Top 10 challenges of being an only child

I can’t recall the last time I answered to anyone.

I’m spoiled rotten in a sense, having obligations that are entirely under my control.

No sibling rivalry, no gift-giving nightmares, no Thanksgiving dinners. No blow-up family fights, no jealousy, no summers stocked with weddings and in-laws.

But long stretches of silence, sometimes deep and dark.

It’s true. All of it. Despite having four half-brothers and sisters, I’m essentially an only child. Strange, I know. I was raised completely separate from the rest of the crew, and thus enjoyed (and suffered) all the peculiarities of being number one all the time. My son is likely destined for the same fate, with all the good and the bad that being an only kid entails. It’s with this in mind I’ve decided to list the Top Ten Good and Bad Things about being numero uno.

And here we go…

1. Fewer people in your life –  I’ve heard friends talk about how they ‘couldn’t imagine life without my siblings,’ and yet I’ve eavesdropped as those same friends carved their brothers and sisters’ behavior to tatters. For my son, I wish he had a friend and confidant other than me and his cadre of Lego Stormtroopers, but I also love that he lives in relative peace, not having to endure the constant tug and pull of a little brother or sister. For me as an adult (sort of) it’s like being on an island. The beach, trees, and water are all mine, but no one else is here. I happen to love it, but perhaps that’s because I’ve never known any better.

2. Large amounts of time to contemplate – My favorite part about being an only is having the luxury of max me-time. Non-only friends have told me the exact opposite (that their favorite part is always having someone to talk to). Both arguments have merit. However, I tend to believe it’s easier to develop a creative passion when alone. An only has no choice in the matter. If he wants to play Hungry Hungry Hippos, he’d better invent his own competition. That’s all I’m sayin’.

3. Selfishness – See also narcissism. Booting one’s self from the center of the universe is no easy task. Learning humility and patience are challenges easier faced with siblings on hand. Need I say more?

4. Maximum one-on-one time with mom and dad – For the little ones, this a good thing. It’s a true luxury to be able to approach mom or dad for whatever you need, whenever you need it. Also, bonding opportunities (at a premium in households overrun with children) come hourly. It’s true that as an adult, I worry about all-my-eggs-in-one-basket syndrome, and if-he-turns-out-to-be-a-serial-killer-I-don’t-really-have-a-plan-B, but I wouldn’t trade my uninterrupted, five-hour long conversations with the G Man for the world.

 

Turkeys

Who’s really the kid here? Him? Me? Hell if I know…

 5. Holidays – While it’s true that I and some of my only-child friends share a snicker every time we hear about family gatherings gone awry, that’s hardly the whole story. In secret, while other huge families full of brothers, sisters, in-laws, and hordes of children are gathering for backyard-shaking parties, I’ll admit to sitting on the sidelines and being green with envy. ‘Looks pretty fun,’ I’ll tell myself. ‘Maybe I’ll sneak in and pretend to be someone’s cousin.

6. Empathy – From personal experience, this one is tough. Being an only child can boost creativity through the ceiling, but it can also result in ruthlessness. Growing up in a quiet household without any sense of other people’s feelings tends to leave one a little behind in the race. Kudos to you only-children who’ve managed to catch up. If you’ve got any pointers, I’m listening.

7. Sportsmanship – Until I developed a circle of friends in my teens, I had none of this. If I didn’t destroy my competition in every way possible, I went home hating the world. I see evidence of crappy sportsmanship in other only-children. I have to believe it’s due to never getting our asses kicked enough by older brothers or being humbled by having to play fair with younger sisters. Parents of only-children, beware. Teach them how to lose. It’s a key life skill.

Punchout

Your lunch money, or else!

8. A Shoulder to Cry on – Everyone needs this at some point in their lives. And if that person has a parent or spouse with whom to share sorrows, that’s great. But there’s nothing like a sibling (or so I’m told) for leaning on during tough times. They were there with you. They know what it was like.  Common experiences create common ground. My advice to other only’s; marry into a big family and be cool to your in-laws.

9. Vacations – Which is better: Riding alone with mom and dad or riding with someone to torment on the way to the beach? I don’t have the answer. I’m asking you. If anyone wants to experiment by riding with me in the backseat while Clearwater-bound, let’s do this.

10. All the Things I Haven’t Thought of – Here’s the thing; since I’ve never fought on a battlefield stuffed with siblings, sometimes I feel like there’s an entire world of experiences I’ve missed. Don’t get me wrong. I’d never trade being an only. It’s awesome. It’s epic. It’s do-whatever-I-feel-like-tastic. But still…I can’t help but be curious. As a side-note, and something I never noticed before today, every book and story I’ve written is populated almost exclusively with only’s. The heroes, the villains, the characters in the backdrop. Only’s, all of them save two. I guess that means I’m biased, eh? Maybe it’s time to step outside my comfort zone…

 

Love,

J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead dark fantasy trilogy

Author of The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera

Down the Dark Path

Nether Kingdom – Prologue

What follows is a free excerpt from Nether Kingdom – Book III in the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy.

The first two books are available here and here and here.

Nether Kingdom is by far my darkest work yet. In writing it, I plummeted into my mind’s lowest caverns, wandering paths I never knew existed.

The full version of Nether Kingdom will arrive in time for Christmas 2014, just in time to darken the holiday season.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt.

 *** 

Servants of the Sleeper 

A

An hour before dusk, they came to Mooreye.

    As the sunlight drew back from the crumbling towers and broken streets, the two stalked the grounds as though they were the city’s new masters, free to despoil the kingdom of the dead. They moved like smoke, soundless as spirits, drifting through alleys and hollowed homes. The shadows of a thousand burned-out buildings lay heavy on their backs, and save for the plaintive caws of the quarreling crows, all was quiet in their wake. Mooreye lay dead, a tomb for the fallen, a stark reminder of what the Furyons had done.

    Just before nightfall, the pair began their work. Their stage was Mooreye’s grand courtyard, in whose center a pale tower speared from the weeds, and whose sides were fenced with iron spikes taller than any man. The first of the graverobbers, a bulbous beast of a man named Unctulu, licked his lips and wormed into the loam, his fingers like hungry larvae searching for their next meal. Nearby, Thresher drove his rusted spade into the dirt, sloughing aside huge gobs of soil. Their work was rapid and inelegant, for none were near to question it. No one had been to Mooreye since the Furyons destroyed it, and none were likely to come after the robbers’ work was finished.

