Fine Photo Friday

Welcome to the first edition of Fine Photo Friday.

We’ll be posting one photo every Friday.

This week’s submission is from nature photography specialist, Larry Winslett:

This shot is from the Blue Ridge Parkway – Waterrock Knob, North Carolina – Milepost 451.2.  The secret with sunrise shots – you always have to get up early to get the low clouds.  This was shot with a Tamron 18-200mm lens –  Exposure f8 @ 1/80 sec., no filters.

Find more Larry Winslett photos at www.larrywinslettphotography.com or find him on Facebook and Flickr.  His photos are available as prints and fine art cards.

* * *

Interested in submitting your work to be featured on Fine Photo Friday? Go to this Facebook account and send in your submission via message!

 

Thursday Art Assault – New Cover Art for A Collection of Shadows

Whoa…

Whoa…

Whoa!

Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Shadows has all new cover art:

Cover by Tahina Morrison & J Edward Neill

*

Tread lightly into ancient, forbidden realms.

Wander into the futures of apocalyptic worlds.

Know what it feels like to face the darkness alone.

Machina Obscurum contains twenty-two short tales by nine masters of fiction. Within these pages lie stories of men and monsters, of lonely souls and far-distant places. No matter what whets your appetite: sci-fi, horror, fantasy, or hard, dark realistic fiction, A Collection of Shadows has it all.

Contains stories by J Edward Neill, John McGuire, Chad Shonk, River Fairchild, Jennifer Clayton, Phil Elmore, Robert Jeffrey II, F Charles Murdock, & Roy Dodd.

My life as an 8-year old misfit

“Sorry,” the pastor tells me. “You’ll have to sit in the back pew again.”

It’s ok.

The holy wafers don’t look all that tasty.

It’s about ten o’clock on a Wednesday morning. I’m at school, shuffling my way to the back row of wooden pews. Outside, the weather is warm and inviting. Spring is in full force. The school year is almost over.

But for now, I’m stuck in here.

Oh right. I forgot to tell you. I’m at a private Catholic school. It’s called Holy Family. I’ve been attending this school my entire life. It’s a pretty great place most of the time. Our classes are small. Our teachers are strict, but fair. And they’re really good at teaching.

The one small complication: I’m not Catholic. Nor do I believe in God.

I’m also the only student among several hundred who hasn’t been baptized.

Of all the stunning gothic churches in the greater Chicago area, it figures that the one I’m in is ugly. From my seat, I can see stained-glass windows, the pastor’s dais, and the little metal box they call the tabernacle.

But this place has no towers, no sharp spires reaching for Heaven, none of the classic Catholic architecture.

It’s cold. It’s boring.

It’s municipal.

I can’t wait for Communion to end so I can go to recess.

The other kids file past me. They’re all wearing their special uniforms. Their robes are white and black, their shoes fancy. But for me, it’s the same yellow shirt and navy pants I wear every day.

It’s cool. They’ll have to change clothes before playing kickball today. I won’t.

Lounging in the back row, squinting to see what’s happening up front, I stick out like a sore thumb. When my friend Tricia walks by, I make her giggle, but both of us are quickly silenced by Sister Alvina. The nuns here are all-powerful. No one giggles on Sister Alvina’s watch.

Not even me.

Communion continues. It’s a quiet affair, considering the room is stuffed with parents, kids, altar boys, and nuns. I’m not really sure what the fuss is all about. I guess I’m not all that curious, either.

The kids march up to the pastor in single file, eat a pale wafer, and sip some red juice. The pastor says, “Body of Christ, blood of our savior…” and some other important-sounding stuff, and then it’s done. Next kid up. Next soul in line for Heaven.

Is it really this easy? I wonder.

Is that all it takes to get into Heaven?

If I didn’t love this school so much, I’d have begged out of this place.

My friends are being indoctrinated.

And they don’t even know it.

Oh well.

If today was the only day I had to sit in the back pew, everything would be fine. I can get over one little day. For an eight-year old boy, I’m as patient as they come. If I can sit still for twenty more minutes, I’ll be out there in the sunshine, kicking the hell out of rubber balls.

But this is the tenth time I’ve been stuck in here. Watching the other kids. Not allowed to dangle my finger in the holy water. Not permitted to wear the sweet-looking holy ropes. Not sure whether the red stuff in the pastor’s cup is Kool-Aid or actual pinot noir.

I might not know what pinot noir is yet, but I’m pretty sure I could use some.

If my dad were here, he’d probably remind me for the hundredth time about his decision not to have me baptized.

“…let you make your own choices,” he’d have said.

“…can change your mind when you’re older.”

The last few kids march past. They’re mostly Irish, just like me. They’ve got names like O’Conner, McDonnell, and Thompson. They don’t look at me today. I don’t look at them.

Everyone knows the deal.

I’m not allowed to play with wafers and sip fake wine because no one splashed me with the magic water. It’s all good. Any sense of curiosity I feel is dulled by my exclusion. The nuns don’t pity me, which is good.

But…

I’m pretty sure they’re wary of me. As if I’ve got a disease. I don’t belong here, and everyone knows it.

Finally, it ends. The pastor utters a few holy words, and the kids disperse. Across the aisle, Tricia’s parents smile and glow. I’m just glad none of my family are here. My expression isn’t something they’d be proud of.

I’m hovering in the grey space between sleepiness and boredom. It’s written all over my face.

A few minutes later, I’m outside. There’s not a cloud in the great blue sky. A field of suntouched grass awaits me and my classmates. We’re not thinking about holy wafers and blood-wine any longer.

It’s time for kickball.

And yet, as I await my chance to crush the bouncy red ball into oblivion, I can’t help but wonder. It’s something Sister Alvina said. It’s something Miss Calvin has repeated. And though they’d never admit it, it’s something most of my family has signed up for.

Since I’m not baptized, I’m not really a Catholic.

And if I’m not a Catholic, I’m going to Hell. You know – that place where the souls of the damned burn for all eternity.

I wonder if the other kids believe it. I question, even though they’re willing to play kickball with me, whether or not they think I’m going to roast forever in a fiery pit.

