fits of rage shake the foundations of the earth. He is who he is, and he never regrets it. It doesn’t hurt that his voice (Tim Curry) rattles the movie screen every time he laughs, nor that Darkness’s appearance (transcendant considering the era in which it was filmed) awes and terrifies. If they ever re-release Legend in theaters, somebody call me. I’m there. I don’t care about Tom Cruise or Mia Sara. I want Darkness.

Sauron_Tolkien_illustration

 #1: Sauron

 Memorable Quote: None directly.

 Bio: The watercolor illustration here was painted by JRR Tolkien. It’s not exactly what you probably expected (giant fiery eyeball). In literature, Sauron was man-like. He was the chief lieutenant to the very Lucifer-like Melkor, but every once in a while the second-in-command becomes more terrifying than the master. Thousands of years old, driven by the not-initially-so-awful desire to put everything to order, Sauron becomes more terrifying as time rolls along. He’s willing to sacrifice his physical form to create a relic of absurd power (the One Ring). He doesn’t hire his armies, but breeds them. He means to clear out all the imperfections (men, elves, and almost admirably, dwarves) and afterward sit godlike atop his tower…forever. If not for his hubris (and those damn snooping hobbits) he would’ve gotten away with it, too.

Honorable mentions:

Anton Chigurh – No Country for Old Men

Pinky Demons – Doom (F those guys!)

Oh, and if you want bad guys galore, check out Down the Dark Path.

Who’s your favorite villain? Drop by in the comments and let me know!

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

A Carnival Affair

Juggle Death

 

Life’s a carnival. Life as a writer…doubly so.

Long ago, I made myself learn to juggle. I was nine, and my uncle dropped a musty old book titled Learn How to Juggle in One Day into my lap. I remember it well. During a hot summer day, when I should’ve been out playing baseball, creeping through the cornfields, or tormenting the cute girls down the street, I sat in my grandma’s room from dawn ’til dusk, three tennis balls in hand, bumbling and stumbling my way through learning a new skill.

 

And sure enough, I learned in one day. Juggling was a useless skill, to be certain, but hell, I’d put my mind to the millstone and figured it out. I was proud of myself. I’d managed to shut out a thousand distractions and learn something neat-o. “Wow!” I remember thinking. “I’ll do this every day, and before I know it I’ll be a master of everything!”

Yeah right.

Here’s a little game for you: I want you to take a deep breath, close your eyes, and daydream. It shouldn’t take long. I’m merely asking you to imagine what your life would be like if every single day you could do whatever you wanted. No shackles. No job. No kids. No debt. Your time is yours. You spend it however you want. Think about it. Climb down to the bottom of your desire. What would you do? What would you teach yourself? If you’re up to it, add your daydream to the comments section. I’m interested, as ever.

I’m nothing if not a daydreamer. A hundred times a day, I float through the scenario above. One the hardest parts about this whole writing epic novels thing is the lack of utter freedom. There’s a juggling act to be done, every day, every hour, every waking moment. You know what I’m talking about. We all juggle our lives, and we’re dealing with waaaaaay more than three little tennis balls. We’ve jobs, kids, families, and friends. We’ve lives to live. We’ve unexpected hurdles to jump, and of course we’re all waging war with the inevitability of time and the fact that it’s not in unlimited supply. I suppose if we were vampires, immortal and invincible, we might eventually accomplish every last one of our dreams. But we’re not. We’ve a small window in which to kick life’s ass.

I try to fight the good fight. Before I dare sit down in the darkness to write, I raise my kid, crush my day job, sweat and bleed in the gym, sleep my six, and (big shocker) waste hours every weekend watching football. Hell, it’s not like I can shove everything aside and live in a bubble. Life’s routines consume me, and before I know it, months…even years slip through my fingers. It’s a giant m F’er of a carnival act. Looking back at every day I’ve lived, it’s a miracle I’ve managed to write as much as I have. A million and a half words, dozens of outlines, short stories, blogs, social media posts…how in the hell? Forget what I’ve done. What about writers who churn out dozens of novels? It doesn’t feel possible. Maybe I’m daydreaming even now. If life’s a circus, I’m the clown.