    No man, no matter his origin, could claim such hideousness as Unctulu. As he knelt in the twisted grass and speared his maggoty fingers into the earth, his sparsely-toothed grin split his face like a festering scar across a pale, misshapen melon. Worse was his cadaverous skin, quivering over his bones, flapping beneath his half-rotted raiment of leather and rags. His only possessions were his bag, stuffed with all manner of moldering food, and his belt lined with some twenty cork-sealed vials, clinking constantly as he dug. Unctulu was heedless of the sweat rolling from his hairless, malformed head, and unaware of the gurgling, toad-like sounds oozing from his throat. Had anyone asked him, he would have told them he relished his disgustingness, that it was ‘not ‘Tulu’s job to be pretty.’

    Compared to his companion, Thresher seemed a titan, moving ten times more dirt than Unctulu. He said nothing as he tore great shovelfuls of soil away, and he never tired. Thresher’s face lay hidden behind an eyeless, featureless iron mask, and his body beneath rusted, lobstered mail. How it was Thresher saw the world, and how he exhumed so swiftly, none would dare ask.

    “Ah, Thresh, this is too easy, yes?” Unctulu gurgled. “A month more and we’ll be back home, feasting like kings. Well, you might not feast, but I will.”

    If Thresher heard, he gave no sign. Wordless, he continued to dig. His armor groaned and shuddered, but he moved as though completely unencumbered, gouging out great chunks of black earth with each stroke.

    “Slow, slow.” Unctulu patted a mound of soil. “I can smell it, can’t you? The grave’ll be as shallow as the Sleeper said. Easy work, after so long to get here.”

    Five shovelfuls more and Thresher hoisted his spade over his shoulder, laying it to rest beside the steel greatsword on his back.

    “Good, good.” Unctulu lapped up a strand of escaping saliva. “Yes, yes, this is the spot. Pale bones, we’ve found. Right where Master said.”

    The evening sky dimmed to a deep, somber gray. Burbling, Unctulu rummaged through his bag and produced a spherical lamp. “Yes, Thresh. Much better.” He stoked the lamp until it glowed like a tiny moon. “My eyes…not like yours. Need a little light for digging.”

    In the lamp’s pallid light, Unctulu clawed a last few fistfuls of dirt away from the hole Thresher had dug. “Look, look.” He shivered with satisfaction.

    “This is the one.”

    Half-covered in rotted clothes and decomposed beyond recognition, the corpse beneath Unctulu’s fingers was laid out in awkward fashion. “Buried right where he died.” Unctulu’s smile broadened. He dug the dirt out from between each rib, each spinal disc, each brittle bone from collar to knee. Smacking his lips, he removed a vial from his belt and poured its contents along the length of a protruding hip. The foul liquid fumed and sizzled, melting the rest of the dirt away. “Now, now,” he cackled. “Looksey, looksey, Thresh. What have we here?”

    Greedily, he ran his fingers along a leather belt looped around the corpse’s hip. Two empty scabbards were affixed to the belt, one to each side. Unctulu tugged the belt and scabbards loose, afterward dousing each with a second phial of black liquor.

    “See, see…” He slid one finger across the faint symbols etched on the scabbards’ steel caps. “The Raven. The crossed swords.

    “The marks of the Pale Knight.”

    The scabbard and belt were no ordinary items. The courtyard was no ordinary plot of land. The dry, dead grass and all the streets of Mooreye had been the site of a great and bloody battle. “Every grave, every cairn.” Unctulu grinned hideously, “Grae or Fury, dead and gone. But not this one. Of all the corpses here, this one’s different. Thillrian, he is. The worst of them, right where he should be.”

    Unctulu rose. Beside Thresher, hulking and silent, the bloated man stood a full head and half shorter. “Now is the time, Thresh.” He looked up. “Give me the item.”

    Thresher reached for the plate covering his left shin, finding a narrow seam betwixt the joining of two greaves. With fingers locked in a coal-colored gauntlet, he withdrew the object hidden therein. The night trembled, the breeze stopped blowing, and the last of the day’s light faded away.

    The object was to blame.

    It was a gnarled, needlelike tine, thick as a man’s thumb at its widest and sharper than any dagger at its point. Long as a thighbone, it looked fashioned of polished obsidian, but in truth its make was unknowable. When Thresher held it high, it made the shadows move, stirring the darkness like stew inside a cauldron.

    Unctulu looked longingly at the tine, his throat welling like a toad’s. “It’s time, Thresh. Remember what we’re here to do. Now and only now, you’re to let me have it. If I don’t give it back, you’re to butcher me, but otherwise I’m to use it.

    “Just. This. Once.”

    Thresher released the tine. Unctulu grasped it from its thicker, duller end and waved it from side to side as if to carve a lesion in the night. When Thresher reached for his sword, Unctulu grimaced. “Oh, all right. Well and well. Good and good. I’ll play nice.”

    Thresher left his sword in its scabbard. Sniffing the air and swiping the saliva from his chin, Unctulu hunched over the exhumed cadaver. “If you’d eyes, Thresh, I’d tell you to close them. This’ll not be pretty.”

    Unceremoniously, he stabbed the tine into the soil, wounding the dirt next to the corpse’s ribs. The tine punctured soil and loose stone as though they were water, sinking down to half its length. Gurgling, Unctulu left it in place, sharp end pointed to the heart of the earth, the other aimed straight at the star-pricked sky.

    “A long way we marched,” he drooled. “And all for one man. How many nights have we blackened the road, Thresh? How many times did the Grae almost catch us? I’d sooner raise up the whole city than this one cruel carcass. But it’s as the Master wishes, and so we’ll do as we’re told.

    “We’ll bring him back.”

    The tine lay half-buried in the loam. Mist arose from the punctured earth, the grey vapors swallowing the open grave and slinking across the bones like a tongue. Unctulu’s lantern light played across the mist. It gleamed white at first, then blue, then lavender. Unctulu held his breath as the vapors thickened, the mist winding in ever tighter circles around each bone, adhering to the marrow like mortar.

    “Look, Thresh. It’s working.”

    A tremor rattled the courtyard. The grasses near the grave withered and turned to ash. Where once the cadaver’s brittle bones had lain bare to the night, fresh tendons reknit themselves, and muscles, raw and red, took shape. Layer upon layer, pale flesh stitched itself atop a template of veins and sinew. Organs pumped to life, and a new heart spasmed, thumping a black rhythm in a body eight years dead.