I guess it’s easier if we don’t talk about it.

* * *

To continue the story, go here.

50 Things I Worry About

I’m not a person who worries about much of anything.

After all, worrying helps nothing. It only adds to one’s suffering.

And yet…here’s fifty things that concern me almost every single day:


I sometimes wonder whether I’m spending enough time with my son.

…or whether I’m actually the helicopter dad I try so hard not to be.

I worry I don’t read enough.

…that I don’t home cook my dinners more often.

…and that I sip too much wine.

I’m pretty sure my cats are at home destroying my furniture right now.

…the fat one probably barfed on the floor again.

I wonder if I’ll end up single, alone, and locked away in a big empty house by myself.

…and yet it concerns me that the idea of being alone is so very appealing.

I’m sure I’ll suffer from ’empty-nest syndrome’ when my son grows up.

And I’m positive I’ll struggle with an existential crisis when it happens.

I worry I’ve outlived my usefulness.

…except to scotch distilleries. I keep those guys in business.

I’m concerned I wasted my youth in the pursuit of pleasure.

…and yet if I were young again, I know I’d do the same things all over again.

I worry I don’t tip well enough. Even 20% feels low sometimes.

I sometimes worry that I don’t worry enough. Is being indifferent the truest form of immorality?

…and if it is, I should probably worry that it still doesn’t much matter to me.

I sometimes suffer from FOMO. (Fear of missing out) I want to do everything and be everywhere.

I’m concerned I chase Friday at the expense of Monday through Thursday.

And I’m really concerned about the huge pile of pancakes I devoured on Sunday.

I worry that it’s all meaningless.

But I push myself harder every day, and for what?

I’m not tall enough.

…or buff enough.

…or able to do all the athletic things I could do just five years ago.

And I worry sometimes these facts make me less of a man.

I worry that I’m smart enough to understand most of the world’s problems…

…but not nearly intelligent enough to solve them.

I worry about the 3,000 calorie steak dinner I ate last night.

…and the just-as-huge spaghetti platter I plan to cook tomorrow.

If I blow off being creative in favor of playing video games, I worry I’ve wasted a precious night.

But when I spend a whole week working myself to the bone creating, I sometimes think I’m missing the point.

I’m concerned about my quiet urge to sell my house and leave all my possessions behind.

But I’m more concerned about having to give up my grill if I leave, which means I’m probably staying.

I worry I don’t spend enough time writing.

…or am I writing too much, and thus falling out of touch with reality?

I definitely spend too much time thinking about money.

And too much time spending it.

And not enough time saving it.

I fear for my eardrums. All that heavy metal can’t be good.

I worry for my guitar, which I haven’t played in weeks.

…and my wardrobe, which I haven’t improved in years.

And of course, I worry about my stupid blind cat. She’s 18, and it’s only a matter of time before she becomes incontinent.

…which means I’m worried about my floors.

I’m not really worried about politics or religion or people fighting about it on the internet.

But I do wonder whether someday a lunatic who does worry about these things will end up killing me.

I’m mega worried about my son turning out to be too much like me.

Or that he’ll end up liking country music.

Please.

Anything but country music.


If you like lists about 50 things, try this one.

And if my worries have you thinking, get some of this.

J Edward Neill

…guy who writes too much.

…or maybe not enough.

Thursday Art Assault – A Girl Standing in the Wind

We started with this…

*

And ended with this…

Decided against the tattoos…

*

Here’s another angle…

Appears darker in this lighting setup.

*

Hither the Wind – Tahina Morrison & J Edward Neill

For more 3D art pieces like this, go here.

For previous art assaults, go here.

 

A Quick & Easy Workout Routine for Writers, Artists, or really anyone

Judging by the title, you probably thought this would be an article about exercising your brain, your writing chops, or your editing skills.

Nope.

This is all about running, pushing, punching, and picking up heavy things.

I know. I’ve been there. As a teenager, I was skinny as a whip. A weakling. A fragile little artist. The exact opposite of this guy.

And then I discovered iron. And it changed my life.

Look. I get it. Spending gratuitous amounts of time sitting on your ass hammering out novels isn’t exactly a great way to sculpt your abs. And while reading is a great workout for the mind, it’s not particularly heart-healthy. In fact, most of the jobs humans do these days aren’t conducive to maintaining muscle tone and blood flow.

As writers (and artists, like me) we have an obligation to our fans, don’t we? To live long, healthy lives and pump out the most possible books? To operate our keyboards with freshly-toned forearms? To appear at book signings and art shows with swelling biceps and toned calves?

Ok. Whatever. You get the point. Here’s two sample weekly workout routines from my personal regimen. One is a light workout regimen for people who have no real equipment. The other is a more serious setup for those who either have gym memberships or can arrange an area with a small amount of equipment in their homes. I’ve been doing an advanced version of the second workout routine for about three months now, and it has truly energized me without taking up much of my day.

I recommend doing these workouts before writing, painting, or whatever your creative pursuit might be. A happy body tends to mean a clear mind.


Workout 1 – For beginners and those who have little or no equipment

Monday:

6 sets of pushups (do as many as you can until reaching failure)

6 sets of crunches (at least 20 per set, but no more than 80)

1 set of burpees (at the end) If you don’t know what a burpee is, look it up here. Do them until utter exhaustion.

Tuesday:

Run for at least 20 minutes or walk briskly for at least 40.

Wednesday:

4 sets of crunches

4 sets of pushups

2 sets of burpees

Thursday:

Run for at least 30 minutes or walk briskly for at least 50.

Friday:

Off day. Enjoy some pizza or something

Saturday:

8 sets of pushups

…and that’s it.

Sunday:

6 sets of crunches

Run for at least 20 minutes or walk briskly for at least 40

* * *

Easy, right?

Remember, before starting any workout routine (light or serious) get in a good 10-15 minute stretch. Here’s another good starter routine, including some great tips for beginners.

In place of running (in colder climes or urban areas) I recommend using a stationary bike. Here’s the one I use. It’s served me well for five years now, no maintenance required.


Workout 2 – For those who either have equipment at home or visit a gym

Monday:

15 minutes of vigorous punching bag work (use MMA gloves if you’ve got ’em) Here’s the bag I use.

