The Many Reasons You DON’T Want to be a Writer

On December 30th, 2001, I made pretty much the worst decision of my life.

I decided I wanted to be a writer.

And not just any writer, but a balls-to-the-wall, grind my fingers to stumps, spend every night alone with a bottle of scotch and a laptop whose battery is ready to die…writer.

And no I don’t regret it.

And yes I do.

These days, everyone has written  a book. Or at least they have a book idea. I’m reluctant to mention my profession anymore, given everyone’s opinion on the matter:

“I want to write a book, too!” people will tell me.

“I have this great idea. I just need to get it on paper,” they’ll say.

“I started something a few months ago. I’ll finish it one day,” my bartender muses.

To these well-meaning folk, I want to say awful things:

“You don’t want to write a book.”

“You’re not gonna finish anything.”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Usually I just nod and smile. After all, my bartender (who helped inspire this little tome) is a sweet lady. She makes a mean cocktail, and she doesn’t need to hear my negativity. And my friends who like to talk about their works-in-progress, they’re good people, too. It’s best to let them believe writing is something one does part-time, that it’s something everyone can do.

It isn’t.

Actually, it’s something almost no one should do.

If there’s a culprit, it’s the rise of the self-publishing market. I’m looking at you, Amazon, Smashwords, and all the other upstart platforms. No, I’m not upset about it. These outlets are how I pay the bills. But yeah…ok…I’m a little upset about it. Suddenly everyone in the world has the power to publish anything they want. This means the die-hard, out-of-their-goddamn-mind authors like me have to compete with pretty much everyone else on the planet.

It’s fine. I don’t mind a good fight. I just worry about the sanity of my contemporaries. This kind of competition doesn’t happen in other lines of work. Not everyone in the world can be a plumber, a lawyer, a chef, or a porn star. I can’t wake up tomorrow and decide to be a congressman. I can’t paint a big white hand on my face and join the ranks of the Uruk-Hai.

But everyone can be a published author.

You.

Your grandma.

Your dog.

The hacker who lives in your basement and knows how to scam the system.

Everyone.

Immediately.

Fuck this shit. (Just kidding.)

It’s not that I want this to change; I don’t. Writers chasing their dreams is a good thing. It’s far better for people to challenge themselves with the task of writing a book than it is for them to relax and enjoy their lives, maintain good relationships with their loved ones, or kick back and play the latest video game system no one can actually buy.

Am I being sarcastic?

I honestly don’t know anymore.

What do I know? Most people shouldn’t write books. I’m not talking about the quality of writers’ grammar or the sharpness of their prose; those are subjects for a different article entirely. I’m referring to the commitment of life resources required to be an author. It’s not just about the time investment, but a willingness to sacrifice a large portion of one’s ordinary life. Wordsmiths have to write, re-write, edit, and re-edit. Writers must embrace being alone, lost on islands of imagination no one else can perceive, wandering at the edge of the abyss armed only with words.

Few enjoy such things.

And fewer still savor the horror of realizing one’s work is sub-par, that monkeys in cages could write with more emotion, or the sinking feeling that…honestly…no one gives a shit about what one has written.

Writing for money? It’s similar to prostitution, given the punishment one must endure to turn even the mildest profit. I’ve never seen a group so comfortable with self-loathing as the average indie author. The blank page, worst of all enemies, hits harder than a Conor McGregor left hand. A book half-finished has the power of infinite patience, and a novel doesn’t care whether it’s complete. Words, weak or strong, offer no consolation to their creators. We’re selling our minds for pennies, and we get ploughed in the process.

Fact: a writer’s work is never finished. Most other tasks in the universe, save perhaps art and music, are finite in duration. Fix a broken pipe? Done. Go grocery shopping? Ok. Handle Brexit? Gimme a few years. All of these will one day be complete.

But writing? It’s forever. You might finish one book, but you’ll never push every idea out of your head. Go ahead and die trying. I dare you.

Memes are stupid. Unless they’re sarcastic. Then I love ’em.

To the novice writer, the weekend warrior poet, or the new-to-the-industry author, I have just one suggestion:

Quit.

You’ll never find happiness doing this. Even if you do manage to make it big (you won’t) the money won’t make it worthwhile. You’ll get lost in the same swamp with every novel you write. You’ll finish one story only to find it begets three more. Your short story will turn into a trilogy, and your trilogy into a thousand tales you’ll never live long enough to tell.

You want to be happy? Take up MMA fighting. Build your own house. Plant a garden. Sit down and watch a good movie.

Whatever you do, don’t commit to being an author. You’ll find every moment of your life more challenging than the moment before. You’ll fall into a hole out of which you’ll never be able to climb.

And you’ll probably get fat from sitting on your ass every day.

Am I being satirical?

Hell if I know.

Read this.

J Edward Neill

 

Thursday Art Assault – Big Dark Painting

I’m wandering in a strange artistic realm.

Somewhere between this and this.

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

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

Introducing the Grave Towers:

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

**

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

*

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

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

When to Walk Away from the Game (And when not to)

I’m standing on a bump of red Georgia clay.

It’s muggy out here. I’m sweating beneath the stadium lights. The baseball feels slick between my fingers.

It’s the ninth inning, and the game is tied 1-1.

For a Thursday night game in northwest Atlanta, we’ve drawn a nice crowd. We’re playing a tight contest against the state champion Cherokees, and the fans have decided to stick it out to the end.

Cherokees’ fans, mostly, I figure.

That’s fine.

Before the first batter struts up to home plate, I scan the seats. Of the hundred or so spectators, I recognize only a handful. I don’t know them, and they don’t know me. My name’s not on my jersey. I’m here for me, not for them.

If there’s one thing that’s been consistent about my stint as a baseball player, it’s my anonymity.

I’ve embraced it.

I prefer it.

Normally I’d tune the crowd out, but it’s the ninth inning and I’m tired. Tonight I notice everything:

Jason’s girlfriend is loud. I smile to myself. Jason’s our catcher tonight, and he’s doing a damn fine job. For the last eight innings, I haven’t had to shake off his pitch selection even once. If anyone deserves cheers, it’s him.

Buster’s wife and kids hunker right behind the first base dugout, waving to him as he takes his spot at second base. Buster’s the only guy on the team older than me. He can’t hit a lick, but he hustles, and so everyone loves him.

I can hear Matt’s fiancé chatting with Ben’s brother and wife. Matt and Ben can’t hear a thing; they’re in the outfield awaiting my first pitch. I’m pretty sure Ben’s wife is still gushing about his first-inning home run.

As well she should.

Every other player on both teams has at least one fan in the crowd. They’ve invited friends, wives, and girlfriends. Several players’ kids zoom around in the bleachers, savoring one of their last free nights before the school year begins.

The whole crowd is a cacophony of support.

And here I am…on an island.

It’s all Jason’s fault, really. Last winter, I’d all but retired from pitching. My body felt great and my competitive fire was still intact, but I’d convinced myself to devote more time to writing and less to pursuing a baseball career that’d never go anywhere.

Because…let’s be honest.

I’ve never hurled a fastball harder than 85 mph.

The most home runs I’ve hit in a season? Three.

Baseball, like everything else in my life, was something I was good at, but never great at.

And then Jason had called me.

“Hey buddy,” he’d said with no shortage of cheer.

“Hey,” I grumbled. “Who’s this?”

