9 soundtracks to boost your creative mood

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

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

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

And yet…

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

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

You need but find your own.

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

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matte-painting-atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

 

 

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

Regarding quotes…

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

It doesn’t really matter.

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

It’s whether or not that something is true.

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

Explain why or why not.

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

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

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

The context of everything must be considered.

But that’s an argument for another time…

 

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

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

What’s 1 Little Japanese Maple Worth?

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

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

But look, there’s still trees.

And no smog.

Life is pretty good.

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

It doesn’t get much better than this.

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

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

It’s not looking promising.

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

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

Whew.

But there’s still trouble.

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

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

Nope.

They’re not gunning for the G Man.

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

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

Should I stop these kids?

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

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

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

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

They keep shooting.

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

Ok. I’m kind of impressed.

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

Doesn’t matter.

He knows, and he’s pissed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As suddenly as it began, the standoff ends.

The tree is safe for now.

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

But he’s not mad at them.

He’s angry with me.

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

And maybe he’s right.

Maybe I should have.

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

Someone had to stand up for it.

And so he did.

We may think we’re teaching our children.

But often they’re teaching us.

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For more stories like this, go here.

J Edward Neill

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

Pop quiz, hot shot.

Answer each of the following using five words or fewer.

Go!

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When is war the answer?

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

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Is the best defense a strong offense?

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Name one thing that truly, utterly terrifies you.

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Is there anything in the world worthy of worship?

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

For $10,000,000

For $500,000?

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

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 Can both of these be true??

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

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

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

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

Why not? I figured.

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

Suntrust Park – impressive, right?

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

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

I love baseball.

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

And so…

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

The day arrived on July 18th, 2017.

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

First impression? SunTrust is gorgeous.

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

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

We made our way to the field…

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

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

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

A few additional SunTrust pros:

Beautiful field

Comfy seats

Easy-to access food, drink, and restrooms

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And a few mild cons:

Sluggish, lingering vendors

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

Everything is extremely expensive

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Now then…

Let talk about the game experience.

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

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

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

But…

SunTrust takes the distraction level to obnoxious highs.

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

And we don’t necessarily appreciate it.

Also…

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

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

Ball

Strike

Throw over to first

Batter steps out of the box

Ground ball out to the second baseman

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

But there I was, slowly dying.

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

It wasn’t enjoyable.

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

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

The only thing it’s missing?

Baseball.

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

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

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

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

J Edward Neill

Artist and Author

 

Will she survive?

My name is Lys.

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

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

Thunder rolled.

The brick walls clattered.

I feared the whole place might crumble atop me.

Somehow, the other girls slept through it.

But I didn’t.

I’d hardly slept for the last nine years.

I’d left something undone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I’m here until I turn eighteen.

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

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

She’s knows she’s next.

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

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

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

“Morning,” I managed.

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

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

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

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

No one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She could go any day now, I knew.

I should shut my mouth.

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

It’s not a lie, I wanted to say.

And I did it for the only friend who mattered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone knew she was the most beautiful.

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

And then they came for me.

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

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

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

A dark hallway opened up before me.

The sackcloth came down over my eyes.

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

But I didn’t dare.

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

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

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

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

A better life? I thought.

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

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

I couldn’t help myself.

I removed my sackcloth.

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

As expected, Marida heard me.

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

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

“How do you know that?”

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

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

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

“We’ve left the city,” I said.

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

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

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

“Back? Where?”

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

I heard only his name – Ulka.

I shivered so hard Marida must’ve heard me.

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

“Yes,” I murmured. “…escape.”

“How come you never tried?”

“I—”

I’m afraid.

Afraid of Ulka.

Afraid of his men.

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

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

“Oh,” was all she said.

I heard much more in her voice.

I had a plan.

I was willing to risk everything for him.

I’m a coward.

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

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

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

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

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

I waited.

And I listened.

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

“…night’s coming. Be quick about it.”

“…how far to the outpost?”

“…still a few more hours.”

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

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

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

“Your friend?” she asked.