4 sets of 60 crunches

Tuesday:

4 sets of push ups. (Try to do the same amount during each set)

2 sets of 60 crunches

4 sets of dumbbell bicep curls (try to do at least 10 reps with each set – you’ll quickly figure out what weight dumbbell to use)

4 sets of chin ups (do each set to exhaustion) Here’s the bar I use at home.

Wednesday:

Run for at least 30 minutes (or use an elliptical machine/stationary bike) or walk briskly for at least 45 minutes.

Thursday:

10 minutes of vigorous punching bag work

4 sets of 60 crunches

4 sets of dumbbell rows/10 reps per set (here’s how to do rows)

Friday:

Take the day off. You’ve earned it.

Saturday:

4 sets of dips. If you don’t know what a dip is, check this video.

4 sets of dumbbell bicep curls

4 sets of pushups

4 sets of chin ups

Sunday:

Run for at least 40 minutes (or use an elliptical machine/stationary bike) or walk briskly for at least 50 minutes.


Adjust as needed to suit your style.

But definitely put in the work.

Your body (and your mind) will thank you for it.

*

Other tips:

Get up and take a 5-10 minute walk for each hour of writing, painting, or sitting

Ditch the coffee. Drink water.

Eat after your workout, not before.

And yes, mowing the lawn (especially if you’re using a push mower) counts as cardio. 🙂

*

J Edward Neill

…author, artist, and gym rat

 

 

Brand New Ridiculous Book – 101 MORE Reasons to Break Up

Oops, I did it again.

Over six weeks during a rainy autumn, I collected hundreds of break-up stories from friends, strangers, Facebook pals, random people on Twitter & Instagram, and several tipsy folks at the local bar.

And then…just because…I cleaned the stories up and put them into this book:

Every story is true. Some are anonymous. For others, the storyteller’s name is proudly displayed.

Sample break-up stories from the book are here.

The original 101 Reasons to Break Up is here.

Writing Blurbs is Easy!

It’s a new year, and I’ve got a whole new crop of book blurbs. Some authors hate writing blurbs. As for me, I enjoy the process. Smashing a entire book into one or two sentences is the easiest part of my life. Much easier than say…writing the actual book.

Don’t dread the blurb. Far worse things in life exist.

I challenge all my writer friends to create blurbalicious articles like this one and share them with me.

And I hope readers will enjoy:

Reality is Best Served with Red Wine – A tipsy author drinks eleven different bottles of red wine while chatting about eleven different parts of his life.

Life & Dark Liquor – Still red-nosed from his wine, an author sips eleven cocktails while waxing philosophical about single fatherhood and his upbringing.

Lys & the Heart Stopper – An imprisoned young woman seizes her chance to escape a life of slavery. Her quest leads her directly into the clutches of the world’s most dangerous man.

101 Reasons to Break Up – Hundreds of strangers spill the beans on their deepest, darkest break-ups. Only the funniest and most bizarre make the cut.

101 MORE Reasons to Break Up – The break-ups get even more serious (and sometimes ridiculous) in this sequel from Splitsville.

Darkness Between the Stars – While gazing at the night sky, the world’s loneliest boy sees the stars begin to disappear.

Shadow of Forever – Obsessed with saving humanity from a horde of star-destroying vampires, an aging hero leaves his idyllic life behind.

 The Hecatomb – A ghoulish monster and its offspring stalk cities at night with the aim of killing every last human in the world.

The Skeleton Sculptor – A soldier watches his comrades disappear. One each night, every night, until only he remains.

The Circle Macabre – A young warrior chases her final prey into a sprawling medieval city. Armed with only her magical blade, she faces a centuries-old horror.

Big Shiny Red Buttons – The most absurd scenarios imaginable stacked between 100 pages.

101 Questions for Couples – Bubbly, light-hearted quizzes for couples new and established.

Hollow Empire Front Cover

 Hollow Empire – Night of Knives – After a plague wipes out most of a medieval nation’s population, five lost souls must survive the horrors that follow.

1

Down the Dark Path – Book I – A young woman leaves home to make a better life for herself, only to wander into the heart of a horrific, world-consuming war.

untitled

Old Man of Tessera – The lone survivor of a deadly storm finds the city of Tessera, in which nothing and no one are what they seem.

101-Questions-for-Humanity-333x500

101 Questions for Humanity – The original entry in the Coffee Table Philosophy series asks short, simple questions with aim of provoking thoughtful answers.

101 Questions for Midnight Front Cover

101 Questions for Midnight – The stakes are raised and the questions darker than ever in this fun, engaging ice-breaker book.

2

Down the Dark Path – Book II – A woman follows her lover into a battle he can never hope to win.

DoorNeverDreamedPaperback1

A Door Never Dreamed Of – In a distant Earth future, two young men on opposite sides of an apocalyptic war collide.

3

Down the Dark Path – Book III – After invading and crushing his rival’s homeland, a war-crazed emperor sends his cruelest warlord to butcher the last of his enemies.

101 Questions for Women Cover

101 Questions for Women – Written with women in mind but accessible to everyone, 101 Questions for Women focuses on love, lust, and the breakdown of traditional gender roles.

101 Questions for Men Cover

101 Questions for Men – Geared for men, this entry in the Coffee Table Philosophy series asks questions about sex, relationships, and much more.

4

Down the Dark Path – Book IV – As a world-ending conflict reaches its climax, a young woman must choose whether to join the winning side and become queen or sacrifice everything to betray her kidnappers.

SleepersImageForBlogging

The Sleepers – A wealthy student in a far-distant future is tasked with destroying an alien world to save humanity.

LettheBodies_BlogLg

Let the Bodies – A little girl suffers alone while everyone in her city vanishes.

101 Deeper Darker Cover

101 Deeper, Darker Questions for Humanity – 101 dark questions to test your morality, challenge your ethics, and entertain your friends.

101 xxxy Questions Front Cover

101 Sex Questions – Lovers and laugh-seekers alike will find entertainment in this sexy sidekick to the Coffee Table Philosophy series.
  Dark Moon Daughter New Kindle CoverDark Moon Daughter – Young Andelusia Anderae is seduced by a messenger and convinced that her budding black magic is the key to saving thousands of lives.