    Faster than Unctulu could swallow ten breaths, the body became whole. The deep shadows lessened, and the night’s natural sounds resumed. Unbroken, the tine expelled itself from the dirt and rolled to a stop at Unctulu’s feet.

    “Disgusting, wasn’t it? It’s different watching it happen to someone else.” Unctulu snatched up the tine. “Ah…well…I suppose you’ll want this back.”

    Thresher snared the black tine and slid it back into his greaves.

    The body stirred.

    The man in the grave seized a sharp breath and exhaled.

    “Look at him.” Unctulu gave a three-toothed grin. “Not jealous, are you Thresh? Seems eight years in the dirt leaves a man in better shape than eight hundred. Worry not. You’re still prettier.”

    Thresher tilted his head. Behind his iron mask, thoughts unknowable roiled.

    “You want to know?” Unctulu asked.

    Thresher remained still.

    “Of course you do,” said Unctulu. “This’ll be the last of the ones Master raises, leastways for now. No one wanted him during his first life, and no one but Master wants him now. Look at him, whiter than his bones, waking up from his nightmare. Well…if his dreams were rotten, he deserved it. More than any other, I’d say. More even than me.”

    Thresher tilted his head again.

    “That’s right, Thresh. Don’t you know who this is? This be Archmyr Degiliac, mass murderer, ruin of the Furies, butcher and raper and slaver. The Pale Knight, they called him.

    “And they’ll call him worse yet.”

***

Copyright 2014 – J Edward Neill – All rights reserved

 

What if…? I turned Sleeping Beauty into a dark fantasy novel

Spoiler alert: For those who haven’t seen Maleficent, beware…

A few weeks ago, I fired up the What if…? series with my dark reimagining of this

Today I’m reworking the classic animated film Sleeping Beauty, and to a lesser degree, Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent. What if, instead of a sometimes-for-kids, sometimes dark, but just as often musical and cheery film, I penned Sleeping Beauty as a full-length dark fantasy novel? And what if, instead of Maleficent’s decidedly PG rating, I poured a decanter of thick, soupy shadow juice all over it and gave my pretend new novel a solid R? The original film is a classic, the new film not so much, but between the two I believe there’s a grimmer tale yet untold. Two movies. Two stories. One blender. One book.

Well? What if?

DragonSB

Fear not. In the book, she gets WAY more screen time.

 As far as darkness, the movie Maleficent sets a good tone in the beginning. Stefan is a thief, albeit a terrible one, and his doomed romance with our heroine sets the stage nicely for his betrayal. But let’s get doomier. Let’s get tragic(er). In my pretend book, King Stefan never hates Maleficent. He loves her. Always and forever. Even after he carves off her wings, even after she curses his child to die, he pines for her. His wife and queen, Aurora’s mother, will suffer long bouts of depression due to his love for another woman. His subjects will think him mad. For what woman could ever hope to compete with Maleficent, whose beauty, majesty, grace, and power are second to none? Stefan will always lament his sacrifice. He gave up the truest of loves for the dubious honor of becoming king. Aurora’s curse is his fault, and rather than become an irredeemably evil monarch (the easy way out), he is tormented to the last of his days by what he has done.   

In the movie, I liked the twist of Maleficent watching over Aurora and eventually wishing she could undo the curse. But after that one act of kindness, I want no redemption for her. In Dark Sleeping Beauty, our favorite evil sorceress will do far more terrible things than in either movie. After realizing she cannot undo Aurora’s curse, she’ll raise up her goblin armies, send out storms of crows to spy for her, and destroy city after city in dragon form. (Because, you know, we ALL want more dragon.) Prince Philip’s father, the wonderfully plump Hubert, will perish in an ocean of her green fire. Her thorn thickets will cover most of the realm. Castles will fall to her and her alone (But not Stefan’s). The Hobbit’s Smaug will have nothing but envy for the horror Maleficent wreaks. She’s lost her heart. She’s going to lose Aurora. A woman’s vengeance is like nothing else on this earth.

maleficent2

I wonder if Brad asks her to dress up like this after the kids are asleep…

Fallen at Maleficent’s hands:

Two of the three faeries. Cooked to crisps while helping Prince Philip break free of Maleficent’s fortress. For the record, I’m sticking with the animated faeries. The ones in the new movie…awful

King Hubert. BBQ’d. Gives Prince Philip all the more reason to hate Maleficent

Stefan’s wife, the queen. Hangs herself from a gibbet. “Alas, I’ll never be but an afterthought in your eyes,” she’ll write in her death note. “No matter the horrors of what she’s done, you’ll always wish Maleficent were queen. And perhaps one day she will be, albeit without you.”

King Stefan. Of grief and sickness. And only days before Price Philip escapes and kisses his daughter

Who gets to live:

Prince Philip. Though wounded terribly and gravely ill after spending a decade in Maleficent’s dungeon

The blue faerie, Meriwether. She alone will put Stefan’s kingdom into a ten-year sleep. In fact, the closing narrative will be hers, lamenting Stefan’s foolishness and Maleficent’s wrath

Aurora. She’ll still get her kiss. But she has to sleep for a decade first. And when she wakes, her parents are dead and her kingdom is the last standing

Maleficent’s crow. Dude worked too hard to die 

The End Game: The last battle in the animated film Sleeping Beauty is fairly epic. After enduring the best villain’s speech ever, Prince Philip flees his dungeon, battles hundreds of goblins, carves through walls of thorns, and duels Maleficent in dragon form to the death. In Dark Sleeping Beauty, it’s a little different. A weary, sickly, and ten-years-older Philip crawls from his cage. He takes up his new magical weapons, but instead of a glorious sword and unbreakable shield, the faeries give him a wicked, dragon-slaying blade and an ugly fireproof shield, forged over the last decade in the lowest furnaces of Stefan’s castle. Due to Philip’s weakness, two of the faeries are cooked during his escape. He trudges away from Maleficent’s fortress, and for the next week he’s hunted by goblins. Only after regaining some of his strength and seeing Stefan’s castle surrounded by a thorns a mile thick does he dare confront his enemy. “With this blade will you her heart pierce,” Meriwether will tell him. “Else your love forever sleeps and the last kingdom shall fall.”