“Jason,” he said. “You know…J.J. From the Muckdogs?”

“Oh. Right. Hey, Jason. How’s things?”

“Never been better,” he said. “I’m married now. Life’s great. So listen…I know you said last year was probably it for you, but I’ve gotta ask. One of our guys just went down with a shoulder injury. We need your arm.”

“I haven’t thrown a pitch in six months,” I told him. “You know that, right?”

To which he replied, “Then I guess we’d better get started.”

Jason’s butterfly wings fluttered in the breeze.

And here I was, dishing out a pretty good game against a superior opponent, closing out what was probably the best season in my career.

Go figure.

The inning’s first batter stalks up to the plate, and I shoot him a dirty look he probably can’t see. He’s already homered off me tonight. There’s nothing I hate more than giving up bombs. If this game goes into extra innings, it’s his fault.

And mine.

I strike him out with an impossibly slow curveball. He complains to the ump, then takes his seat with a few choice words in my direction. I’m never one to gloat, but I allow myself the world’s smallest smirk.

The second batter walks up. He’s no doubt the Cherokees’ best player. Standing a monstrous six-foot five, I’m pretty sure his bat is heavier than most of the players on my team. He’s already got two hits tonight.

Focus, I tell myself. I figure if I can somehow get the big guy out, I’ll retire the final batter and give my team a shot in the ninth.

He crushes the first pitch.

The crack of the wooden bat echoes in the night.

But…

He hits it dead-on at our center fielder, who flinches, but snares it in his glove.

Whew.

Two outs.

I breathe the warm night air. I feel comfortable, as at home on the mound as I am anywhere on Earth. I’m no longer aware of the crowd or anyone in it. If they’re cheering, I can’t tell whether it’s for my team or for the Cherokees’ next batter.

I admit to myself – I take a sort of grim pride in having no loved-ones in the crowd. In a strange way, it’s motivating for me to persevere alone. Sure, I have my teammates. But in my mind, in this moment, they could be anyone. I want to secure the last out and win the game, not for them or even for myself.

But because it’s a pitcher’s job.

The inning’s third batter is a stout, muscular, serious-looking guy. I like him already.

It’ll be fun to strike him out, I tell myself.

I get him swinging at a slow changeup for strike one.

He takes a good hack, but fouls off a fastball for strike two.

In theory, I have him where I want him. No balls, two strikes. He’s mine to toy with.

Jason calls for another changeup. The batter wasn’t even close to hitting the first one. A changeup’s the obvious call.

Jason’s an effin’ genius.

But…

In my narrow little mind, I’m just about to do the second dumbest thing in my life. It’s almost as bad as pouting about not getting a new video game.

I shake off Jason’s call for a changeup.

I reject his curveball and slider calls, too.

I want a fastball, I’m thinking.

I want to blow it right past this guy.

Jason looks confused, but he trusts me. I’m supposedly a wily veteran who knows what he’s doing.

I rear back and fire a fastball.

It’s got good velocity, but it’s up in the zone. And it catches too much of the plate.

Boom.

Home run over the center field fence.

I don’t even have to turn and watch it soar out of the park. The crack of the bat tells me everything.

Crap.

I retire the next batter, but it doesn’t matter.

I lead off the next inning with a triple, and it still doesn’t matter.

The Cherokees’ closer strikes out the final three Muckdogs, and we lose the game 2-1.

To rephrase, I lose 2-1.

After the game, my teammates are supportive. They remind me I’ve just pitched nine innings against a tough team and allowed only two runs. Some of the spectators approach me, smiles on their faces.

“Good game, man,” they say.

“That’s a tough team you played tonight.”

“Played your heart out.”

“It was you we were cheering for.”

I shrug it off. In my mind, the only thing worse than receiving a compliment for winning is earning one for losing.

And I’m deaf to anyone who says otherwise.

Later that evening, as I’m trucking home on the silent roads north of Atlanta, reality hits me.

I didn’t play my heart out. In fact, I played with no heart at all. I stood on the mound, arrogant, maybe even selfish, and I blew the game for our team. If not for my pride, we might’ve won a thriller against a tough opponent.

Instead I’m driving home in the dark, tired, alone, and defeated.

The closer I get to home, the more I awaken. I realize as the years have gone on, baseball has become a cerebral game for me. It’s all brains, no passion. All numbers, no excitement. The youthful love I once played with is now a cold, hard, competitive obsession.

I need a new hobby, I conclude. Something exciting. Something to reignite the fire.

Also, I owe Jason a beer.

Somewhere in my house, tucked away in boxes no one has opened in many years, the remnants of my baseball days lie sleeping. My old gloves are tucked away, doubtless in need of a good oiling. My collection of game-used baseballs sits in a musty corner, the seams loose in their decades-old leather. I’ve even saved my old uniforms, three in total, hidden away as keepsakes.

The Muckdogs, the Angels, the Yankees –

all covered in dust.

I wonder if they still fit.

Now and then, I crave to hit the field for one last season. It might be possible. For reasons I can’t fathom, I’ve worked hard to keep my throwing arm in shape. To this day, I leave baseballs at random around the house, which I fidget with and grip as if I’m about to throw curveballs. I even have a trio of game-ready, pine-tarred bats in my garage.

It’s strange, isn’t it?

I wonder what it might feel like to break out my gear and head out onto the mound again.

I sometimes think–

No.

I have to be honest with myself.

Those days are over.

After my game against the Cherokees, I never again took the mound. It’s not as if age caught up to me or the fire died in my heart. It’s just that the time had come. The once beautiful game had turned into an obsession. I spent more time training and keeping my arm in shape than I did paying attention to my life.

And once I discovered writing, the two tasks were at odds.

Most days, I’m at peace with giving up the thing I loved most. I look back at baseball with the same fondness I would an old girlfriend. We had our moments of glory, she and I. I’ll always think fond thoughts of her.

But I can’t go back.

Unlike pitching and writing, some things aren’t at odds with one another.

For example – writing and drinking scotch.

They’re like BFF’s, they are.

It’s a balmy evening, not unlike the fateful night I last took the field. Warm mist rises from the grass beyond my back door. Fireflies float between the trees, putting their lives at risk. The local bat population has realized my backyard is a feasting ground, and they’ve turned out in droves, gobbling up moths, mosquitos, and unlucky lightning bugs by the thousand.

The G Man and I like the bats so much we’re planning on building bat houses for them to inhabit. We’re weary of the mosquitos, and we figure a few friendly neighborhood predators might help.

As it turns out, flying bats are more interactive than wooden ones.

They don’t often swing and miss.

As a toast to the bats, tonight I’m soaking up several glasses of Balvenie 21-year. This scotch is the real deal. It’s another from Speyside, Scotland, aged in casks previously used for port wine. A girl I once knew gifted it to me as a surprise. I’ll savor it to the last drop.

Balvenie 21-year’s color is darker than most scotches, and its flavor unrivaled. As I pop the cork, I’m startled by the scents of rich soil, light smoke, and sun-warmed rain. If one could literally drink the sunset, Balvenie is what it would taste like.

I wish I’d had a glass after my final game.

It might’ve made walking away easier.

It’s a cool, damp night in early November, and I’m sitting in local Atlanta bar Kaleidoscope.

Used to be, I’d come here to chase girls, rare cocktails, and long, lonely evenings at the bar.

Not tonight.