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

“And you said—”

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

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

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

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

“That’s why I needed to find—”

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

No.

We’re still not moving.

Something’s wrong.

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

The horses cried out.

The men cursed.

The axle split, crushing one of their legs.

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

We waited.

He suffered.

And as the darkness deepened, our fear arose.

“Did you hear it?” whispered Marida.

“Yes.”

The Iritul are coming.

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

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

“They’re afraid,” Marida agreed.

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

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

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

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

In moments, the Iritul fell upon the wagon.

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

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

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

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

Too late.

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

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

Even the plague itself.

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

But in the end, the wagon became our salvation.

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

I woke Marida at dawn.

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

“No,” I said.

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

But I didn’t want to be found.

I wanted out.

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

Hope.

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

“But—”

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

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

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

And our elbows.

And our knees.

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

After four hours, we loosened one plank.

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

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

And she did.

* * *

The story above is continued here…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Life and Death Shopping

It feels shallow on the surface.

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

Answer it yourself. Share it with friends and family.

It’s…

*

Life and Death Shopping

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

$25 – One ‘Kill Someone Else Instantly’ Card

$50 – No Enemies, Ever

$50 – One ‘Avoid a Fatal Accident’ Card

$25 – Get Away With Any 2 Lies

$50 – See One Single Event Before it Happens

$100 – Lifelong Wealth

$25 – Cure Any One Person’s Disease Once

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

$75 – Immunity to Fear

$50 – Immunity to Pain

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

*

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

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

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

Read this heart-stopping short story

Lys & the Heart Stopper

A new $0.99 short story

Now available on Amazon

* * *

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

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

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

No distance is too great.

She’ll do anything to rescue her friend.

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

*

*

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

J Edward Neill

10 questions to mess with your mind

 10 Questions

Each one deeper than the last…

* * *

Revenge Algebra

 Complete the following equation.

Use no more than three words per blank.

______________________________

+

______________________________

=

A suitable punishment for a serial killer

*

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

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

*

On a Scale of 0-10…

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

How intelligent are you?

How physically attractive are you?

How charming?

How artistic?

How generous?

 And how narcissistic?

*

Monopoly Money

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

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

Once a death is avoided, the card vanishes.

So…

Keeping all three for yourself?

Giving any away?

Distribute your cards and explain.

**

Picket Fences

 You’re madly in love.

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

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

Your children will be smart and loving.

On the surface, your marriage will appear ideal.

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

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

*

Angel of Death

 You lucky bastard.

Or maybe not.

You’ve just acquired a new ability.

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

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

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

On whom?

What would you do with all that money?

*

Little Bang Theory

 Some people have theories about how the world began.

And how it will end.

And maybe even theories about what it all means.

But…

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

Play god for a moment:

How would you like for the universe to have begun?

How do you want it to end?

What do you want it all to mean?

*

Dying Stars and Sabertooth Tigers

 Name something that is both beautiful AND terrifying.

*

Hard Scales of Justice

Imagine the following scenarios.

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

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

*

Behind the Veil

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

Which of the following do you believe probably exist?

Ghosts

Aliens

Angels

Demons

ESP (extra-sensory perception)

Alternate Dimensions

 Got any proof?

*

If you like answering lots of questions, go here.

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

J Edward Neill

Dark Art Giveaway Contest!

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

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

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

Winner chooses:

Cinder Tree

or…

Trapped in Amber


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

The Book of Wine…and Life.

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

That’s the rule. 

There’s no breaking it.

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

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

 It’s all here.

One bottle per night.

Every night.

At least…that’s the idea.

Now Available!

   
* * *

Reality is Best Served with Red Wine

Anecdotes and philosophy by J Edward Neill

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

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

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

We look pretty slick, all things considered.

But…

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

That’s weird, I think.

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

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

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

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

I almost check out.

Almost.

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

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

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

Gasps.

Open mouths.

Incomprehension.

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

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

He lets it sink in.

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

“Small.”

“Sporty.”

“Loud engine.”

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

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

Not even their names.

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

They happened to someone else.

We’re safe. Right?