NetherKingdomWebLg-331x500

Nether Kingdom – At the world’s edge, a sorceress awakens to the terrible realization that she alone can stop an invasion of otherworldly horrors.

41X6vKWTtJL__SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

444 Questions for the Universe – Meant to entertain for hours, 444 Questions is a grand compilation of serious yet fun questions.

The Little Book of BIG Questions – Science and morality collide in the ultimate conversation-starting book for smart people.

101QSP

101 Questions for Single People – In the modern world of swiping left and never looking back, 101 Questions for Single People asks readers about every facet of love, lust, and human romantic connection.

Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows – A leper dedicates his life to saving children, a woman accepts the rarest of all murder contracts, a girl suffers insanity in a space colony, a train-hopping duo crosses through dimensions, and much, much more…
*The Ultimate Get to Know Someone Quiz – A delightful crash course of fun questions to ask spouses, significant others, family, and friends.

* * *

There might be no better way to grab a reader’s attention than through a good blurb.

…and no easier way to lose it with a bad one.

See you on the flip side.

A while back I got mega sarcastic with a list of alternative movie blurbs.

And later I roasted myself in public by making fun of all my books.

J Edward Neill

5 Brutal Break Up Stories

Five Reasons to Break Up

True Life Tales of Splitsville


 

*

Fish are Friends, not Food

Our marriage basically ended because my wife tried to force our son to become vegan.

She wanted him to eat things like grilled portobello mushrooms and tofu steak. You try telling a six-year old he can’t have fish sticks.

Oh, and she totally ruined Taco Tuesdays.

– Jonathan

*

Up to her Elbow

I pretty much lost it when…during a night of hot sex, she balled her hand into a fist and said, “Look where I can put this!”

Some things, you just can’t un-see.

– Anonymous

*

Hotel Calipornia

She said she’d landed a role in a local student film. I told her I’d happily give her a ride to the set location, but she insisted she’d be fine.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out what was up.

Turns out the movie set was a hotel room.

And her co-stars were naked.

Just google ‘student porn’ on one of those sites and you’ll probably see her. She’s the one making annoying horsey sounds.

– Anonymous

Alms for the Poor

She kept giving away all our money to the homeless people in our neighborhood.

I can appreciate a little generosity, or even a lot. But she once gave a guy $300 just so he could buy drugs. Which meant we had to struggle for the next two weeks to buy food and gas…while some kid sat on a corner and did meth.

 I told her to go work in a soup kitchen or something. And then I left.

– Wrecker

*

Downward Dog

She dumped me because she said I wasn’t dedicated enough to yoga.

I couldn’t keep up with six days per week, two hours per day of planking in the company of hipsters and jobless housewives.

Also, the music they play at the yoga studio is awful New Age crap.

Now I’m sitting at a bar drinking beer with some guy who’s willing to put my story in his book.

I win.

– Anonymous


 

If you want to read nine more epic break-ups, go here.

For 101 more break-ups, get into this.

My Pencil Sketch Progression – 1994-2017

I used to draw. A lot. In high school, I fancied myself an amateur artist, and away I went, sketching girls, monsters, and fantasy settings.

My work was juvenile. Unpracticed. Untrained.

But still a lot of fun.

Most of these are drawings I doodled between 1994-1995. Mostly while in school…while I should’ve been studying. I still have the originals in my house.

A tower in the woods. I drew this one during a loooooooooong math class.

Knight on horse. I really could’ve used a better reference photo of the horse. I just kinda BS’d it.

Demon guy. 20 years later, he became the basis for the antagonist in my fantasy book series. Here, he just kinda sucks.

Every teenage boy likes to draw boobs, right? This drawing might’ve been competent had I not given her spheres instead of actual breasts.

Same girl. Different angle. I like the mug. And the knife.

He’s mildly ok. The background is pretty boring. His necklace should probably be beneath his sleeves…realistically speaking.

*

Fast forward 20 years…

After a long layoff, during which I played too many video games, airbrushed cheesy T shirts, and pretended to be an author, I started drawing again. But this time I tried to take things more seriously. I wasn’t just avoiding homework or ignoring math class. I began doodling as a passion, not just to pass the time.

I used grids to help me get back in the feel of drawing faces. For this girl, I almost left her as-is. She looks pretty intense, right?

 

Changed my mind. Finished her. Added some blue.

She probably needs a sandwich. But I like the feel of her pose. And the grass she’s sitting in.

Now look what you did. You pissed her off. Smooth move.

More grid work to help with her mouth and eyes. She’s the heroine in my fantasy novel series. You’d be serious, too…if you were in her shoes.

An intense warrior woman. For no reason other than I felt like it. Look at her shoulders. She’s pretty much ripped.

I decided to step things up and invest in a few quality tools. Charcoal sticks, high-quality pencils, blending tools, powdered graphite…

…and with the powdered graphite, I went nuts. This fearsome girl stands five feet tall on a giant canvas.

And now it’s time to step away from simply drawing faces. Full bodies. More expression. Abstract elements paired with realism. Also…no underwear.

*

Anyway…I hope you enjoyed this little sketch timeline. I’m trying to get a little better with each piece I create. And a little darker, too.

Love,

J Edward Neill

10 Things I Miss Most About Role-Playing

It’s no secret.

I can pretend to be a sports-loving, cave-dwelling, meat-eater.

But it wasn’t always so.

Once, long ago, I dwelled in the lands of swords & sorcery. At the tender age of eleven, my uncle passed along a set of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books, and I was hooked.

Every dorky image you’ve seen of role-players on the internet…they were me. Every nerd stereotype, I conquered.

And no, I don’t care. I loved every second of my dice-rolling origin story.

Here’s the ten things I miss most about role-playing back in the day:

* * *

The Clatter of Dice on the Table

As a little kid, I thought dice were six-sided and used only by gamblers in the seediest corners of Vegas. Who knew they came in such a huge variety of shapes, sizes, and colors? My favorite set was sparkly green. And damn, that twenty-sided die rolled more 20’s than should’ve been legal. As a game master, I crushed many players’ dreams with my dice. Just ask Egg Embry, king of role-playing wanna-lancers.