Tonight I’m here for baseball.

Tonight, of all nights, I’m here to watch game seven of the World Series, in which my beloved Chicago Cubs face off against worthy nemesis, the Cleveland Indians.

I almost feel bad for the other people who’ve braved the night to be here with me. Jerry, a Cubs’ fan in his own right, isn’t prepared for my level of emotional commitment. I’m here to watch every pitch, every strike, ball, and tense moment in-between. Jerry likes baseball, maybe even loves it.

But me?

I’m a junkie.

Jerry thinks I’m crazy. And tonight he might be right.

Jerry’s wife Chan sees the look in my eyes. I’ve hardly touched my Long Island ice tea. Before the game’s first pitch is thrown, I’m knotted up into a nervous ball. Me, the guy who has trouble cracking half a smile. Chan’s not seen this side of me.

No one has.

And then there’s my date, who doesn’t know what she’s signed up for. Having flown into town to see me, she’s pretty much signed an oath to spend every moment by my side. I guess I probably should’ve asked her to come the week before.

Nope.

The week before, when we faced the Los Angeles Dodgers, was almost as bad.

Kaleidoscope is packed tonight. I chose this spot in particular because it’s not a sports bar, which means I won’t have to spend all night in deep discussion with fellow fans. I want to be alone with my angst. I want to gaze at the television all night, uninterrupted, unnoticed, and anonymous.

It’s only here I can do it.

…friends and girlfriends notwithstanding.

Play ball.

During the game’s first at-bat, the Cubs’ Dexter Fowler smacks a home run. My heart roars and my blood heats up to volcanic temperatures. I’m pretty sure someone else in the Kaleidoscope masses lets out a cheer, but I pay it little mind.

Cubs lead 1-0.

The second inning arrives, and the Indians tie the game. For as happy as I was fifteen minutes ago, I’m now just as gloomy. I’d hoped the Cubs would win 20-0. And now those dreams are dashed.

My second Long Island arrives.

I don’t remember ordering it.

“You really should relax.” My date smiles.

“Relax?” I say.

“Yeah.” She snuggles close. She’s as supportive as they come, and I love her for it. “Everything’s gonna be ok,” she swears.

“Not me. I’m not gonna be ok.”

And then a few glorious things happen. In the tops of the fourth and fifth innings, the Cubs pile on four runs. They take a 5-1 lead. Every part of my body begins to sing.

But then…

In the bottom of the fifth, the Indians score twice and narrow the margin to 5-3.

My hearts skips twenty beats. My muscles hurt. I’d probably feel better if I were out there pitching for the Cubs. At least then I’d have some control over the game’s fate.

In the sixth, the Cubs score another run on a David ‘Grandpa’ Ross homer. It’s his final at-bat in the major leagues, and he goes out in style.

“A home run in his last at-bat…in the World Series?” I shout to no one in particular. “You have got to be kidding me.”

Cubs lead 6-3.

Life as a baseball fan, hell…life as a human being just got better.

Two scoreless innings pass. The Cubs’ Jon Lester steps into the game and looks just as good as ever. After three solid innings of work, he steps off the mound.

And up steps Aroldis Chapman, he of the 101mph fastball.

I’m feeling good about where we’re at. A 6-3 lead late in the game. A third Long Island. The Kaleidoscope crowd gradually turning over to the Cubs’ side.

And then, with two outs in the eighth inning, disaster strikes. Chapman leaves a slower-than-usual fastball up in the zone, and Rajai Davis of the Indians hits a three-run homer, tying the game at 6-6.

Jerry looks at me, awaiting my implosion.

Chan takes the opportunity to ask for the check. She’s not interested in seeing my heart shatter and spill all over the floor.

My date, luckily not a baseball fan, shrugs it off.

“They’ll still win,” she says. “Just watch.”

“No…” My mouth hangs open. “No, this isn’t happening. One-hundred eight years, and we blow a lead to lose in game seven? No, no, no.”

“Relax, man,” offers Jerry. I’m envious of how tipsy he is. I probably should’ve downed my Long Islands before the ice melted. They’re mostly water now.

It’s then I make the third worst decision of my life. It’s not as bad as talking back to my grandma or throwing a fastball when Jason called for a changeup.

…but it’s close.

“I’m leaving,” I announce.

“What?” Jerry sits up. “You can’t just leave. Game’s still tied. There’s more baseball to play.”

“No.” I push my chair away. “I can’t do it. I can’t sit here and watch the Indians walk off the field with a win. I just can’t.”

I pay my tab and pull the car around. My date hops in, and we’re off. She doesn’t understand the significance of my leaving. She doesn’t know about 1985, when the Cubs had a 2-0 game lead and blew three games in a row. She wasn’t with me in 2003 when the infamous Steve Bartman reached for the ball and undid an almost certain trip to the World Series for my beloved Cubbies.

She doesn’t know and she doesn’t care.

Ignorance is bliss.

We pull into my driveway. It’s late, as in late, late. I’m a thousand-percent sure I’m going to walk into my house, check the score on my phone, and learn the Cubs gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth to lose the series.

But wait…

No…

I check my phone.

No one has scored since I abandoned Kaleidoscope. The game is tied 6-6 in extra innings.

Fuck.

I should’ve stayed. 

My phone rings. It’s Jerry. He’s still at the bar. He’s braver than I am.

“You watching this?” he asks.

“I can’t,” I groan. “I mean literally can’t. No cable here. I can’t— wait…I’ll listen on the radio.”

“Can’t believe you left, man,” he tells me.

“I know,” I say. “I’m sorry.”

I hang up on Jerry and scramble to find a radio feed. I get lucky, and within moments the top of the tenth inning pumps through my living room speakers.

And there I sit, on the floor.

My shoes still on.

My heart pounding again.

My date smiling in the background. She gets it now, at least a little.

I listen to the radio feed as though I were a kid:

Ben Zobrist, a wily veteran with a penchant for big hits, slaps a double down the line. The Cubs go up 7-6. I start vibrating.

Miguel Montero smacks a base-hit to left field, lifting the Cubs to an 8-6 lead. I’m not just vibrating anymore. I’m quaking.

I only wish I could see the action, not just hear it.

And then, clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom of the tenth inning, the Cubs’ Mike Montgomery stands on the mound. I imagine his face as the Cleveland crowd roars all around him. I wonder if he’s as calm as I was.

Anyways…

There’s two outs.

Cubs are up 8-7.

Two men are on base.

The radio announcer goes silent for a split second. Montgomery bends one in, and the hitter rolls a soft ground ball to the Cubs’ third baseman, Kris Bryant.

I’m paralyzed. I can’t see anything. It’s all in my imagination.

Cubs win.

Cubs win.

Cubs win.

* * *

If you like stories like these, go here.

If you prefer red wine over baseball, try this.

J Edward Neill

The Best Break-ups Ever

During a blazing hot summer, I interviewed nearly four-hundred people.

At bars, on the street, via Facebook.

I took their 101 funniest, weirdest, and most off-the-wall break-up stories…

…and slammed them all into this book:

101 Reasons to Break Up

Read it. Laugh at it. Review the hell out of it.

Here’s nine sample break-ups.

Now available for just $0.99.

J Edward Neill

Thursday Art Fart – Asian Art Attempt

I suppose I’ve always been fascinated by Asian style art.

Trees. Landscapes. Buildings. Dragons.