The aftermath: I like a good, cheesy, happy ending. Not. In Dark Sleeping Beauty, when Philip awakes his darlin’, he’s ten years older than her. Ten tired, painful years. Yet poor Aurora remembers nothing. All she knows is that she is now queen, her prince (and soon husband) is beset by shadows, and all the kingdoms around her are destroyed. She must mature quickly (she’s only sixteen) and rise to the challenge of rebuilding a ruined land. If you think about, it’s a nobler ending. Sweet as pie, the kiss and easy oblivion of the movie, but sweeter still a queen rising above the ashes of her father’s malcontent. And no, it won’t be without struggle. Not with her new pet crow sitting lightly on her shoulder.

Next week? I have no idea what next week’s blog will bring. I’ll think of something.

J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead dark fantasy trilogy

Author of The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera

Down the Dark Path

Lemonade on the porch

Lemonade on the porch

Noun

1. A state of contentment.

2. A time in one’s life during which a person reflects upon all they done in life and finds satisfaction.

3. The whole point of it all.

LemonadeOnThePorch

This guy has the right idea. I’ll see ya in a few years, buddy.

 

Used to be, I thought happiness meant something entirely different. Perhaps I was entranced with the American ideals: money, a big house, a beautiful wife, long vacations on the beach, etc. I wouldn’t say I was obsessed with materialism, but certainly I was clueless about the truth of what happiness really is. Lemonade on the porch isn’t a thing, a place, or a person. It isn’t something you hope for, dream of, or want for tomorrow.  It’s something you have to make for yourself. It’s something you have to try to earn today, because tomorrow will be different. Or it might never come at all.

And so, once again, I’ll turn to books. Books will be my lemonade, and the porch my castle in the sky. Hell, I don’t even own a porch right now, but no matter. I’ll pretend I do. I’ll sit somewhere and pretend the stars are wheeling over my head. I’ll wander vagabond-like to every park bench and gazebo in Georgia. I’ll invade your porch when you’re not looking. Because, you know, there’s something special about the written word. A good book can provide instant serenity, while two hours spent writing can satisfy the mind in rare fashion. When life gives you lemons, grab a book and find a porch. You’re welcome.

Here’s the part where I’d normally get all long-winded about life, death, love, and darkness. Nah. I’m done. Instead I think I’ll jot down the top ten books I want to sit and read in a comfy chair with an icy beverage at my side. Think of it as a bucket list, but for books. Because no matter what horrors real life might bring, one can always escape. Simply crack a cover, wet your thumb, (or turn on your Kindle) and start reading. Peace will find you.

Book Bucket List:

Sideways – Rex Pickett – Because it’s about two dudes looking for lemonade on the porch. I mean…c’mon. And because it’s sitting on my bookshelf…on its side.

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte – The Tom Hardy movie turned me on to this one. Enough tragedy to make anyone feel better about their life.

The Chronicles of Narnia series – C.S. Lewis – I read these as a kid. Time for a re-read. Odds are an adult read will make them feel completely different.

Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger – I can’t believe I haven’t done this one yet. Time to see what all the fuss is about.

The Hunger Games trilogy – Suzanne Collins – I’ll pass on Twilight, Harry Potter, and Divergent, but something tells me I’ll find value here. And yes, I know. I’m sorry.

War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy – I fancy myself an epic novel writer, but I’ve got nothing on Leo.

Les Miserables – Victor Hugo – Another one the movie sold me on. If the book is even half as good…

Dracula – Bram Stoker – If only because everyone tells me it’s about as grim a novel as is possible to write.

Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand – I know the premise. I know the controversy. I’ll consume this for the same reason I read the Bible.

The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien – Already read it several times. Doesn’t matter. Gonna do it again.

So anyway, what’s on your bucket list? Wanna make a million dollars? Climb a mountain? Live to be a thousand? I recommend none of these. Go for lemonade on the porch, whatever it means to you. And go for it today.

Next week, the What if? series returns.  I’ll adapt the original animated Sleeping Beauty and Angelina Jolie’s recent Maleficent into a dark fantasy novel. It’ll be fun. I promise.

 J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead dark fantasy trilogy

Author of The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera

Down the Dark Path

 

Summer sucks for writing

SkullMelt

North Georgia. Circa the dead of summer 2014.

It’s hot out there. It’s sunny, muggy, steamy. The 4th of July is right around the corner. My skull is melting…

I’m more or less taking a vacation from writing this weekend, but before I dump ice over my head, shut my laptop down, and take my long-awaited rum runner/margarita bath, I have a few things I’d like to say:

Summer is terrible for writing. Especially writing horror and dark fantasy. Especially for me.

During early spring, late autumn, and winter’s dregs, it’s easy. I look out my window and see clouds. I open my door and feel the wind and rain wash over me. I hear the leaves crunching beneath my boots, the sound so very like bones breaking. It’s easy for me to get in a writing mood. The night comes sooner. My phone is quieter. My kid, bless his wee fiery heart, can walk outside and play without turning into hot, crispy bacon. Mmmm…bacon.

But in summer, it’s pure chaos. Everyone wants to party. There’s always a pool needing invading, a cool drink requiring sipping, and a friend whose barbeque needs to find its way into my belly. Summer is a big, loud, hot, sweaty mess. I love everything about it, except that it makes sitting in the dark, alone with my imagination, a little trickier. I could probably wage war against all the distractions and max out on my silent time, but…nah. I’ll just play both sides. I’ll bake all day and write all night. Instead of a haunting Hans Zimmer soundtrack, I’ll crank up Danzig’s Dirty Black Summer. Instead of candles, I’ll open the windows at midnight and let the white hot starlight in. I’ll party and I’ll write. Sleep is for dead men.

Mmmm…bacon.

Since I’m shorting Tessera several hundred words this week, I’ll make it up to you with a few links. These are my favorite Tessera Guild articles of all time. Some are mine; some belong to my guildmates. We’ve been around long enough now that even if you’ve already read these, you might enjoy a recap. I know I did:

Top Ten Villains of All Time

John R McGuire’s Grab Bag

Amanda Makepeace’s Zen Time

Longing For Rain

Chad J Shonk’s Summer is Coming. Baseball is Here.

Now I just need to find a way to get back to the beach, if only for a day or two.

See you on the flip side,

J Edward Neill

 

 

 

Sketchbook for the end of the world

 Let’s face it. I’m likely the worst artist on Tessera. If you want beautiful, colorful, deep art, check here.