A few days pass. Everything goes back to normal.

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

We’ve walked this route hundreds of times.

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

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

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

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

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

Brenda’s pretty smart.

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

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

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

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

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

And I’m gone.

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

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

Not today. Not ever.

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

The man in the green Nova has been caught.

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

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

But the thing that nags me for several weeks afterward:

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

It’s as if those kids never existed.

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

* * *

The story above is true.

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

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Your Chance to Time Travel

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

Break out your beakers and glasses.

Let’s do this…

*

There and Back and There Again

 You’ve been given a time machine.

It will work three times before it breaks.

When and where are you going?

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

***

Fight Club Time Machine

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

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

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

Whom will you fight?

*

Back to the Future

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

*

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

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

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

Painting with Darkness – Part 15

Collaboration is the name of the game.

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

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

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

Only thing was…

We decided Itsy wasn’t so itsy after all…

Itsy

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

And so…

Blood Gypsy

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

Would you wander here?

Gravewood

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

You should keep coming back for more.

Our prints are available here.

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

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

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

Author of darkness

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

Fact or fiction? Idealistic or realistic?

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

And the pressure’s on you to answer…

*

Life Long or Die Hard

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

“Cowards die many times before their deaths;

The valiant never taste of death but once.”

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

Do you agree with this?

Why or why not?

**

That thing Thomas Jefferson said

 Are all men truly created equal?

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

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

*

Soul Armor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

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

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

Water Under our Bridge

The year is 1992.

It’s raining now, just like I hoped.

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

Summer vacation. Can’t beat it.

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

I don’t know anything about those places.

I’m right where I belong.

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

“What should we do?” I ask Liam.

“Wanna play rain volleyball?” he says.

“Nah.”

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

“Nah.”

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

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

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

“Let’s dam it up,” I say.

He’s all in.

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

For now.

And so we do.

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

We’re going to need some of those rocks.

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

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

The hours slide past.

The outside world doesn’t exist.

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

“Again tomorrow?” Liam says.

“Definitely.”

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

We’re as free as two teenagers can get.

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

Our dam grows:

Two feet deep.

Three feet.

Up to our chests.

Deep enough to swim in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then I see what he sees.

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

But we’re frozen all the same.

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

We survive.

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

The school year begins.

The rain ends.

It all happens so fast.

* * *

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

Our dam was still there.

I wonder if the snake ever came back.

*

*

This story is true. It really happened.

For more like it, go here.

*

J Edward Neill

Creator of Coffee Table Philosophy

Painter of Shadows

A Thought for Every Thursday – 3 Absurd Scenarios

Let’s have a little fun this week.

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

Three questions.

Three strange scenarios.

Go for it…

*

Magic Potion

Suppose scientists created a cheap and tasty beverage.

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

And you’ll sleep like the dead.

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

Drink or no drink?

*

Brain in a Bottle

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

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

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

Why or why not?

*

Remember your Cardio

 A zombie apocalypse has occurred.

Society has utterly collapsed.

People are turning undead in droves of millions.

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

Think short-term and long term.

**

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

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

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

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

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

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

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

Click me to buy!

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

*

Anyway…

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

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

So…

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

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

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

Quite possibly.

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

Maybe.

But probably not for a year or two.

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

And yet…

The writing bug remains.

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

That’s a promise.

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

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

Love,

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Choose your God Carefully

Here we go.

More serious stuff.

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

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

*

There Can Be Only One

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

Assume this religion is not one you currently practice.

If you wouldn’t convert, explain why.

*

Describe your God

Set aside your current religion (or lack thereof.)

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

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

*

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

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

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

A Deadly New Romance Novel – Fire and Mist

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

Now available!

 

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

*

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

Get it here!

* * *

 

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

 

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

 

About the author:

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

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

Cerise’s Amazon page is here.

Trees and Towers 2017 Calendar

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

Especially when it’s full of art.

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

Check it:

January features my original piece – Ghost Tree.

Here’s all the images – January through December:

Snag my new calendar on Redbubble right here.