…all so different from Western work.

I tried to let it inspire me while painting a duo of large acrylic canvasses.

Did I succeed?

You be the judge…

Tower of Souls

Tower of Souls was sort of an accidental painting. I painted a deep gold background while having no idea what to focus on as the subject.

And then it came to me. An eerie tower…full of ghosts.

As ever, it was a true pleasure to paint with bold blacks and deep, rich ambers.

*

Winds of Forever

For Winds of Forever, I tried to be a bit more focused. I wanted to do a bigger, bolder version of this. The blues remind me of a perfect winter day. No clouds. A chilling breeze. A sky drifting into forever.

Pretty sure I’ll keep Winds of Forever for my private collection.

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

Prints are available here.

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

If you like these, you might also like these.

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

9 Reasons to Break Up With Someone

Nine Reasons to Break Up with Someone

True-life tales…

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First Time’s a Charm

I’d been dating a beautiful girl for many months, but we hadn’t yet been intimate. I wanted to wait because I didn’t want to mess things up.

Five months in, I cracked and we have sex for the first time at my house.

It was great. No complaints.

I went to work the next morning and told her the place was hers for the day. When I came home that afternoon, I found tiny hearts drawn with lipstick all over the house.

In the shower. On the mirrors. On the glass cabinet doors. Even one on my iPad screen.

It was too much. I bailed.

– Jeff

*

Uncommon Ground

I never really minded her dislike of baseball. Or MMA. Or most of the things I hold dear.

But when she told me she’d never seen Office Space or Grandma’s Boy, I knew the end was near.

– Christopher

*

Like Son, Like Father

She always wanted to hang out at my parents’ place.

She especially liked my dad.

My parents had recently separated, but decided to live in separate parts of the house.

I don’t really need to finish this story, do I?

– Anonymous

**

Gag Order

Every time he brushed his teeth, he’d gag horribly. I couldn’t stand it.

He’d have made a terrible gay guy.

– Michele

*

She gets around better than you think…

My guy was always super sweet to my female friend who’d been partially paralyzed during a skiing accident. He’d push her wheelchair up ramps. He’d give her rides and help her get into the car. He even landed her a job.

I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised when I went to her apartment and found him pushing ‘other’ things.

Afterward, I managed to keep her as a friend.

Although sometimes when I see steep hills, I imagine how easy it would be…

– Anonymous

*

Slow and Steady Loses the Race

She wouldn’t stop bringing stray animals into the house.

And by stray animals, I mean turtles.

– Gary

*

Mixed Signals

Our break-up argument started over the small matter of me messing up her Netflix movie queue. Apparently my favorites weren’t the same as our favorites.

She dumped me over it. It was ok. I understood.

But she never actually deleted me as a guest user. So I’m still able to login and watch movies on her account.

And I get to see what her new boyfriend likes to watch.

– Joe

*

A Two-and-a-Half Way?

My fiancée and I lived in a small downtown apartment. Even so, we liked to host parties for our friends.

One night, we ran out of beer near the party’s end, so I walked down to the local convenient store to get a six-pack. When I returned, everything was dark and quiet. I figured all the guests had gone home.

Nope.

I walked into my bedroom to find my girl in bed with another couple. They tried inviting me in (as if that was the plan all along) but I felt too disgusted.

Even if the ‘extra’ girl had been a supermodel, I wouldn’t have done it. But she was a dwarf – about four feet tall.

– Russell

*

Another Reason to Ditch Cable

 Several of my buddies told me they believed my wife was having an affair, but since none offered any evidence, I gave her the benefit of the doubt.

But then one fateful day I came home early to find her sleeping naked on the couch and a man asleep in our bed. When I confronted the man, he said he was the TV repair man, and that he’d passed out due to working long hours.

I went to the living room to wake up my wife, but the guy slipped out the window.

…and took my TV with him.

– Anonymous

* * *

For 90 more real-life break-up stories, try this.

For happier endings, go here.

IT movie review

(Disclaimer: no major spoilers appear in this article. Minor thematic and a few vague plot details are discussed.)

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I knew what I was getting myself into when I settled into my seat on a chilly Friday evening.

Twenty-seven years ago, on an eve not so different, I watched the original IT. Starring Tim Curry, it promised vast horror, and yet it only partly delivered. Tim Curry’s performance was of course flawless, but the disjointed flashbacks and clunky pacing didn’t deliver in the ways they could’ve.

After all, we’re talking about IT here.

Evil shape-changing Cthulu-esque clown invades small American city to devour children and consume oceans of human fear?

This kind of plot needs a better movie.

And perhaps IT 2017 is it.

As any good movie-goer knows, the key to setting a horror movie’s tone is to make us care about the characters. Anything less, and the most one can hope for is B-grade cheap scares and campy, gory death scenes. Fortunately, character-wise, IT 2017 delivers in a way most horror films just don’t. From the opening scene onward, we care about young (and stuttering) Bill (played by Jaeden Lieberher.) He’s vulnerable, yet strong in ways we can’t yet see. And so it goes for nearly all of the young, mostly unknown cast of ‘kids.’ Bev (Sophia Lillis) and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) stand out in the gang of seven Losers. We meet the young gang in their early teens, and they behave exactly like teenagers. They’re funny, sarcastic, and not yet sure of themselves.

Just like we all were.

And not only are the kids believable, they’re nuanced. No cookie-cutter fears here, folks. Each young’un deals with terror in a different way…and each one has a separate reason for fearing death at the hands of Pennywise, the Dancing Clown. Best of luck to the adults who have to follow this young cast up in IT – Chapter Two (rumored to hit theaters in 2019.) These kids will be a tough act to follow.

Speaking of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) he’s as creepy as we can hope for. I won’t compare him to Tim Curry (not really a fair fight) but Skarsgard delivers a solid performance. Modern special effects help Pennywise go over-the-top in ways 1990’s IT couldn’t. He’s not the most subtle villain, but likely one of the most powerful…and diabolical ever to hit the big screen.

Side-note: being a movie-geek and a lover of HP Lovecraft, I recommend this wiki explaining the Cthulu-esque origins of Pennywise. (Hint – IT isn’t just a clown.) Beware of spoilers.

Who wants to float?

Now…let’s be honest. The adults in IT are afterthoughts. Bev’s father (Stephen Bogaert) is appropriately creepy, while young hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) has a mom (Mollie Atkinson) who’s pretty much the most overbearing helicopter parent ever. And then there’s bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) whose dad (Stuart Hughes) shows up just long enough to make us hate him. But that’s it in terms of adult, non-Pennywise roles.

And that’s just fine.

This movie isn’t about the adults, but instead the impacts they’ve had on their children.

Now then…

It’s safe to say that an hour in, I cared plenty about all seven kids, but wanted more monster. IT runs pretty long (more than two hours) and I’ll admit at times I craved a slightly faster pace. But that’s just the thing. To really build anticipation, and to avoid some pretty common horror tropes, IT needed space to breathe. Meaning, if you’re looking for an in-and-out gorefest or a quick slasher horror flick, this isn’t your film. The expectation here is that movie-goers will be patient. After all, this film is just part one of two. It’s basically the Lord of the Rings of horror flicks.

IT is what Dark Tower was supposed to be, but failed to live up to.

Other notes:

The special effects? They’re good, but not obnoxious.

The music? Subtle, but not intrusive.