Otherwise…let’s dance.

A few months back, I shared a few sketches I drew ages ago during the inception of Down the Dark Path. Each sketch depicted a fragment of the story as I’d originally dreamed it. My pattern was: I dreamed it, I drew it, and years later, I wrote epic fantasy novels about it. It sounds simple. It wasn’t.

Recently, I dug up about forty additional sketches.  Most (read…all) I sketched during my early twenties. They’re simple, sometimes juvenile, and somewhat faded by years spent moldering in an ancient paper envelope.  Even so, to this day they reflect my early conceptual visions of the Tyrants of the Dead series. If I were a true artist, I’d spend my time painting reimagined masterpieces for each one.

But I’m not.

So you get sketches…

Gryphon Inn

 

We begin with a tower deep in Grandwood. It’s ten stories high, surrounded by oak trees, and hides a wizard’s laboratory in its walls. I named this tower Gryphon. About ten years after this sketch, I wandered back to it. I decided Gryphon needed to be an entire city, not one lonely tower in the woods. And so Gryphon, home of Rellen, was reborn.

 

 

 

 

Knight 1

This was my original concept sketch for Rellen Gryphon, one of the heroes of Down the Dark Path and Dark Moon Daughter. Rellen later lost his halberd, became younger and blonder, and sat atop a horse instead of a bizarre, long-snouted mutant mule, but his pose…reining up to watch the Furyon horde draw near…still belongs to him.

 

 

 

 

The Whisperers

 

Long ago, I only had the vaguest notion of what the bad guys in the Tyrants series looked like, but this is how they began. I’m not spoiling anything, because the modern-day Ur look very little like this trio. And yet, somehow…I still remember the night I dreamed them. White eyes… Pale as death… Whispering black thoughts into fragile minds…

Hmmm…

 

 

 

Ghoulish

Nothing fancy about this dude. Every other sketch I created in the beginning just happened to be of a ghost, a ghoul, or a skeletal horror. I suppose this guy could be the murderous spirit who shows up in the swamps of Furyon. You’ll just have to read it and decide for yourself.

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KiraniSexy Elf

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It’s no secret. Women are usually more pleasant to draw and dream of than zombies, ghosts, and stone towers. These two ladies were characters who lost their spots in Down the Dark Path during the great 200k-word ‘let’s make this novel more serious’ culling. Even so, I remember them, though these drawings do them no justice.

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Soul Orb Sketch J

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Now we’re getting somewhere. This is my first sketch of the Soul Orb. (The final version graces Down the Dark Path’s cover.) Notice the ghoulish faces at the Orb’s base and the demonic eyes gazing out of its center. This is among my favorite sketches.

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Night Wisdom

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My original concept for Dark Moon Daughter’s antagonist, the Warlock. He later lost the horns and the jewelry, but kept the hood. Because…you know…every diabolical wizard needs a sinister cloak to hide behind.

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What are YOU looking at

And lastly, a bit of adolescent fun. The original Andelusia was sassy, sneaky, and completely willing to use her beauty to snare men’s adoration. Here she seems to be saying, “What are you looking at?” And yes, she’d have used that knife. You probably had it coming.

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That’s pretty much all the sketches I have related to the big fantasy trilogy. Maybe someday, after I write my fiftieth novel and the ideas cease to flow, I’ll get some art lessons.

I could definitely use ’em.

Love,

J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead dark fantasy trilogy

Author of The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera

Down the Dark Path

What if…I directed the original Star Wars trilogy?

vader87

 

 

 I’m pretty sure Vader had better days.

 But while being x-rayed by the Emperor probably hurts, it also makes for a perfect skull…

 …and a perfect lead-in to Part II of my new What if…? series.

 Last week I What if’d The Lord of the Rings, and what it would’ve been like had I written it as a dark fantasy. This week I’m jumping over to film. To Star Wars. To the original three movies. A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and so forth. Yes, I know it’s heresy. Deal with it.

So…what if? What if, instead of George Lucas’s sometimes fantastical, ocassionally sci-fi (ish), and oftentimes made-for-kids space drama, F’n J Edward Neill stepped in with total creative control? What if I’d fashioned all three movies into a deep, dark, end-of-the-universe, not-at-all-for-kids series?

Well…what if? How would I remake one of the most beloved series of all time into a thick, soupy, shadowy epic?

First up: the bad guys. I demand more competence, more lethality. From the ground up, I’d reinvent the Stormtroopers. Gone would be the slow, bumbling, easily-confused cannon fodder. Dark Stormtroopers would come complete with 500% more terror, skill, and slavish devotion to their purpose (murdering rebels). Instead of nice, clean, shiny…and entirely useless white armor, I’d pack them in matte black. Their armor would amplify speed, aiming, and strength. They’d hurl wookies aside like rag dolls, pick rebels apart with terrifying precision, and sweep through ships like locusts. I was never afraid of the Stormtroopers, not even as a child. But I wanted to be.

Moving along…

An effective way to cast a deeper shadow across any story, especially a sci-fi space drama: give the villains superior weapons. And I don’t just mean bigger guns, scarier costumes, and huger numbers. I mean truly terrifying technology. Red lasers, big ships, and tractor beams are all well and good, but I want to feel a true sense of dread when the bad guys slow down to approach a planet. Give me Star Destroyers launching millions of explosive nano-projectiles. Give me Stormtroopers firing silent, invisible death rays. Give me good guy x-wings not bursting into flames when shot (wouldn’t happen in space anyway) but falling quietly to pieces when Tie Fighters roll up behind them and launch volleys of death particles. Any villain worth his salt (aka Darth Vader) should have a plethora of ways to annihilate his foes. In Dark Star Wars, even one tiny little Imperial ship would scare the shit out of a planet packed with helpless good guys.

 A few small quick hit ways I’d darken up Star Wars:

Ewoks: Scarier

C3P0: Talks less

Star Destroyers: Can actually destroy stars

Darth Vader: Chokes out dozens at a time using the Force. Who needs Dark Stormtroopers when you’ve got a Sith lord capable of slaying ships’ entire crews from afar?

Death Star: Doesn’t blow up planets or blast ships to smithereens, but kills all living things with a big invisible death ray (silent death for everyone!)