*

Role-Playing for Days Without Stopping

When we played, we played. No tiny two-hour sessions for us. My little group of four would sometimes convene on a Saturday afternoon, head down to the basement, and emerge late Sunday night. No, we didn’t have girlfriends. Yes, we had more fun than everyone else on the planet. Sometimes, if my entire crew wasn’t available, I’d run a session with two guys, then head over to the third player’s house and game until the wee hours.

Pure. RPG. Heaven.

*

Creating Art for the Game

Some D&D players show up with the simple goal of advancing their character and hoarding treasure. Not our group. We created worlds, and we lived inside them. To aid the process, some of us created art to support our fantastical visions. Hell, I bought a giant art book and populated it entirely with drawings, sketches, and hand-painted maps. Did we take it too far? Nah. Instead of watching movies, we directed our own stories inside our minds.

The Underhollows – A painted scene from our campaign.

*

Eating Pizza & Drinking Mountain Dew

If I ate today like I ate back then, I’d be 300 lbs. Fortunately, the body of a fourteen-year old is resilient. We chugged gallons of carbonated sugar water and ate boxes upon boxes of Little Caesar’s pizza.

…and we didn’t gain a damn pound.

More importantly, the caffeine we imbibed fueled our bodies better than a thousand Haste potions. If we’d have had an IV, we could’ve stayed awake for weeks at a time, rolling dice and avoiding life beyond our basement.

*

Painting Miniatures

Nowadays, my young son plays with the remnants of what was once a mighty lead-pewter army. He doesn’t know about the hundreds of hours involved in painting and perfecting thousands of his tiny miniature monsters. He doesn’t really care.

Honestly, we didn’t really need the miniatures to play our style of game. Most of the fun lived in the actual painting. It’s not like video games, in which everything is programmed for you. When you take the time to add color and life to your very own miniature character, it becomes something sacred.

And ‘effing badass.

*

Creating New Worlds

The guys (and gals) who participated in my campaign won’t ever know the work I put in behind the scenes. I didn’t just design simple treasure hauls. I invented a universe, and I loved every minute of it.

I probably should’ve been studying for school.

Nah.

In folders ancient and dusty, I have hundreds of maps, sketches, character drawings, stories, and massive overarching plot outlines. I planned our game sessions well in advance, carefully constructing multiple scenarios to accommodate whatever crazy choices the players might make.

Some of those sketches and outlines, I turned into fantasy novels later in life. Others remain in hiding, likely never to see daylight again.

Sniffle…

*

Drawing Dungeon Maps

Along with world-creation came the fun (though often tedious) job of mapping out dungeons.

Take a left turn, fall into a pit of spikes.

Go straight, fight a pack of bloodthirsty Necrophages.

Head down the stairs, prepare to meet your doom.

Armed with reams of graph paper and a knack for being cruel to my players, I designed dozens of dungeons. Some were simple. Others were bottomless. Several were never traversed, and still lie hidden, chock full of gold (and death.)

Think this is complex? You ain’t seen nuthin’, rookie.

*

Seeing the Joy on Players’ Faces

For as insidious as I tried to be, I genuinely wanted my fellow gamers to succeed. After all, I’d laid the trappings of an epic world, and if the players’ characters died, they’d never have the chance to explore it.

They’ll never know it, but I loved it when they outsmarted me.

And when they reached the end of a plotline, it felt like we finished one movie in a thrilling series.

Only…instead of having to wait a year for the next installment to arrive, we simply kept playing.

It’s like leveling up in a video game, only a million times more euphoric.

*

Creating New Characters

In our deep, dark basement (or my dad’s musty living room) I sometimes wonder how many new characters we made. For us, making a new character wasn’t just writing statistics down on a sheet of paper; it was more about inventing a new persona. If the idea behind role-playing is to escape our mundane reality for a while, then there’s no greater method than to step into the mind of someone else.

Elves. Dwarves. Cantankerous old wizards. Midget lizard-folk clerics. Whatever floats your boat.

We played ’em all. Some died. Some lived. Some went down in infamy.

But all will be remembered.

*

Storytelling

Ultimately, gaming (at least the way we did it) isn’t about rolling dice, collecting treasure, or slaughtering goblins. It’s about creating a living world, not unlike a book, into which one can wander for days on end.

For the players, it’s all about exploration. Discovery. Advancement.

For me, it’s about telling a story. And not just a lonely, beginning-to-end tale, but a flexible, ever-changing universe.

Like the butterfly effect, one motion by one player can change everything.

Sigh…

I only wish we could’ve finished the story. We stopped well before arriving at the end. It’s probably my fault for being long-winded.

Oh well.

If reincarnation exists, I’m coming back as a fourteen-year old dungeon master.

With a shitload of Mountain Dew.

*

If you like role-playing inspired stories, go here.

If you like cheesy RPG art, try this.

J Edward Neill

Deep Dark Cover Art – The Hecatomb

Hecatomb – ‘heka’tom/ (noun) – An extensive loss of life for some cause.

or…

The name of my terrifying novella.

In a drowned village, on a dark shore, in a city of white stones, an ancient evil stalks.
It has no name, no face, and no desire but to see the death of everything…
…and everyone.
Down through the ages it exists, sleepless and void, a relic from the world before humanity.
One dead. Every night. Forever.
Until nothing remains.

J Edward Neill

All Hallows Eve Book Sale

Happy All Hallows Eve!

You’re here, which means you have the chance to unearth a ton of great books.

Several are free. Many others are only $0.99.

I’ve got fantasy, horror, sci-fi, philosophy, and even a pair of alcohol-fueled memoirs.

Crawl through the graveyard and go here here to view my entire catalog, including everything I’ve slashed for this one-day event.

To get a feel for what I’m offering, peruse some of my cover art below.