Jump scares? Only a handful, thanks to director Andy Muschietti. If you’re looking to be completely terrified, this isn’t necessarily the movie for you.

Adherence to Stephen King’s novel? Well….not exactly. I didn’t mind the deviations. Although, to really appreciate the bottomless depth of IT’s evil, one really needs to read the book (or at least hope the second movie dives headlong into the monster’s true nature.)

Ultimately, IT is a solid film. It’s not just a horror flick, but a character piece and reflective of several of humanity’s real-life fears. It’s sometimes slow, sometimes perfectly-paced, but mostly very good.

For me (and for most of you, I’m betting) the measures of a good film are:

A. Would I see IT again? The answer is yes…pun intended.

B. Am I itching to see the sequel? Yes. IT can’t come out fast enough. Pun intended again.

In other words, go see IT.

*

For my other movie reviews, go here.

To get into something just as scary (but not nearly as long) go here.

J Edward Neill

Write Tipsy, Edit Sober

In his latest book, J Edward sips scotch, bourbon, and deep, dark whiskey with every chapter.

No topic goes untouched.

No cocktail is spared.

 Life & Dark Liquor

A tipsy memoir by J Edward Neill

Now available at Amazon.

Get a sample of stories and sips right here.

Life & Dark Liquor is the ‘sequel’ to Reality is Best Served with Red Wine.

A Kickstarter for the Kids – Hello! Fat Crow!

Is it Fall yet? More importantly, has the feeling
for the season of Halloween started? For some people
this is just another passing holiday, but for others, it’s
a yearly tradition that starts the second the change is in
the air.
*
ATLANTA, GA. – AUGUST, 2017 – Comic book creator/artist, Jason
Flowers tries his hand at making a fun children’s story.
But not just any normal kids book, this one represents the
season of Halloween. He constructed the project and released
it on August 22nd through www.Kickstarter.com called: Hello! Fat Crow! A story of a little fat crow that ventures to an old forgotten cemetery to wake a skeleton named Mister Larry so that he may go and dig up his four brothers to get into mischief on Halloween night.
*
“When describing the book I try to explain the story as told in the rhyming styles of Dr. Seuss with fun spooky illustrations done in the style of the old Disney’s Skeleton dance cartoon,” says the artist. “Whenever reading bedtime stories to my daughter we could never really find many great Halloween books. A few were good, some were okay, but most just fell short of what made Halloween so great to us. So one day I thought up this idea of a little fat crow that goes to visit a skeleton to wake him up. Over the years I drew doodles and ideas here and there which finally led to me writing the story out a few years ago. Fast forward to today
and as part of a personal goal to make long awaited projects, the season is coming
up and it was finally time to unleash this idea upon the world!”
*
*
Already given Kickstarter’s seal of approval, also known as a “Project that we
love” you can see why this book has already gained such great attention just by
watching the vintage, comedic, Halloween video talking about the book, artist
Jason Flowers created with his wife.
*
The book is being sold as 8.5 x 11 inches in size and forty-four pages in length
with perfect bond binding. Colored in the traditional fall and Halloween colors (orange, white, and black) the creative and moody illustrations, along with the detailed environments help make and bring this fun and spooky kids book to life.
*
Scrolling down the campaign page you can see a wide arrange of pledges
available to choose from. Starting at a digital download of the book to physical
copies, bookmarks, tshirts, limited prints, sketch drawings, or hand made original
sculptures.
*
Asking for a $5,000 project goal in a thirty-one day time frame, Hello! Fat crow!,
well into it’s second week, has already reached more than $1300 in pledges and
with the help of more supporters this book will be funded in no time~
*

For more information visit the link to the Kickstarter:

www.kickstarter.com/projects/698068505/hello-fat-crow

 *

KICKSTARTER DESCRIPTION:

Hello! Fat crow! Tells the story of a little fat crow that ventures to an old forgotten cemetery to wake a skeleton named Mister Larry so that he may go and dig up his four brothers to get into mischief on Halloween night.

The book measures 8.5×11 inches in size and is forty-four pages long. The story is told in the rhyming styles of Dr. Seuss with fun spooky illustrations done in the style of the old Disney’s Skeleton dance cartoon.

Check out these sample panels!


*
*
Reach out to the creator, Jason Flowers, at contactjasonsart@yahoo.com
Jason Flowers is a full-time Freelance Comic Book/Sketch Card Artist from Atlanta, GA. Currently he is illustrating his new creator owned books, Hello! Fat crow! and A.A.I Wars. His past work include numerous sketch card sets for UPPERDECK CARDS and TOPPS CARDS for companies like DISNEY and MARVEL. His comic book work has been published in Image Comics, Arcana Comics, and Black Thumb Press. Between comic and sketch card work, he is constantly creating various designs for clients on t-shirts, logos, album covers and art prints.

Thursday Art Fart – Demons and Girls

In the beginning, I preferred to draw, paint, and sculpt demons and dark imagery.

And lately I’ve returned to my roots…

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Sacrifice

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The girl in Sacrifice was conceived and sculpted by artist T. Morrison, who then handed me the canvas to paint a deep, dark background.

I went with abstract demon pillars.

Because…why not?

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Malevol

***

For Malevol, I waited until the latest hour of the night. I wetted my brush with blacks, greens, and ghoulish whites, and I worked fast.

And this guy dripped onto the canvas.

He’s big in real life. 18×24″.

My kid wouldn’t let me hang it in his room. Go figure.

**

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

Prints are available here.

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

If you like these, you might also like these.

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

A day in the life of an artist, author, and dad

Part 1 of 2 – The ideal schedule

6:30 AM – Wake up, enjoy a light breakfast, read a few writers’ blogs, look up new art posted by my favorite artists

7:30 AM – Drive to the nearby forest trail, walk briskly for 90 minutes, return home feeling amazing

9:15 AM – Shower. Open all the windows in the house. Fire up a brooding soundtrack to get in the right mood for painting a masterpiece or writing the next great American novel

9:30 AM – Create for the next two hours. Spare not a single glance at fake news, real news, or anything resembling social media

11:30 AM – Drive to my favorite café. Sip a glass of wine while overlooking the vineyards of North GA.

1:00 PM – Return home. Glide through an hour of marketing, blogging, and prepping spirited press releases for my latest book

2:00 PM – Power through an invigorating workout on the back deck. It’ll hurt less because of the wine. The weather will be ideal…not the muggy, no breeze, mosquito-laden climate typical of Atlanta’s suburbs

3:00 PM – A second shower, a snack, and then two hours of writing, editing, and painting a masterful cover piece for my newest short story. The lights will be low, the incense powerful, and the atmosphere serene

5:00 PM – It’s date night. Dress in something light, but not too casual. Splash on a tiny drop of cologne.

5:15 PM – Hop in the car, launch a thrilling playlist of Hans Zimmer, Depeche Mode, and Slayer

5:45 PM – Arrive at one of my favorite spots downtown. It only took 30 minutes to get there. No traffic today!

6:00 PM – Sit down across from my beautiful, confident date. Sip red wine. Discuss anything but politics, religion, or the socio-economic ramifications of another major land war with North Korea

8:00 PM – Dessert at a nearby spot. A sip of scotch. A slice of cheesecake. Candles, music, the thrum of a busy restaurant…

8:30 PM – Arrive home, slip out into the evening with a fully-charged laptop and a glass of Balvenie scotch – minimum 17-year aged.