And so my challenge to you (and to myself) in 2014: find more time for ourselves. Turn off the tv, order Chinese delivery, put the kids to bed early, and tell our significant others, “Don’t wait up.” If we can get after our dreams 5% harder than we did last year, we’ll love ourselves more for it. I’m not telling us to shove life aside. Far from it. I’m asking us to carve off the fat, slap distraction in the face, and make sweet love to whatever project is sacred to us.

Yoda

Yeah. What HE said.

So don’t be the clown; be the ringmaster. Work. Sacrifice. Get after it. One day, reap the rewards.

J Edward Neill

 

 

 

 

My Top Seven Words of 2013

HaBones

 

 

 

 

Ignore the skull. It doesn’t have much to do with today’s blog. I’ve no real excuse for using it except that I liked it.

So anyway…

 As I’ve lain awake each night for the last four months, chiseling away at the final edits of Dark Moon Daughter, I’ve found my mind roaming into realms both strange and eerie. I’m sleep deprived. I’m locked in my man-cave. I’m in an abyss, starved for meaningful human contact, yet utterly in love with the loneliness of writing in the dark. I’ve always believed there’s a certain amount of lunacy/mild sociopathy required to be a writer, and I’m no exception. Whenever I’m locked in obsessive write-mode, I travel to places downright terrifying and weird. I dream of things that could never exist. I create sentences, destroy them, and resurrect them again and again in the wild hopes of giving my readers just a glimpse of the galactic-scale warfare taking place between my synapses.

And in doing so, I have to use words

So let’s cut to the chase. I’ve got seven of my favorite words on the tip of my tongue. I want to share them with you. I hope, after you’ve consumed my list, you’ll stuff the comments section with your favorites. I’d love to see them.

Without further ado, I present:

1. Crenellation – a rampart built around the top of a castle with regular gaps for firing arrows or guns

CrenelsCrenels

It’s no secret. I love writing about spiraling towers, vast fortresses, and cloud-penetrating, sky-wounding, bad-guy battlestations. I’m also a nut for medieval architecture. The image of a castle’s last surviving archer squatting behind a crenel and firing off arrows at the hordes below sits right with me. If you were guarding a castle, you’d want a crenellation, too. 

2. Annihilate –  destroy utterly; obliterate

What do antagonists (and just as often protagonists) desire for their enemies? Do they want to maul them, hurt them, punish them? No. What they really want is to annihilate them. They desire dust and ash, powder and bonemeal. Admit it; you’ve felt this way about someone or something. Or am I the only one?

3. Moldering – slowly decay or disintegrate, esp. because of neglect

Molder

Rot is tired. Ruin is on sick leave. Decay just took a vacation. When it absolutely, positively must be reduced to the latter stages of disintegration, it must molder. It works for houses, castles, bodies, cities, or in the case of one of my books, entire worlds.

4. Exile – expulsion from one’s native land by authoritative decree.

Exile, in a way, is worse than death. We’re not talking about the prince sent to a neighboring kingdom or a lord sent away to a posh, thousand-pillowed prison. We’re talking about total expulsion, the removal of everything a character holds sacred. We’re talking permanent banishment into a realm at the edge of civilization. “Here’s a desert, my friend, scorched by the sun during the day, stalked by three-thousand year-old wights after twilight. Enjoy…”

5. Profane – characterized by irreverence or contempt for God or sacred principles or things; irreligious.

In a close tie with blapheme and desecrate, I’ve an image in mind for profane, but I can’t put it here. No way. Not happening. Simply put, when something is profaned in a book (or real life) someone’s going to be angry…very angry. Thus vengeance is conceived.

6. Phial -a small bottle for liquids; vial

Phial

Slender. Delicate. Glass. But in these small relics might slosh the venom to lay a king in his grave, the potion to restore a lost companion to life, or the foul brew which living men dare not ingest, fearing their skins might slough off and their minds turn to porridge. ($2 to whoever guesses which concoction I’m most likely to use)    

7. Bones – The dense, semirigid, porous, calcified connective tissue forming the major portion of the skeleton of most vertebrates

This one was obvious. Maybe the skull up top belonged after all. In writing Down the Dark Path, Dark Moon Daughter, Nether Kingdom, Hollow Empire, and even Old Man of Tessera, bones played a role. We’re not limiting ourselves to human bones. We’re talking the bones of a long-sunken ship, the bones of an empire, the bones of an ancient civilization mortared to the walls of a cavern ten miles deep. Almost everything alive has a skeleton of sorts. More importantly, so does almost everything dead. My next twenty books had better be about fluffy unicorns and romantic nights on the beach, else people might start to worry.