DeathStar

Now with a new, darker, scarier paint job…

Perhaps blurred in the fantastical-ish nature of Star Wars are the horrors of extreme technological advancement. Imagine if you will the sheer amount of labor (likely slave labor) and economic sacrifice needed to build a Star Destroyer, a herd of Imperial Walkers, or two Death Stars. To darken up the series, I want everyone to pay the price of building the Empire’s army. Entire planets stripped of resources: Check. Vast automated space stations manned by droids and guarded by ship-killing probes: Check. Star systems enslaved: Check. Alien species wiped out due to inefficiency: Check and mate. The Empire’s truest evil is not in wanting to kill rebels, but in creating the conditions that make the rebels want to rebel in the first place. Compelling my dark reimagining of the series is a vision of galactic-scale misery. I want us to hate the Empire like never before.

And lastly, it has always been one of my contentions that  good guys get off too easy. In modern movies and books, it seems (aside from Game of Thrones) that most if not all protagonists survive their ordeals despite hurling themselves into danger again and again. In my darker, graver vision for Star Wars, the good guys suffer more. In Cloud City, C3P0 meets his doom. He doesn’t get to come back after being blasted by imperial agents, but gets reprocessed with the rest of the junk droids, perhaps even being hacked to provide the Empire with information. And then there’s Lando. In Return of the Jedi, Han foretells the destruction of the Millenium Falcon (piloted by Lando against the second Death Star) but once again fate intervenes and the MF survives. Let’s darken it up. Lando and the Falcon get caught in the big explosion, and Han sees his ship plummet to Endor’s surface in ruin. And Luke. Poor Luke. In J Edward’s What if…? version, he dies with his father in the Death Star. Much like I needed Frodo to perish in tragic fashion with the One Ring, Luke needs to make the ultimate sacrifice. Leia gets to be the last Jedi hopeful…ever.

 Blasphemous enough for you? 

Join me next week when I reimagine Harry Potter’s Voldemort as an agent of Cthulu. No, I’m not serious. Or am I…?

J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead dark fantasy trilogy

Author of The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera

Down the Dark Path

What if…I rewrote The Lord of the Rings

This week marks the first entry in my new ‘What if…?’ series. If only to agitate, exhume, and pontificate, I plan to explore popular books and movies with purpose to pretend remake each of them as if I’d been the author, director, producer, etc. I’d like to think most creative types have asked themselves, “What if I’d written that? What if creative control had been mine?” Well…what if…? Let’s do this.

My only disclaimer: this is for fun. I intend no heresy. Well…maybe a little.   

And so

Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien. The first and most powerful of all fantasy series. Take a glance at how many books, movies, tv shows, and friggin’ cosplay conventions are LOTR-derivitave. This is where modern-day fantasy literature began.

What if I had written it?  What if…instead of a sometimes high/sometimes dark/sometimes strictly narrative fiction novel, f’n J Edward Neill had sat down and written it entirely as a dark fiction trilogy? What if, what if, what if…?

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Let’s start with what feels obvious to me. In LOTR, you’ve got some seriously terrifying bad guys. You’ve got nazgul, orks (rumor is J.R.R. wanted to spell it with a ‘k’) a balrog, evil wizards, fell beasts, etc. But more than any of them, you’ve got Sauron, aka a flaming eyeball in the sky. In J Edward’s version of LOTR, Sauron gets a full third of the narrative. He gets dialogue (perhaps from the Witch King’s perspective). He gets backstory (front and center instead of in the appendices). I don’t have a giant list of scenes I’d cut out to make room for more Sauron, but no matter. I’d add a fourth book if needed. The easiest way to darken up Tolkien’s masterpiece would’ve been to add 700% more Dark Lord, and that’s where I’d start.

Still here?

 The second way I’d cast a shadow over LOTR: more good guys need to die. Let’s start with Gimli and Legolas. Their unexpected friendship is a metaphor for all the strange alliances required for the good guys to have any hope of defeating Sauron. And so…one of them must die. My money is on Legolas. And my choice of death is via nazgul, at the Black Gate, right in front of Gimli. Let Legolas’s diminutive friend watch him go down in a blaze of glory, and let Gimli forever cherish their friendship after a nice, long spell of mourning. It’s possible (maybe even likely) that my desire to see Legolas go down has something to do with Orlando Bloom. No matter. It’s a war (the last and greatest of all Middle-Earth wars). The good guys get off too easy.

Who else needs to die? Frodo Baggins. I know. I’m sorry. Slap me silly. Kick me in the shins. I get that Frodo essentially dies when he sails away from Middle-Earth, but I’d have done it in a much more literal sense. Whether by falling into the crack of doom with Gollum, death by sheer sadness after losing the One Ring, or being speared with Sauron’s departing shadow, I’d have snuffed Frodo at the very moment of the Ring’s destruction. With every hobbit making it back to the Shire, the good guys get off too easy again. “You didn’t seriously expect him to survive Mordor?” someone could’ve asked Gandalf. “No. It was only a fool’s hope,” he would’ve answered again. And it was. We should all be punished for our foolishness, not just the poor, misunderstood antagonists.

A few quick-hit ways to continue darkening the series up:

Tom Bombadil: gone

Nazgul: win a fight or two (instead of constantly losing)

Minas Morgul: we get a glimpse inside

Gondor: utterly annihilated

Witch King and Gandalf: fight (with the Witch King fleeing back to the battle)

Moving right along. To really F with the reader, and to maximize the good guys’ suffering, I’d have ramped up the battle at the Black Gate. Tolkien made it well and truly dire. I’d had written it direr. I’d have butchered the good guys almost to the last man standing before the One Ring is destroyed. Legolas: dead. Gimli: wounded. Aragorn: wounded. Gandalf: holding the horde at bay for just…one…moment…longer. Leave the good guys with maybe a few dozen brave souls, and no more. I’d have wanted the reader to wonder, “He won’t really kill them all here? Will he?” Maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I would.

In ending the series, and with an eye toward leaving the reader with a subtle feeling of dread, I’d let Saruman live. Sure, Grima can try to kill him, but I’d give the original White Wizard a pass. He can creep off to the north, broken staff on the mend. His heart will be filled with vengeance, anger, and always the memory of Sauron’s voice in his head. Tolkien’s version works perfectly for a happily ever after ending, but any dark fantasy worth its salt needs a shadow of a threat to remain, therefore reminding the reader that conflict always was and always shall be.