8:45 PM – While relaxing to the sounds of crickets, owls, and bats fluttering through the night, write for two hours. No mosquitoes tonight, only fireflies

10:00 PM – Relax in the basement with a movie, an enthralling video game, or a while spent strumming the guitar

11:00 PM – Finish a last sketch on which to base tomorrow’s new painting. Enjoy a gentle nightcap. Tumble into a bed with the ceiling fan on and the night’s breeze drifting through the wide-open windows

***

And now…

The real-life schedule

7:30 AM – Stagger out of bed, dress my son while he’s still half-asleep, shuttle him to Montessori school, return home in a daze.

10:00 AM – Stagger out of bed a second time, drink a quart of water to rehydrate after too much scotch last night. What happened between 8-10 this morning? No fucking idea

10:05 AM – No coffee for me. Can’t stand the stuff. Heat up some frozen Eggo waffles and whip up three mimosas. Consume it all within 10 minutes

10:20 AM – Look at Facebook

10:21 AM – Review yesterday’s book sales. Grumble about Amazon’s KU (Kindle Unlimited) pages read algorithms

10:22 AM – Review yesterday’s art sales. Realize I haven’t sold a goddamn thing…and that there’s a reason artists are poor

10:23 AM – Avoid my Twitter account like the fucking plague

10:25 – Write for 90 minutes. It’s shit and I’m still tired. I’m pretty much editing the stuff I wrote last night.

Noon – My laptop powers down unexpectedly. Rather than crush it into powder Office Space style, I throw on some shorts and head to the forest for a run

12:45 PM – The second part of my run hurts like a motherfucker. I drank too many mimosas. I power through it anyway, but I look like haggard hell to other runners on the trail

1:30 PM – Head to the café bar for lunch. Consider the smoked salmon and risotto, but ultimately decide on steak and scotch. Glance around the bar looking for interesting people/beautiful women to chat up, then realize I’m alone

1:45 PM – Check my phone compulsively while eating. Nope…still haven’t sold any art, though someone just reported my latest graphite sketch to Facebook for containing nudity

2:30 PM – Return home. Sit in a stupor for 15 minutes while deciding whether to paint, draw, write, or play nine consecutive hours of Witcher 3

2:45 PM – Paint for an hour. Spill watercolors on the floor. My blind cat wanders between my ankles, causing me to smudge the eyeball which I’ve slaved 30 minutes to perfect. Shout at the cat. She’s pretty much deaf. She wanders off with a self-satisfied meow

4:00 PM – Check Facebook for the 20th time today. Consider posting a grand plea for book reviews, realizing I’d be wealthy as fuck if just a fraction of my readers slapped down a few stars. Decide against the plea. Realize that everyone in the industry is already bitching about the subject without any success

4:01 PM – Sit down to edit. Get distracted by articles in which other authors talk about being distracted

4:30 PM- Realize I have to pick up my son in 30 minutes. Plow through a 15-minute workout, then drive to get junior

5:00 PM – Pick up my son. Ask him if he’d like to paint, draw, play baseball, or take a long walk. He decides on an hour-long discussion about Play-Doh, a commentary regarding Bowser from the Super Mario Bros. series, and a firm but polite request to drink two gallons of chocolate milk

5:30 – Give in. Pour him the chocolate milk. Respond to his inquiries about latest painting. “What is that?” he asks. “A demonic woman ready to wage eternal war on humanity,” I answer. “Cool,” he says. “Why are her boobs so big?”

6:00 PM – Squeeze a 15-minute workout, a shower for me, a bath for junior, 30 minutes of homework, two additional after-school snacks, a play-by-play of every scene from every Zelda game ever made, seven hugs, 3 minutes of backyard baseball, and 4 minutes of painting…all into one hour

7:00 PM – Dinner should take an hour, right? Wrong. It takes two. At least there’s wine.

9:00 PM – Put junior to bed. Ask him if he wants me to read something other than Ul De Rico’s Rainbow Goblins. He doesn’t. We read it again

10:00 PM – Stagger downstairs in the gloom. Turn on the music. Try to sit on the patio, but get eaten alive by mosquitoes. Girl calls. Sorry, no date tonight. Check book sales. Learn that British people read…Americans don’t. Check Facebook. Enjoy the deep discussions of my art…but despair in zero painting sales for the day

10:15 PM – Finish a bottle of cheap scotch. Write for three hours while tipsy. Avoid the internet only because I know I’ll say something stupid if I post during the late, late hour

1:15 AM – Consider wandering up to bed. Decide to write for another hour. Would consider writing while in bed, but junior snores like a motherfucker

2:15 AM – Fall asleep while playing video games

3:00 AM – Who needs sleep, anyway?

* * *

I want to tell you this is all hyperbole.

But it isn’t. Go here if you don’t believe me.

J Edward Neill

Thursday Art Fart – Two Dark Towers

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

It may one day make its return.

But for now, please enjoy the first installation of  Thursday Art Fart

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Dark cities…

Wasted landscapes…

Unholy dwellings…

These are among my favorite types of art to create.

And so I have.

City of Nowhere

*

City of Nowhere – 24×48″ is among my more massive of my works. To make it happen, I slathered an entire canvas with red and black paint. After the base layer dried, I carved a stencil into two large poster boards and applied white spray paint to the non-blocked out areas. And then, to top it off, I dotted a few white stars and added some glossy black acrylics to the individual towers.

Boom. It’s huge. And I’ve nowhere to hang it…

*

Dark Oasis

The stencils for City of Nothing were so time-consuming to cut, I felt I had to use them at least once more before tossing them. And so the necropolis of Dark Oasis was born. Creating the clouds with spray acrylics was a blast. Detailing the swirls within the towers…also fun. Dark Oasis is smaller at 18×24″.

I’m not sure which one I like more.

Oh well.

Prints are available here.

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

If you like these, you might also like these.

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

Watercolor Warfare

My co-painting collaborator has been down and out lately.

While she’s under the weather, I’ve been busy with my new favorite style.

…watercolors.

Here’s a few I’ve slathered up. Please enjoy:

*

Stygian Tree

For Stygian Tree, I wanted a slightly Asian theme. Bold colors, stark lines, graceful curves. This painting was both fun and rewarding to create.

*

Diabolos

A friend asked me to paint/draw a tattoo. It’s a request I’ve often received, but usually avoided. Drawing tattoos doesn’t really pay, and then there’s the whole ‘this will be on someone’s skin forever’ pressure.

But…

With Diabolos I made an exception.

*

Daemonic

Using a similar style to Diabolos, I popped the cork on a bottle of Apothic Red wine and went nuts on a huge sheet of watercolor paper. I let the paint flow as it willed, and Daemonic was born.

Sometimes the most interesting pieces arise from a total lack of planning…

*

Magi

Who’s everyone’s favorite Egyptian god? Anubis, that’s right! This one’s huge, and it sold mere moments after I posted it. Truth is…I’ll miss it. I had visions of framing it above my bed.

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Hallowed Slopes

Trees. Mountains. A minimalist style. If I’m being honest, I painted this one while deep in my cups. I still like it. But perhaps it’s missing something?

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Gravity

For ‘Gravity’ I decided to use an intense blend of greens, blues, and blacks. I’m not sure I’ve ever had more fun painting. I pretty much went wild with the brush, using huge, wavy strokes to create the gravitational waves.