As always, I appreciate your Amazon reviews.

dark_moon_daughter-initialcoverjuptereventcrop1cover101-qs-for-the-end-of-the-world-front-cover101-questions-for-humanity101-questions-for-midnight-front-cover101-questions-for-single-people-front101-questions-for-women-cover101-xxxy-questions-front-coverletthebodies_kindlenether-kingdom-createspace-bright-coversleepersimageforbloggingsoul-orb-new-ddp-cover-second-trythe-circle-macabre-covermachina-obscurumthe-ultimate-quiz

Find me in these great locations: Facebook TwitterTheA Ur Hand G

Catch you later,

J Edward Neill

Savage Hearts – A Paranormal Romance Anthology

 

 

 

 

Savage Hearts:
A Paranormal Romance Anthology


Release: 10/31/17

Genre: Adult, Paranormal Romance, Anthology, Collection, 
Publisher: Satin & Stone Publications, LLC.
Cover Artist: Dark City Designs

Blurb
Dracula, Quasimodo, Dr. Jekyll…they are the monsters that stalk your nightmares. Haunting the pages of books for centuries, they are the embodiment of all that emerges from the shadows when you close your eyes. They are the deformed, the hated and the incomprehensible, fated to walk in the darkness alone forever.
 
Or are they?
 
From twelve amazing authors come twelve new tales, stories that go beyond the blighted surface to see into the heart of the beast. They are stories of acceptance and redemption, love and passion… and chance encounters that forge the love of a lifetime.
Stop running. Stop hiding. See past the monster. Look into the face of fear and you might just find the soul of a man.
10/1 Pre-Order Price ONLY $3.99!!
HELP US BRING LOVE TO SCARY PLACES

 

 THE STORIES:



“Sanctuary” by Harper L. Jameson  Inside the hallowed bell tower of Our Lady, a monster was hidden by the righteous meant to protect him. Seeking help from the almighty against the furor of a crazed priest, Esmerelda found more than a monster inside the church…she found salvation.



“Bander Snatch” by David Michael Charlie has a secret – a centuries old secret – which has forced him into a life of solitude and lonliness. In order to rid himself of his curse, he has to give up the first piece of normal he’s ever had. Will the Jabberwock win again?



“Beyond the Shallows” by Kristy Nicolle  When English beauty and avid poetry lover Ophelia is holidaying with her two sisters in 19th Century Blackpool, she finds herself unmistakably called to the water. Will she flee in horror at what lies beneath the waves, or can she learn to look beyond the shallows?



“He Calls” by Alice K. Wayne 
When the Master of the new world summons you, will you surrender your body to Cthulu’s call, or choose to be fractured by madness?


“Yielding to Temptation” by Jess Raven Skyla had one job. Get in, get the prize, get out. The house had other ideas. When she finds herself trapped with too many secrets and a man who claims the impossible, can she stay strong enough to fight the darkness for a man who captivates her, or will she become prey to the Portrait of Dorian Gray?



“Holding the Devil” by Stephanie Farrant Hell isn’t a game. A night of passion and a promise of her heart’s desire seems too good to be true for Evelyn Church. The price is high and the road dark. But can she trust the devil? 



“Hyde and Seek” by Katie H. Weill Gabriel John Utterson is drowning in law school debt, so when a lucrative employment opportunity as a guard for a handful of mental health patients presents itself he accepts, and commits himself under the hands of Dr. Jekyll. But who is Ms. Hyde?



“Behemoth” by D.M. Earl Trying to find that rare woman to share his heart with, Francis
N. Stein- Aka Stitch – struggles to live detached, battling his honorable and dark
sides.  His ‘special powers’ further complicate his ability to exist in society, searching for something he has never thought possible- a kindred spirit.



“Night Music” by Desiree King On a fateful night, a young songstress finds herself in the wrong place at the worst time. A shadowy figure seems to fall from the darkness to save her, but who is actually the monster?



“Wickedly Ever After” by Stephanie Ingram 
Somewhere over the rainbow, good and evil struggle for power. But in a
land of magical possibility, can the wicked get a happy ending?

 

“Immortal Devotion” by Lou Tenn The Father of Vampires has lived in solitude, believing that she didn’t exist. After she finally made an appearance, her family business proves to complicate things.


“Loving the Hound” by Mila Waters When death comes, so does he. He’s the hound, the messenger no one wishes to see. But when Emmaline ‘sees’ past the omens, he’s given the chance at something he’s never known before.



www.satinandstone.com

 

My Daily Struggle With Not Giving a F**k

Nothing matters.

Nothing at all.

Don’t agree?

I’ll explain:

Objectively speaking, our universe is infinite. Our solar system, huge as it might appear, is no more than a tiny pinprick in the fabric of our galaxy. And our galaxy, as absurdly vast as it seems, is just a small puff of gas and dust in an ever-expanding cosmos.

How’s the saying go?

You’re a ghost driving a meat-covered skeleton made of stardust, riding a rock, hurtling through space.’

*

And the other saying? The one by Carl Sagan?

‘The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.’  – Carl Sagan – Pale Blue Dot, 1994

What does this mean? Well… It means the sum of humanity’s value to the universe is nil. And the sum of an individual human – I scarcely want to mention it for fear of insulting everyone. We’re small. Really small. To call us grains of sand on an immeasurably huge beach is unfair to grains of sand everywhere. We’re tinier than that.

We’re meaningless.

I’ll say it one more time so you know I’m not kidding.

We have no objective value. None. Nada. Zilch.

See that tiny speck in the middle right of this Voyager 1 photo? That’s Earth.

*

Should our smallness bother you?

No. Not really. Go about your life. Have fun. It’ll all work out in the end.

Does it bother me?

Yeah. A bit.

Before we go any further, let’s define something:

ni·hil·ism (ˈnīəˌlizəm,ˈnēəˌlizəm/)

  1. The rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.
    synonyms: skepticism, negativity, cynicism, pessimism

Pretty hard to stomach, right?

And yet here I am.

Anymore, waging war against my instinctive nihilism is my life’s defining challenge. I know I’m not alone in this, but I do tend to focus on it perhaps more than the average person. As I grow older and my comfort level with having no meaning deepens, I feel an increasing urge to escape this world. And no, I don’t mean die. What I’m looking for is an escape from society. From people. From places. From things.