Now it’s your turn. I want your favorite words, and why.

Love,

J Edward Neill

The Case for (and against) Social Media

TwitSkull

 

 

 

 It’s an antisocial world.

There, I said it.

I’m old enough to remember when life was different. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining about the way it is now. I’m sitting here on my couch, laptop in lap, using my iPad as a mouse pad, streaming Hans Zimmer through my Bose Bluetooth mobile speakers. For writers, life has never been easier. Twenty years ago, we had to handwrite everything…offline…on paper…with strange little instruments called pencils. If we needed to do critical research, we had to shuttle down to gloomy places known as libraries. There was no meaningful internet, no Google, no cell phones. Word processing was far from refined. Hell, even the image above (created with GIMP) I would’ve had to hand-draw. Creating this document would’ve taken me the entire day. As is, I’m expecting to spend an hour on it, and not a minute more.

So yeah, we’ve got it made these days. We’ve got wireless internet, primo software, smart phones, Wikipedia, and Kindle. All the peripheral gunk that used to slow us down has been carved away. It should be just us and the words, no boundaries between me the writer and you the reader.

But there’s a catch. You know what it is. If you’ve ever sat down to write, read, or work meaningfully at a computer, you’ve been sidetracked. If you’ve ever needed to market yourself, pitch an idea, or slap the world in the face with your latest epic creation, you’re familiar with what I’m talking about. Don’t deny it. Don’t be ashamed. It happens. Look. Right there. See the space between the ‘s’ in ‘happens’ and the period? I just did it right there. I checked Twitter, retweeted a picture, and checked Facebook to catch up with a new follower. See? I’m guilty as charged.

Tibetan Skull

Tibetan skull carving. Too cool not to retweet. Go ahead. Buy me one for Christmas. It’s never too late.

Perhaps you begin to see where I’m going with this. I’m not bashing Twitter, Facebook, or any other social outlet. Far from it. I’m happy to have access to these amazing resources with which to harass my friends and frienemies, spread the word about my books, link to my blogs, and post ridiculous photos of skulls, swords, and whatever gruesome shots of myself the web will let me get away with.

It’s just that, even though we might think they are, these resources aren’t free. Not even close. If time is money (and it is, I promise you) I’m pretty sure I spend thousands of virtual dollars in web-marketing every year. For every hour I save by having access to a laptop, an iPad, and the internet, I’m willing to bet I lose nearly as much in creating a permanent web presence. I blog. I link to my blog. I post excerpts, cover art, and alternate cover art. I tweet, retweet, and  chat with other awesome artists. I edit my web stuff as much as I do my real work, and that’s because self-marketing in this day and age is real work. Anymore, it feels like writing books is the easy part. Much harder is being genuinely connected to the world around me. It’s something to consider. Don’t let the convenience of it all fool you. There’s just as much work to be done today as ever, if not more.

And so, if I dare reminisce, don’t kill me for it. I simply pine for a bit of face-to-face interaction. I crave the convenience of the web, but from time to time I’d like to converse with my contemporaries over a glass of bourbon, a smoking candle between us, and nary a piece of technology in the room. Collaboration used to mean sitting at a table with a pen, a few sheaves of paper, and an idea floating between us. Now it’s me and you and everyone else in the world simultaneously shattering the silence with our keystrokes. I don’t hate it. Au contraire. It’s intimidating, but it’s awesome. It’s antisocial, but not really. It’s all-immersive, all the time. It’s the world we live in.

And I’m just now learning to embrace it.

Until next time…

J Edward Neill

Author of every genre

Painter of darkness

Holiday? What holiday?

Skelsanta

 

 

So here we are. It’s the ass end of the holiday season, and 2014 will be here any minute. For many of us this means a return to the long, slow slog between January 2nd and…oh, I don’t know…Memorial Day. It tends to be a brutal time, these next five months. It’ll be cold. It’ll be wet. It’ll be vacation-free. It may even suck.

I’m looking forward to it.