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Caryatid

For Caryatid, I began with a charcoal/graphite base, then slathered on heavily-watered paint. The combo is unusual, I admit. The subject matter…well…maybe unusual for me. Maybe not. 🙂

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Fireroot

Most of my watercolors, I finish within a single day. I like to keep the painting surface wet and pliable (and easily changed.) But with Fireroot, I kept coming back for more. I wetted and re-wetted four separate times. What at first was a lighthearted forest scene grew darker, thornier, and shadowy-er.

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Shadow Walk

And finally, here’s one I’m not quite done with. We’ve got an Asian-looking tower, some deep blue hills, and the hints of twilight clouds. The plan is to darken the sky considerably.

…and make the moonlight furious.

*

Thanks for stopping by.

Prints are available here.

For purchase inquiries, hit me up on Facebook, Twitter, or via email. Most of my watercolors are $20. (They’ll need to be mounted and framed.)

If you like these, you might also like these.

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Deep Space Drama Part 2

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

The questions are straightforward.

Your answers…not so much.

(Deep Space Drama Part 1 is here.)

* * *

Interstellar

 Suppose the world will end in ten years. From today until that time, everything on Earth will be normal. But once the tenth year rolls around, all life will end instantly.

You can save your family by flying alone to a distant planet and terraforming it.

You’d have to leave tomorrow, and you’d never see them again.

 Will you get on that spaceship?

*

Wormhole

 If scientists opened a stable wormhole that could take you to any point in the universe via spacecraft, and if you were given a round-trip ticket to use this wormhole to visit the location of your choice, where would you go?

Explain your choice.

*

Solar Sailor

 Suppose scientists built and perfected a spacecraft capable of extremely quick travel to every corner of the universe.

It’s a three-person ship. You can go anywhere and see anything.

The ship is limitlessly stocked with food and supplies.

The only catch: due to relativity, every year you’re away will mean twenty years pass on Earth.

Are you taking a trip? With whom? For how long?

*

*

* * *

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

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

Two Big Reasons I Don’t Ever Discuss Politics

 

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

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

But he’s still the president.

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

The insults are endless.

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

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

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

And so I shall.

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

Actually…

I’m wrong.

They can.

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

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

He gets it from his mother.

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

It’s easy. Really easy.

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

“I never rant about politics, but—”

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

“I used to be married, but—”

“I tried hummus one time, but—”

“I never post political rants online, but—”

Notice how none of these sentences need to be finished.

We know what’s coming next.

The year is…I don’t know.

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

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

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

Well…

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

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

At least I think I’m sure.

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

From getting bored.

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

Alas, it’s dinnertime.

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

I help set the table.

I pour a deep glass of wine.

And I dig in.

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

And of course, my wife.

The board is set. The pieces are moving.

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

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

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

It’s when I head back for thirds.

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

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

The war in Afghanistan

Immigration

Who voted for whom

But…

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

Yes. We are.

I listen. I keep eating. I say nothing.

“…worst president ever,” I hear.

“…so stupid. Terrible policies.”

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

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

“Jeremy? Got anything to add?”

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

But no one really cares what I want.

And so I’m silent.

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

She’s a resilient gal, our Julie.

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

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

The champagne is sweet and strong.

The pie is magnificent.

The conversation is disgusting.

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

No, not that kind of wall.

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

“…dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“…fucking rednecks.”

“…you sound like a communist.”

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

I’ve done this dance before.

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

It’s gonna be a brutal drive home.

And one thing’s for certain:

We’re doing it again next year.

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

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

As if typing words into Facebook matters.

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

Nah.

They’d probably still rage.

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

I close my eyes and consider many things.

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

Or…

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

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

Or by two.

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

With impunity.

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

And it doesn’t matter.

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

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

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

Which means we are, all of us, alone.

That’s what the wine says, anyway.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll be slightly more optimistic.

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

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

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

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

…and the world we’ve bargained for.

*

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

The flames start early.

And burn hot.

*

Angela says:

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

Frank replies:

“Shut your stupid fkn mouth.”

Jacqueline replies:

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

Michael replies:

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

Richard (a white guy) replies:

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

Mary replies:

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

Kym says:

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

Dave replies:

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

Peter says:

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

Jerry replies:

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

Mike says:

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

Cody says:

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

Gina replies:

“You’re all morons.”

*

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

That said, I tend to agree with Gina.

 *

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

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

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

*

Robert begins:

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

Rodrigo fires back:

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

Alec replies:

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

Alec says:

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

Norma chimes in:

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

Kyle replies:

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

Ruth asks:

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

Bruce replies:

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

Michele questions:

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

Holly replies:

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

Bruce says:

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

Harry says:

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

Melinda asks ironically:

“Does anyone really care?????”

Mary says:

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

And then Mary adds:

Both are whiners.”

WD Hawley brings the pain:

Really who gives a shit, damn libtards.”

Susana fires back:

What a coward.”

And a different Mary finishes it off by asking:

“Are we still in high school?”

*

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

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

Go figure.

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

I finished one sip.

Just one.

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

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

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

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

I’m sad for people.

I’m embarrassed.

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

*

Want to keep talking? Go here.

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

*

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Deep Space Drama Part 1

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

The questions are straightforward.

Your answers…not so much.

* * *

The Final Frontier

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

Given the choice, what percentage would you spend?

*

We Come in Peace (or not)

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

What are the first three things you say to them?

*

The Few and the Many

 Imagine the world will end in five years.

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

The problem: You and your spouse have four children.

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

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

* * *

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

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

How gratuitous violence in video games became a cliché

Guest post by Tessera contributor – Katie Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

* * *

 Katie Green

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

Top 10 Artists who inspire the hell out of me

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

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

It’s ok. We’ll figure something out.

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

* * *

Allen Williams

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

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

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RK Post

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

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

And one of my favorite RK Magic cards is:

*

Terese Nielsen

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

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

*

Bastien LeCouffe DeHarme

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

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

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

*

H.R. Giger

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

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

A selection of Giger’s art books is here.

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

*

Jeremy Mann

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

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

*

John Howe

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

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

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

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

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Alan Lee

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

Chase Alan’s fascinating art on Facebook.

An interesting bio of Alan appears here.

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Marcela Bolivar

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

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

*

Amanda Makepeace

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

Her website is here.

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

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

J Edward Neill

Coming Soon – Life & Dark Liquor

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

– Peter De Vries, Reuben, Reuben

*

And so I shall.

At least two cocktails per chapter.

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

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Coming soon…

Life & Dark Liquor

‘Sequel’ to Reality is Best Served with Red Wine

**

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

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

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

Single fatherhood.

Holding on to relationships.

Searching for creativity.

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

And what’s more…

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

No cocktail is spared.

 

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Life & Dark Liquor

Coming in August 2017

 

Why You Should Review Everything

 StarNursery

 

Where are stars born?

Far beyond Earth?

Deep in the heart of the Milky Way?

Amongst the countless nebulae swirling through the void?

Nope. Not today they’re not.

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

We need you.

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

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

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

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

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

Check out this little guide.

And this one, too.

*

If you love it? Review it.

Hate it? Review it.

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

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

J Edward Neill

9 soundtracks to boost your creative mood

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

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

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

And yet…

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

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

You need but find your own.