And look out for 2018’s Damsels of Darkness…

J Edward Neill

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

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

 Question 1.

Think Twice

 French author André Gide once posed:

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

Do you agree with this statement?

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

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

*

Question 2.

End of Ages

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

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

Also…

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

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

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

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

How to react when hit with bad reviews

It’s no longer debatable.

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

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

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

The device that changed everything…

*

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

It’s reviews.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guess what?

It doesn’t matter.

Authors new and old need to consider:

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

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

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

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

And that’s kind of the point.

Also…

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

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

And that’s ok.

So…

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

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

You’ll be happier for it.

J Edward Neill

Author and Artist

 

A Thought for Every Thursday – Choose Your Own Adventure

This week’s A Thought for Every Thursday question continues along on our recent path of asking serious questions.

Don’t sweat it. We’ll come back to the light stuff eventually…

*

Choose Your Own Adventure

From the following, choose which one you hope is what happens after your death:

  • People who exhibit sufficient good in life go to a heaven of some sort, while everyone else suffers a worse fate
  • When we die, all that we are is forever lost
  • Reincarnation; either as a human again or a different animal type
  • We ascend to some higher form of consciousness, meaning we’re no longer human, but we retain some of what we once were
  • We roam as spirits either forever or for a period of time

 

  • And now choose which one you believe is most probably the truth.

* * *

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

Sculpting with Darkness – Turning Paper into Shadow

Every artist finds inspiration in different ways.

Some dream it. Others pry beauty from otherwise ordinary things. Still others wander the world in eternal search of it.

As for me, inspiration recently walked right up and slapped me in the face. Quite by accident, I collided with an artist whose style and creative medium is so different than my own. Her art tore me out of my miniature creative rut, lighting a new fire beneath me.

Now…

I could go on and on about how and why we decided to smash our styles together. Why we believed mixing her paper sculptures and my deep, dark color would work.

But instead I’ll just show you…

*

Our first collaboration was…naturally…a demon inspired by my kid…

The Demon

It went like this: my six-year old described a monster he wanted on his wall. I listened closely and sketched a rough draft. And then T. Morrison (the aforementioned amazing artist) poured herself a big bowl of water and lightweight spackle (and another bowl of Cream of Wheat for sustenance) and hand sculpted our deadly demon friend.

When she finished a few days later, we turned the demon over to my kid, who slathered it up with blacks, reds, golds, and whites.

Meaning this piece was created by three artists, not just two.

*

Then T. Morrison decided to get serious.

Her next piece (which I’m calling Black Masque; she never names her art) is about as creepy and cool as it gets. Once again her mediums were lightweight spackle, wet paper (for the shawl) and acrylic paints.

Black Masque

I had no idea what to expect when I turned over this oval-shaped canvas to m’lady Morrison. But she delivered…and she even let me paint a few skeletal shadows in the background.

I love it. What do you think?

*

Soon enough, it was time for T. and I to engage in a true collaboration. No kids, no messing around.

On a 20″ x 20″ canvas, I sketched out a twisted tree. (It’s kind of my thing.) Afterward, Miss Morrison whipped up a BIG batch of sculpt-alicious spackle and turned my simple tree into a spooky three-dimensional monstrosity.

Here’s the progression:

1. Apply lightweight spackle atop my sketch.

2. Turn the piece over to me for background painting.

3. Sip vodka and pineapple juice while I pour on more colors.

And thus was born a piece we call ‘Haunted.’ It’s super vibrant. We liked the end result so much, we decided to sell prints here.

*

Next up, T. Morrison decided to put her patience to the test.

Lovingly (she uses the term loosely) T. sculpted three airships atop a blank canvas. The ships took hours to sculpt, requiring utmost care to carve out every little detail. Then…she decided to paint each one. Tiny brushes…tiny blobs of paint…and not-so-tiny sips of vodka.

I thought she might give up, and yet she persevered.

As for the background city, she insisted I paint it. Every cloud, building, and razor-sharp bridge component…mine all mine.

Storm City

Storm City took us about a week.