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I’ve got a certain Rolling Stones’ song in mind…

There you have it. Don’t get me wrong: LOTR is perfect as-is. I wouldn’t really change a thing. It’s all just speculation. And by speculation I mean; painting rooms black and making hearts jump.

Tune in for next week’s What if…? segment, during which I rewrite 50 Shades of Grey as a horror novel. Just kidding. Maybe.

J Edward Neill 

A New Chapter (sticks and bones)

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I’ve missed ye, old bones.

I’ve been so busy of late, I’ve neglected you.

Never again. I promise.

Now that my whirlwind of new releases is over, and now that this and this are darkening the internets, life is somewhat back to normal.

Check that. Life is completely not normal at all.

For so many reasons: personal, professional, diabolical, the corners I’ve turned have led me to a new realm of space and time. My old comfort zone of sit back and write is lost…and a new zone being born. I have less than half the amount of time to write as I used to. My hours of peace and quiet have turned to minutes. Life tugs at me from all directions, popping my arms and legs from their sockets, stretching my creativity to its limit. I have marketing to do…endless marketing. I have a kid to raise, a home to inhabit, and little wars everywhere to win.

My response to this challenge? Do better. Write more. Logic be damned, I will become the machine my inner artist wants me to be. I’ll scrape off life’s barnacles and sail faster than ever. I will, I will, I will.

So then, my two weeks of self-imposed writing vacation are over. Books one and two of Tyrants of the Dead are published. It’s time now for my penultimate project, my coup de fantasy gras. I’ve decided that once I’m finished with book three, I’ll never again write an epic fantasy series. I’ll stick to traditional length fantasy, and I’ll continue branching off into sci-fi and horror…and maybe even *gasp* erotica (though I still need a model to shoot the cover art for that whole idea) but my days of writing 400k word-count epics need to end. For sanity’s sake.

Which leads me to book three: Nether Kingdom. With Nether Kingdom, I expect to knock all my previous efforts off of their darkest novel of all time pedestals. I’m aiming high (and not just word-count wise). I don’t want a nice, clean wrap-up to the series. I don’t plan to mail it in. Just because NK is my last planned epic doesn’t mean I’m not gearing up for it to be my best work ever. I’m trying to redefine the genre, punch every expectation in the mouth, and give Tolkien himself a run for his money. I want my villains to make my readers sick to their stomachs, my heroine to scrape rock bottom, and every character in-between to love and hate as hard as any real-life human could ever dream of. I want to plunk fantasy, sci-fi, literary fiction, and horror into a blender and spin out a liquor so frosty and delicious the patrons at chateau d’ J Edward will never want to return to their dreary days of Twilight, 50 Shades, and the 700,000 varieties of sexy gay vampire steampunk currently drowning the market.

Ur Shadow Black and White

Eileen Herron’s Ur sketch. Aka; a glimpse of the world’s end.

Thus it begins. As of tonight, I’m sitting down to carve up NK‘s 300k words into something less…paper weight-ish. I’ll cast some long shadows, sprinkle some grave-ash, and light some violet Ur fires. I’ll do the same every night for the next six months or until all that’s left of me are bones. I’ll still write for Tessera and over here, and maybe I’ll fire off a short story sequel to this, but otherwise I’ll not be side-tracked. No booze, no sex, no fist fights with hobos or long, slow trips to the beach. I’ll be a machine. I’ll date my characters. I’ll get drunk off the words.

Because…in the end…this is what makes me happy.

Love,

J Edward Neill

Update {March 3rd, 2017} – Nether Kingdom, the final book in the Tyrants of the Dead series, is complete. Read it here.

Dark Moon Daughter – Softcover Release

The Furyon war has ended.

Graehelm is at peace.

and yet…

The enemies of mankind grow stronger.

Andelusia Anderae knows she will be a part of what is to come.

She dreams it.

She feels the darkness pumping in her blood.

She loves two men.

But neither so much as she adores the night.

Come the hour, she must choose.

Use her power to battle the darkness…

or join them

And watch the world die.

Shrine

Dark Moon Daughter

Softcover Edition

Now available via Createspace and Amazon

Autographed copies available by request

J Edward Neill

New release: Dark Moon Daughter

Dark Andelusia Soaring

        Tonight I’m reminded of one of my favorite literary quotes:

“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.”

“See what?”

“White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

I leave it to you to find the source of this gem.

No, I’m not dead. Not just yet.

I’ve been working on this one for so long, it hurts in a very real, physical sense. I was a young man in my twenties when I wrote Dark Moon Daughter‘s first chapter. I was fresh, full of hope, bright-eyed, sun-shiny, and so forth. And now I’m a bitter, black-hearted old man. Ok. That’s probably overkill. But it’s true; seeing both sides of the coin is enlightening. It’s hard to write about darkness, shadows, and bone-crushing defeat until you’ve experienced a bit firsthand…and stood up stronger afterward.

And so, without further ado, I present:

DMDCoverCS3

Click me. Buy me. Read me. Love me.

I loved and sometimes hated every moment of writing Dark Moon Daughter. Yes, seriously. An adventure, it was, and not always easy. I climbed mountains tall and snowy…and wandered caverns dark and deep. Writing and editing this one felt like a relationship with an onery, passionate woman, and now I’m happy to let her soar free as a falcon. As of today, the Kindle version is on sale for a mere $6.99.  In a few days, the softcover version will be out on Amazon (and for those who live near enough, via me directly). Also, for the first five people willing to post an Amazon review (any amount of stars) I will hand over a signed softcover edition. I’ll even pay shipping if needed. You know where to reach me.

Dark Andelusia Landing        A little background on Dark Moon Daughter:

 – At only about half as long as Down the Dark Path, she’s more in the realm of traditional fantasy novels. For those terrified of my first epic’s staggering word-count, fear not. DMD is shorter and focuses primarily on three characters instead of six

 – The front cover is a painting hanging on my living room wall. Eileen Herron, a supremely talented sculptor and painter, braved an unedited copy of the book to prepare for the painting. Eileen also drew up the sketches in this post, each a dead ringer for the image of Andelusia…and the Ur

 – I began writing Dark Moon Daughter in 2003. I was miserable after the Chicago Cubs blew a 3-1 series lead over the Florida Marlins, and thus decided the only way to recover was to write a supremely dark, gut-wrenching novel. Weird, eh?