But I’ve got two complications. And therein lies the struggle.

Complication 1.  I enjoy this life despite its meaninglessness. When I’m able to forget my smallness (or at least set it aside) life tends to be fun. And while I realize not everyone is as lucky as I am to enjoy life, it feels pointless to carry any semblance of guilt.

Complication 2.  We’ll get to this one later…

Life is fun. Until it’s not. The exhaustive circle in which I’m spinning is often tolerable…except when society’s weight comes crashing down upon me. As an author and artist who makes his living with books and paintings, I’m obligated to have a presence in the world. I have a Twitter feed. A Facebook page. An Instagram profile. And although I pour my daily passion into maintaining these things, they aren’t me. They’re not real. They’re smaller than I’ll ever be, and I’m pretty tiny. They’re more meaningless than everything else, even though that’s impossible.

And when I stare out into the world, whether through the internet’s lens or with my own two eyes, my struggle deepens. I see the world we’ve created and I find it hard to feel this thing people call ‘hope.’ I suffer an existential ache – a deep, dark sense of ‘Why am I doing this? What do I hope to accomplish in this place?’

The politics. The wars. The murder. The rape. The ideologies. The people who talk as if they know many things…

I can’t stomach them.

Pop stars. The next big TV show. GIFs. Selfies. Hashtags. Political correctness. The latest, greatest iPhone…

I can’t make myself care.

Memes are stupid. And yet…

*

And so it goes. There’s nothing I can do to stop these things. I can no more slow society’s never-ending march than I can leap across the galaxy and settle alone on a planet far from Earth.

I’m powerless.

We all are.

Sometimes, our powerlessness isn’t evident. Lacking meaning, humanity invents things to amuse ourselves, to distract us from our insignificance. We’ve constructed pantheons of culture for the sole purpose of entertaining ourselves. We’ve unearthed every possible form of distraction, to which we flock the moment our daily work of survival is done. And, speaking of survival (which might once have been the truest form of human meaning) most of us really don’t struggle to survive anymore. We’re harder to kill than ever. We’re seven-billion and spreading. We’re able to grow older than ever before, all the while coming no closer to knowing our purpose in this universe.

Which might be a blessing.

…considering no purpose exists.

But for all my talk, for all my desire to wander off onto some far and quiet beach in the middle of nowhere, there’s a reason I can’t. I call it complication number 2, even though it’s not a complication at all.

It’s my son, the G Man.

He’s six now, and he doesn’t know much about this crap-stew we call life. For as long as I can, I’ll keep it that way. I’ll let him savor his childhood. He’ll see none of my cynicism. He’ll not hear me talk about about grains of sand, pale blue dots, or the hopelessness of choosing one side (of anything) against another. He gets to make up his own mind about these things. To indoctrinate him to my thought process would be to kill a part of his individuality.

I won’t do it.

And yes, I realize the hypocrisy.

I guess I’m not a ‘true’ nihilist. Or any ‘ist’ for that matter.

*

In the beginning of this article, I talked about humanity’s insignificance. Yes, it’s true. We’re insignificant, all of us. It’s not a belief. It’s reality, and there’s no going around it. And yet I can’t help myself. When it comes to my child, I don’t want to punish him by teaching him the brutal truth. If he learns it on his own (and he likely will one day) it’s ok. But I won’t be a mentor in this regard. I’ll allow him to invent his own meaning, just as many other billions of people do on a daily basis. If he wants to be religious, so be it. If he wants to dance with the rest of society and listen to Justin Bieber albums all day, ok. I’ll not try to stop him.

In doing so, in playing the part of unbiased, open-minded dad, I’ll struggle. I’ll toe the line between not giving a f**k and teaching my son to genuinely care about the world he lives in. It won’t exactly be pretending. I do care. And I do think the world can be a wonderful place. But at the same time, I’m acutely aware of ‘pale blue dot’ syndrome. We’re small. We’re pointless. The only reason my son has meaning to me is because I decided it would be so.

*

If there’s one thing I hope, it’s that my kid won’t be like me. Not that I’m miserable or full of horrid judgments for humanity – I’m not. But I’d like him to be free of burdens, free to decide what’s meaningful for himself. I want him to give a f**k. And truly, I hope this for all humanity. If for no other reason than life hurts more when we become aware there’s no prize at the end of the game, I hope my son gives as many f**ks as possible.

This is where I’m at. Stuck in the grey space between ‘aware of my meaninglessness’ and ‘willing to pretend meaning so my kid doesn’t become exactly like me.’ It’s an interesting place to be. I get to care, but not care. I get to glimpse hope through the eyes of another, and sometimes pretend his hope is my own.

There’s no meaning but what we make for ourselves.

And maybe that’s enough.

For now.

J Edward

Thursday Art Assault – Wood Panel Warfare

At DragonCon 2017, I wandered the art gallery for what seemed like eons.

I encountered stunning fantasy art of all kinds. I found light, darkness, and everything in-between.

But then I stumbled upon something I’d never really seen before. An artist – I admit I don’t know her name or website – had created a large quantity of long, narrow paintings on slender wooden panels.

For me, a guy who has always focused his work on canvasses, gesso boards, and plain old paper, the idea of painting on peculiar-sized chunks of wood transfixed me.

I knew at once I had to try a few of my own:

I started with these:

Pieces of an old picket fence. About 20″ long – 4″ wide. Cut, dried, and sanded to a smooth finish.

*

And I moved on to these:

*

Here’s an up close shot of my favorite plank, The Sorcerer:

*

After finishing a ton of smaller planks, I tried a giant plank. This one’s 6′ tall and 12″ wide. It was a true pleasure to paint:

Started with this…

*

…and finished with this.

*

I admit I loved making these so much, I’ve got another six planks drying on my deck right now. Meaning…more are soon to come.

*

Want to learn more? Hit me up on Facebook, Twitter, or via email.

And…you might also like these.

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

10 Simple Ways to Spot a Fake Amazon Review

 

10 Simple Ways To Spot A Fake Amazon Review

John Hawthorne

Let me paint a hypothetical (or perhaps very real) scenario.