Well worth the effort, we think.

*

Now then, here’s one that’s all T. Morrison. Other than a few color (or lack thereof) suggestions, I didn’t touch it.

And perhaps this piece is better for it:

Frozen Shade

Look at the folds in her cloak. Savor the deathly whites and deadly blacks.

Frozen Shade is my personal favorite piece of all the works T. Morrison has created.

*

As of the moment I pen this article, we’re working on several new sculpture/painting collaborations.

But perhaps none so dark as this one:

Ocular

Ocular – a nice angle to see the 3D sculpture

Ocular – part skull, part tentacle, all scary. Sculpture by T. Paint by me.


*

For our final pieces, I’ll just leave them here. I did the backgrounds. T did the rest. Boom.

 

The horned girl is Infinity Queen. She’s available here. The angelic girl is Spirit of Regret. She’s available here.

*

We’ve got several more pieces lined up.

Including a spooky green-lit tree, a girl in a shawl, and more.

Visit us again right here at Tessera Guild to see what we’ve cooked up.

J Edward Neill

Obsessive Artist

Author of Shadows

A Thought for Every Thursday – We Didn’t Ask to be Here

This week’s A Thought for Every Thursday question continues along our recent path of asking serious questions.

We’ll come back to the easy stuff eventually.

…maybe.

**

This particular question is a favorite of mine.

More than most Thought for Every Thursday questions, I really, really want your answer.

*

We Didn’t Ask to be Here

 Since we are, none of us, responsible for our own presence in this world, meaning that none of us created ourselves or willed ourselves into existence, does that reduce any of our personal responsibility in this life?

In other words, every human alive was given life without his or her consent. We didn’t ask for this particular existence, and in fact, if given a choice, many humans might have chosen a different existence altogether.

Does not having chosen this life allow for a certain moral flexibility?

Or…

Must we accept a moral responsibility whether or not we asked for it?

And if so, why?

 

* * *

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

The Weirdest Google Searches Leading to our Website

A while back, we made a list of all the pornographic search terms people typed into Google that somehow led them to our website.

We were bewildered and amused, because…well…Tessera Guild doesn’t really have anything to do with porn. We’re all about art, books, gaming, comics, and entertainment. We figure the other 98% of the web has butts and boobs covered.

And yet there we were, getting searched up every single day with terms like ‘Sex Yessera’ and ‘How the evil sex died.’

It’s been about a year since we gathered our big porno search-term list.

And so…

As an anniversary gift to you…

Here’s the latest list of bizarre search terms leading people to us, including porno and just straight-up strange terms:

 

The Weirdest Google Search Terms Leading People to our Website

(This list is verbatim. No changes made to any of the search terms.)

* * *

The importance of being humble but to walk softly and carry a big stick (aka: the longest Google search ever)

Kmart sex xxx dot com

www.xxxnxxx porn star k.mart (Seriously, what is with the Kmart sex?)

Michelangelo sarcasm

My friends make me their sissy on camping trip

Turducken

Badness of white bread to skin

How to build a 12 inch tall popsicle stick bridge

Zoo xxxxy god

Old basic pronstar

Everybody hates chris poster (Who’s chris and why do people hate him?)

Silhouette chairs theater mystery

Zelda is sick wallpaper

Sexygirl x.x.x9 (What’s the 9 for??)

Deadpool sitting on a bridge

Deadpool laying sideways

Losing? (What are you trying to say?)

Peter Pan Gay Sex

Spiderman having sex

Spider man the black cat costumes bed blacker (A cosplay thing?)

The werewolf costume changed toward the end of the seaon eric cord

How do you write a sex scene when you a still a virgin (Poor kid…)

Orlando shooting redneck dark humor

Skull sex

Upset by wallpaper (You need therapy, friend.)

Halloween tree hugger monster

Pornhub reveals how many people couldn’t resist themselves

Michael sucks (Sucks what, exactly?)

Straight outta compton Tijuana

What does it mean when you say you “respect someone else’s opinion”? (If you have to ask…)

Jason momoas beard

Powerful nsfw portraits reveal what real people look like without their clothes on (Pretty sure we didn’t write that article.)