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

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matte-painting-atmosphere

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

**

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

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

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

 

 

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

Regarding quotes…

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

It doesn’t really matter.

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

It’s whether or not that something is true.

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

Explain why or why not.

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

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

 *

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

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

The context of everything must be considered.

But that’s an argument for another time…

 

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

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

What’s 1 Little Japanese Maple Worth?

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

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

But look, there’s still trees.

And no smog.

Life is pretty good.

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

It doesn’t get much better than this.

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

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

It’s not looking promising.

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

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

Whew.

But there’s still trouble.

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

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

Nope.

They’re not gunning for the G Man.

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

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

Should I stop these kids?

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

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

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

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

They keep shooting.

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

Ok. I’m kind of impressed.

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

Doesn’t matter.

He knows, and he’s pissed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As suddenly as it began, the standoff ends.

The tree is safe for now.

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

But he’s not mad at them.

He’s angry with me.

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

And maybe he’s right.

Maybe I should have.

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

Someone had to stand up for it.

And so he did.

We may think we’re teaching our children.

But often they’re teaching us.

* * *

For more stories like this, go here.

J Edward Neill

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

Pop quiz, hot shot.

Answer each of the following using five words or fewer.

Go!

*

When is war the answer?

*

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

**

Is the best defense a strong offense?

*

Name one thing that truly, utterly terrifies you.

*

Is there anything in the world worthy of worship?

*

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

For $10,000,000

For $500,000?

*

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

____________________

____________________

____________________

*

 Can both of these be true??

* * *

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

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

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

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

Why not? I figured.

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

Suntrust Park – impressive, right?

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

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

I love baseball.

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

And so…

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

The day arrived on July 18th, 2017.

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

First impression? SunTrust is gorgeous.

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

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

We made our way to the field…

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

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

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

A few additional SunTrust pros:

Beautiful field

Comfy seats

Easy-to access food, drink, and restrooms

*

And a few mild cons:

Sluggish, lingering vendors

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

Everything is extremely expensive

*

Now then…

Let talk about the game experience.

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

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

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

But…

SunTrust takes the distraction level to obnoxious highs.

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

And we don’t necessarily appreciate it.

Also…

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

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

Ball

Strike

Throw over to first

Batter steps out of the box

Ground ball out to the second baseman

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

But there I was, slowly dying.

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

It wasn’t enjoyable.

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

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

The only thing it’s missing?

Baseball.

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

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

*

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

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

J Edward Neill

Artist and Author

 

Will she survive?

My name is Lys.

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

* * *

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

Thunder rolled.

The brick walls clattered.

I feared the whole place might crumble atop me.

Somehow, the other girls slept through it.

But I didn’t.

I’d hardly slept for the last nine years.

I’d left something undone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I’m here until I turn eighteen.

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

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

She’s knows she’s next.

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

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

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

“Morning,” I managed.

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

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

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

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

No one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She could go any day now, I knew.

I should shut my mouth.

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

It’s not a lie, I wanted to say.

And I did it for the only friend who mattered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone knew she was the most beautiful.

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

And then they came for me.

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

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

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

A dark hallway opened up before me.

The sackcloth came down over my eyes.

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

But I didn’t dare.

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

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

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

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

A better life? I thought.

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

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

I couldn’t help myself.

I removed my sackcloth.

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

As expected, Marida heard me.

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

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

“How do you know that?”

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

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

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

“We’ve left the city,” I said.

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

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

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

“Back? Where?”

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

I heard only his name – Ulka.

I shivered so hard Marida must’ve heard me.

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

“Yes,” I murmured. “…escape.”

“How come you never tried?”

“I—”

I’m afraid.

Afraid of Ulka.

Afraid of his men.

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

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

“Oh,” was all she said.

I heard much more in her voice.

I had a plan.

I was willing to risk everything for him.

I’m a coward.

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

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

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

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

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

I waited.

And I listened.

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

“…night’s coming. Be quick about it.”

“…how far to the outpost?”

“…still a few more hours.”

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

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

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

“Your friend?” she asked.

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

“And you said—”

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

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

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

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

“That’s why I needed to find—”

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

No.

We’re still not moving.

Something’s wrong.

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

The horses cried out.

The men cursed.

The axle split, crushing one of their legs.

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

We waited.

He suffered.

And as the darkness deepened, our fear arose.

“Did you hear it?” whispered Marida.

“Yes.”

The Iritul are coming.

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

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

“They’re afraid,” Marida agreed.

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

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

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

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

In moments, the Iritul fell upon the wagon.

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

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

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

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

Too late.

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

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

Even the plague itself.

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

But in the end, the wagon became our salvation.

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

I woke Marida at dawn.

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

“No,” I said.

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

But I didn’t want to be found.

I wanted out.

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

Hope.

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

“But—”

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

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

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

And our elbows.

And our knees.

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

After four hours, we loosened one plank.

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

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

And she did.

* * *

The story above is continued here…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Life and Death Shopping

It feels shallow on the surface.

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

Answer it yourself. Share it with friends and family.

It’s…

*

Life and Death Shopping

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

$25 – One ‘Kill Someone Else Instantly’ Card

$50 – No Enemies, Ever

$50 – One ‘Avoid a Fatal Accident’ Card

$25 – Get Away With Any 2 Lies

$50 – See One Single Event Before it Happens

$100 – Lifelong Wealth

$25 – Cure Any One Person’s Disease Once

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

$75 – Immunity to Fear

$50 – Immunity to Pain

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

*

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

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

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

Read this heart-stopping short story

Lys & the Heart Stopper

A new $0.99 short story

Now available on Amazon

* * *

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

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

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

No distance is too great.

She’ll do anything to rescue her friend.

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

*

*

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

J Edward Neill

10 questions to mess with your mind

 10 Questions

Each one deeper than the last…

* * *

Revenge Algebra

 Complete the following equation.

Use no more than three words per blank.

______________________________

+

______________________________

=

A suitable punishment for a serial killer

*

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

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

*

On a Scale of 0-10…

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

How intelligent are you?

How physically attractive are you?

How charming?

How artistic?

How generous?

 And how narcissistic?

*

Monopoly Money

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

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

Once a death is avoided, the card vanishes.

So…

Keeping all three for yourself?

Giving any away?

Distribute your cards and explain.

**

Picket Fences

 You’re madly in love.

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

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

Your children will be smart and loving.

On the surface, your marriage will appear ideal.

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

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

*

Angel of Death

 You lucky bastard.

Or maybe not.

You’ve just acquired a new ability.

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

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

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

On whom?

What would you do with all that money?

*

Little Bang Theory

 Some people have theories about how the world began.

And how it will end.

And maybe even theories about what it all means.

But…

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

Play god for a moment:

How would you like for the universe to have begun?

How do you want it to end?

What do you want it all to mean?

*

Dying Stars and Sabertooth Tigers

 Name something that is both beautiful AND terrifying.

*

Hard Scales of Justice

Imagine the following scenarios.

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

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

*

Behind the Veil

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

Which of the following do you believe probably exist?

Ghosts

Aliens

Angels

Demons

ESP (extra-sensory perception)

Alternate Dimensions

 Got any proof?

*

If you like answering lots of questions, go here.

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

J Edward Neill

Dark Art Giveaway Contest!

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

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

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

Winner chooses:

Cinder Tree

or…

Trapped in Amber


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