–  While a spiritual sequel to Down the Dark Path, ‘Daughter does not require the reader to know DDP through and through. But without a doubt, the third and final book in the series, Nether Kingdom, will demand a reading of Dark Moon Daughter. It’s almost like a mini two-part series rather than a trilogy, but ‘trilogy’ sounds better, so that’s what I’m calling the three books combined

– Dark Moon Daughter is definitely the least dark entry in the series. I like to think of her as a gateway drug. Inject a little Andelusia, Grimwain, and Ur into your veins, and you’ll be unable to resist coming back for more

Ur Shadow Sketch

A simple Eileen Herron sketch and an accidental preview of the Ur, who will haunt the pages of Nether Kingdom aplenty…

Supporters of fantasy, lovers of the night, eaters of words, I hope you’ll snag Dark Moon Daughter soon and give her a spin. She’s quite a catch.

Love,

J Edward Neill

 

 

Triple Bill: A new release, an upcoming release, AND a blog tour

It was a dark and stormy night…
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No really. It’s dark and storming outside. I’ve got the extended version of Return of the King thrumming in the background, a three year-old slumbering beside me, and an eerily chilling mid-May gale rattling the windows of my tiny apartment. It’s quite perfect, really.
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Sleepers
So let’s get this started. I’ve got a fresh new release simmering on Kindles and e-readers. The Sleepers, my latest quick-hit short story sci-fi horror, is out now. Originally, The Sleepers was meant to be a full-length novel. 160k words, I dreamed, an epic sci-fi saga if ever there was. But in a rare fit of realism, I decided committing another year to an already loaded schedule would’ve been foolish. So I trimmed out about 154k words, carved away all the clouds, and cut to the quick and brutal chase. The result is another tale in the vein of Old Man of Tessera.
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Shrine

A shrine for DMD. Yes, the blades are real. Yes, they’re sharp. Yes, they’re but a tiny fraction of the armory hanging from my walls…

 Next up, the imminent release of Dark Moon Daughter – Book II in the Tyrants of the Dead series. I’d hoped to release it about a month ago, but difficulties with the cover art resolution slowed the process a bit. Being hand-painted, photographed at a dozen different angles, and touched up via every graphics program known to man, the cover and I have waged a mini war for several weeks now. But now it’s done with. By May’s end, the sequel to the darkest, epic(est) fantasy novel ever will hit stores in softcover and Kindle formats. Next week’s blog will be fully dedicated to the story behind Dark Moon Daughter…and the upcoming final book in the trilogy, the chilling, world-ending Nether Kingdom.
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Last but hardly least, I’m trying my hand at a blog tour. A few weeks back, the talented and sharp-witted Michael Munz gut-shotted me on the web. While I’m still sharpening my teeth on the necks of Twitter, Facebook, Tessera Guild, and Down the Dark Path dot com, it seems other forces lurk in the shadows, plucking a few lucky souls out of the void.
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A little bit about Michael:
An award-winning writer of speculative fiction, Michael G. Munz was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Washington State in 1977 at the age of three. He studied writing at the University of Washington, and currently dwells in Seattle where he continues his quest to write the most entertaining novel known to humankind and find a really fantastic clam linguine. Check out his slick website here. Gauging from the titles of his books, Michael appears to be not so different from me, a lover of grim themes.
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Now, the essence of the blog tour:
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What I’m Working On:
Now that I’m finished with The Sleepers and Dark Moon Daughter, I plan on taking two weeks off to vegetate, after which I’ll crawl to the very bottom of my mind’s dungeon. Nether Kingdom, Book III in the series, awaits me in the darkness. It’s already in final draft phase, but I’ve cover art to commission, trimming to do, and extra shadows to stuff between each page. I’m more excited about this book than anything else I’ve written. It’s a culmination for me, the pinnacle of the blackest mountain.
I…can’t…wait…
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How Does My Work Differ From Others of its Genre:
Obviously I choose some pretty dark themes. I like writing about antagonists, about the reasons they turned wicked, and how easy it is for good people to wander into evil behaviors. It happens in real life all the time, only we tend to gloss over the why and how, instead focusing on the cut-and-dried, you’re either good or you’re bad point-of-view. I’m willing to say most fantasy novels drill into the plot more than the characters. I prefer character pieces, little dots of light against dark backgrounds.
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Why Do I Write What I Do:
Most of my characaters and plots are dreamed. As in literally. I dream them. The concept for the Tyrants of the Dead series: dreamed up in one night. (The character names and personalities came later). The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera: also dreamed up in single nights. What typically happens after I have an involved dream (or nightmare,) is that it sticks with me until I write it out. Everything I put to paper, I do it to expel it from my overcrowded head. I love my dreams, but I fear what might happen should I stop writing them away. ‘Stay ahead of the train,‘ I tell myself. ‘Or it’ll run me over.’
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How Does My Writing Process Work:
I’ve read a lot about other writers’ processes. Some of it is fascinating stuff. Others not so much. Truth be told, my process is boring. I dream it. I write it. I edit the crap out of it. I release it. It’s slow, but satisfying. I prefer to write at night, surrounded by candles, wine, and eerie soundtrack music, but none of these things are required. I don’t ever suffer from writer’s block. I don’t typically agonize over outlines or character sketches. I just let the words fall out. I love the intricacies of language, conversation, and conflict, and so, like the ocean, the waves of ideas never really stop crashing against me, the shore.
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Artist Highlights:
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John R McGuire
A fellow guildmember and North GA dweller, John is a novelist and a heavy hitter in the local comic book scene. His latest release, The Dark That Follows, is all over Amazon. I like to compare John to Atlas. He bears the weight of many worlds on his shoulders, but still keeps holding it up.
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River Fairchild
River’s book, Diamonds and Dust, sits in the on-deck circle of my books to read. River is quite a character, zinging pretty much everyone and everything (deservingly so) via Facebook and Twitter. Check out her website here, and show her some love.
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Amanda Makepeace
Another fellow guildmember, Amanda is an artistic machine. Aside from the great marketing and cover work she’s done for yours truly, she paints and sketches her way across the natural world with an eye toward the fantastical. Check out Amanda’s ever-growing portfolio here.
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It’s late. I mean late, late. Time to fire up a small glass of Scotch,  turn RotK off, and head off to bed. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll dream up a new book…or three.
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Until next time,
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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.

PerfumeUse

 #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.

 

IM000021

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.

 

 

game-of-thrones-iron-throne

 

#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

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