How to prepare frydais?

I’m awful at relationships (It’s true!)

Dark hermit the frog memes

Sexy thighs smoke halloween

Some peoples cleaning the city and sweeping in paths sketch images

Tyler james Williams butt

xxx smoll girl sexvideo

Love affairs painting using shapes (That’s two different searches, buddy.)

Mat damon narations salmon swimming upstream

What non pornographic sexy searches can you do on google (It’s called Safesearch. Use it.)

Zombie honeymoon

Licking doctor moriarty

Hulk f**ks black widow gif (That poor girl!)

Sega game with a black kid wearing roller blades kicking ass (I want to play this game.)

Sed penting

ラストアクションヒーロー チケット (Seriously?)

마블코믹스 (Can someone translate this for us?)

спойлер фильм (All of our articles are in English. We swear.)

Images of tasty pizzas

First time fuking girl dliding of crying videodown (Someone call the cops!)

Suck boob comics hindi zoom page (???)

Swat movie actressa

One who hates love is called (I dunno. Tell us.)

w.w.w cvr health nighs xxxy images

How much wait of daunial abrham? (Say what now?)

Big boob small girl f**king his brother xxx sex videos free download (People are so specific with their porn tastes.)

If you ask for the bull, you’re gonna get the horn

I am a devil (Sucks to be you.)

I failed myself (No really. You’ll be ok.)

Failed (Ok fine. We give up.)

Atention tomorrow it my b.day

I didn’t get any cake (Two different searches. Same guy?)

mofos grandpa .com

homey fireass

Black bigspiders hote sexy

Glorious foxes pap smear

Amanda dog groomer phoenix (Is that for the PS4 or Xbox One?)

Accidental web search (Oh, the irony!)

Romantic movie the teeth

Mountain due (The worst drink ever.)

* * *

In the mood to laugh some more? Try this.

J Edward Neill

Author and Painter of Shadows

New Painting – Storm City

Typically…

I prefer to work alone. The quieter, the better. If I can hear a mouse squeak, a human sigh, or a sound other than the wind at night, sometimes it’s too much for my creative self.

But I’ve stepped outside my comfort zone. I worked with up and coming artist T. Morrison on a rare piece. And my efforts were rewarded.

She sculpted using lightweight spackle. I splashed with acrylics and watercolors.

And we created a piece we’re calling ‘Storm City.’

*

Storm City prints are available here.  The original is 16″ x 20″.  Reach me here for purchase inquiries.

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

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

Author of darkness

 

 

 

A Thought for Every Thursday – Which ‘ism’ are you?

Welcome to A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday we’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it ourselves, we look to you for the resolution.

 * * *

This week, we’re tossing romance to the side and moving on to deeper, darker topics.

That means no more romance. Or love. At least not for a while

It’s a relief, as I’m pretty much the least romantic person to ever live.

**

Today’s two questions are centered on individual (your) worldviews, and whether or not people can exist without them:

Part I

 

 From the following, choose which one(s) you associate with your personal philosophy of life:

Cynicism – The purpose of life is to live with virtue and in harmony with nature (not what you thought it meant, is it?)

Agnosticism – Humanity knows nothing beyond that which it can touch

Pragmatism – The most valuable things are tangible and practical

Hedonism – Life’s purpose is to pursue pleasure

Capitalism – Life’s purpose is accumulate wealth for the benefit of yourself and your family

Theocentrism – God is a central fact of our existence

Nihilism – Life is without objective meaning, purpose, or value

Existentialism – The universe is unknowable, yet humans still have individual purpose and responsibility

*

Part II

* 

Is it possible for a human being to live without believing anything?

Meaning this person would have:

No opinions

No claims to knowledge without hard physical evidence

No spirituality

No philosophy beyond the material world

No religion

If someone could pull this off, would it be admirable?

Or is this an impossible state of mind for a human to achieve?

Hmmmmmmm….

* * *

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.

See you next week!

J Edward Neill