With the end of the all-consuming crush of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and all the volcanic activity in-between, my fingertips will be back on the move. I’ve no fewer than three big writing projects slated for completion in  2014. Here’s the rundown on each one:

1. Dark Moon Daughter – Book II of the Tyrants of the Dead Trilogy

Yes, it’s true. I finished the first draft of DMD eight years ago. But now, much like an alluring ex-girlfriend, I’m coming back to it. You see, originally Down the Dark Path (Book I) was meant to be a solo work. No sequels, no prequels, just a lonely epic lying on the edge of the night. But shortly after I finished DDP, I realized I’d only just begun. I’d only lightly grazed Andelusia, Garrett, Rellen, and the Ur. I needed to drill deep into the minds of my protagonists, and deeper still into the topics I thrive in: heartbreak, sacrifice, betrayal, and death. Dark Moon Daughter takes a much different perspective than DDP. It’s the meat on the marrow, the flank steak on the beast. I’m nearly done editing the final draft. After a few test reads, it’ll hit the market, and I’ll be happier for it. My deadline is March 21st. The pressure is on, and I love it.

2. Hollow Empire – Season One – Night of Knives (co-authored with John R McGuire)

I haven’t talked much about Hollow Empire. Don’t take it for disinterest. I love writing it so much, I’m a little sad to have finished my portion of the first draft. I’m writing the characters Nadya Veraltz and Murgul has-no-last-name, and I’ve fallen quite in love with both of them. What’s it about? Well…Hollow Empire is a post-apocalypic dark ages drama. It’s an, ‘Imagine if the apocalypse happened in a medieval setting‘ concept. A horrific event has torn the nation of Vhur to tatters, leaving Nadya, Murgul, and John R McGuire’s characters to pick up the pieces and survive. We’re releasing it in six separate episodes, each available in e-book form. At the end of the e-run, we’ll release the entire saga in softcover form. If all goes well, we’ll move on to Season Two and beyond. I’m thrilled to be a part of Hollow Empire. The episodic format and dystopian setting are both new for me, and as it turns out, I’m loving it. Cue McDonald’s music.

3. Darkness Between the Stars – Prequel to the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy

I could’ve put a number of projects here in this third spot, but Darkness Between the Stars is  the one I’m most looking forward to. After making sweet, sweet love to the original trilogy for the last twelve years, I realized I didn’t want to let it go. There’s still more to tell, and I’m a sucker for origin stories. More importantly, I’m a sucker for origin stories that focus on the antagonists. I love the bad guys, if you’ve yet to figure out. I’m still in first draft mode for Darkness Between the Stars. In writing it, I’m taking a completely different approach than all my other works. The entire thing (either one or two books) I’m writing in first-person perspective. One character, one voice, one path to the world’s bottom. Readers will witness the antagonists (yes, the Ur) work their evils from a singular point of view. I believe there’s beauty in sticking inside one character’s state of mind. I think you’ll find the same.

So stick with me, Tessera soldiers. I’ll still keep blogging my usual odds and ends, but I’ll spruce it up with excerpts, updates, new art, and all kinds of sexy links to keep you busy.

Oh, and pretty please clickity click on our subscribe link on the Home page.

Thank you, y vaya con diablo,

J Edward Neill

 

 

Caption Contest – Part 2 of 10,000

Ok loyal Tessera readers, here’s part deux of my 10,000 part captioning series. This week’s prize is a free autographed version of this:

SoulOrbCoverPaperback

To the writer of the cleverest caption (of the picture below, not the book cover) I’ll sign and ship a softcover copy of Down the Dark Path at no charge. By no charge, I mean nada, zilch, zip. I’ll even cover shipping, just because I love ya. This is the alternate cover art edition, of which only ten copies are currently in print. It’s that fresh. Put this tome in a room, and it’ll act like double reverse potpourri, darkening every lamp and candle, possibly even turning your children into demons (assuming they aren’t already.)

Now…as for the picture to be captioned:

Darth G Tessera

Yes it’s the G Man again. All Hallows Eve 2013. Darth Vader. Red lightsaber. Pilots a mean tie fighter. You get the picture. Pun intended.

Last contest’s captioner made me lol. And I never lol. I mean never. It hurts me to even type the letters l-o-l in succession. Imagine my indignation.

So I’m counting on you, friends, frienemies, and strangers. Knock this caption out of the park and win the darkest fantasy novel ever written…by me…thus far. Add your caption in the comments section. Voting ends on Christmas Day, 11:59 PM. And by voting, I mean me lol’ing, which I never do.

Love,

J Edward Neill

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