You want to purchase something on Amazon. You’re excited about this purchase. It’s a new [insert that thing you’ve been dying to get]. You’ve set aside some cash over the past month and are pumped to finally be able to buy.

You go on Amazon and begin researching the different options. You read reviews on each product and find one that seems perfect. It’s got thousands of positive, glowing, over the top reviews.You click “Buy” and eagerly await for your happiness to be delivered.

When your package arrives, you rip it open with the fervor of a kid on Christmas.

It looks right. It feels right.

But there’s one problem.

It’s a terrible product. It breaks quickly. Or it’s poorly constructed. Or it’s just not the same as portrayed in the pictures.

So what gives? What about all those amazing reviews? You trusted those!

Unfortunately, it’s quite possible that they were fake. Yes, in an effort to boost sales, some Amazon sellers will either purchase reviews or offer free products in exchange for an “honest” review. As you can imagine, this deeply skews the rating system on Amazon.

Fortunately for you, Amazon is beginning to take steps to crack down on and even remove fake reviews.

But until all those fake reviews are gone, you need to know how to spot a fake.

Here are 10 ways to spot a false review on Amazon.

 

#1 – There Are Numerous Reviews Within A Short Time

 

Amazon Shipping
Typically, it takes quite a while for a product to organically accumulate reviews. After all, only a small number of customers will actually review the product, which means that it should take a number of months for it to build up a significant base of reviews.

If there are flood of reviews (particularly positive ones) within a very short time, it’s a good sign that those are not legitimate reviews.

 

#2 – They All Contain Similar Photos

 

If most of the reviews contain similar photos, they’re probably fake. It’s likely that the company asked the reviewers to post a particular type of photo that will best highlight the product.

For example, if you’re looking at an essential oil diffuser and all the photos show it on an end table, that should raise a red flag.

 

#3 – You Can’t Find The Company Website

 

Fulfillment by Amazon Asia
If you can’t find a legitimate company behind the product, a warning bell should go off in your head. That may not mean it’s not a legit company, but it should at least push you to do further research.

If they don’t have a website, it probably means that they’re only selling on Amazon. For all you know, it could be a guy shipping these products out of his basement. If that’s the case, it would be surprising if his product had thousands of positive reviews.

If a product has a reputable company behind it, you can know that you have recourse if something goes wrong with the product. You don’t have this assurance if you can’t even find a company website.

 

#4 – All The Reviews Use Similar Wording

 

What are the odds of every reviewer saying something like, “This is a great product and I am definitely buying a lot more?” Pretty small, right? You would expect there to be a variety of descriptions within the reviews.

If you notice that all the reviews have a similar flavor, it may be an indicator that the company asked reviewers to use a particular type of language.

 

#5 – A High Percentage Of The Reviews Are 5 Star

 

rating ecommerce sellers reviews
If almost all the reviews are 5 star, you should at least pause. The product may legitimately be of the highest quality, but this may also indicate that they’re fakes. In any normal product, you expect to see a mix high and mid quality reviews. If you don’t find any middle of the road reviews, this should raise a red flag.

After all, with any product, no matter how good, there will be issues. This should come out at least somewhere in the reviews.

 

#6 – The Reviews Are All Vague

 

A fair number of the reviews should contain language that is specific to the product, whether that’s how it functions in particular circumstances or the durability. There should be some reviews that are highly technical in nature, left by the type of people who really enjoy getting into the specifications of a product. There should also be reviews that tell how people are using the products.

If most of the reviews contain vague, unclear language, it may be a signal that they’re not legitimate.

 

#7 – The Reviewer Uses the Same Review Language Repeatedly

 

amazon review system changed
When you click on a person’s username, you can actually see all of the reviews they’ve ever left on Amazon. If they’ve left an unusually high number of reviews containing the same or similar language, there’s a good chance that their reviews are being compensated in some way.

A genuine reviewer will leave thoughtful, detailed reviews about the different ways that they’re using the products. A fake reviewer will essentially copy and paste their language across multiple reviews.

 

#8 – The Review Is Not A “Verified Purchase”

 

If a customer purchased the product directly from Amazon, it will say “Verified Purchase” under the headline. This means that they didn’t purchase it from the store or some other site and then come review it on Amazon.

If the review isn’t verified, you should probably discount it. You have no way of knowing whether it’s true, and there’s a good chance that it’s false.

 

#9 – The Review Is 5 Stars And Really Short

 

If a review is one sentence long and 5 stars, it offers very little value and may be fake. A true 5 star review should contain some detail as to what makes that product worth buying. Whether that’s the durability of the product or the many uses it has, one sentence simply doesn’t cut it.

 

#10 – Odd Language Is Used

 

amazon review sample
If a product is being sold in the United States for $13 and a reviewer uses the phrase “13.00 USD”, it should be a red flag. A native english speaker would never use that type of language and it may indicate that the seller is buying reviews.

 

How To Spot Biased Reviews

 

defending against bogus reviews
You will encounter many reviews that aren’t exactly fake, but are highly biased. Fortunately, these can be spotted as well. Here are some simple ways to do that.

Disregard Highly Positive or Negative Reviews On Controversial Products

 

Some products, particularly books, are going to be controversial. If you see a glowing 5 star or vitriolic 1 star on a controversial product, it’s sign that it was written by a biased reviewer.

Disregard Reviews Not Related To The Product

 

Unfortunately, many reviews aren’t tied at all to the product. For example, a customer may have misunderstood what he was buying, gotten angry, and left a negative review in retaliation. Or a product may have been delivered late, which can be just as much the fault of the postal service.

Any review that’s not tied directly to the product can be disregarded.

 

Scrutinize “Vine” Reviews

 

Amazon has what they call the “Vine” program, which provides free products to top reviewers. There is nothing unethical about this, but the simple truth is that any time someone gets something for free, it will bias their review.

At a minimum, you should read some of that person’s other reviews to get a feel for their free product bias.

 

A Safe Rule Of Thumb

 

Generally speaking, you should do several things when looking at products.

  • Look at the overall balance of reviews. The best product should have a healthy mix of 5 and 4 star reviews, with some three stars thrown in. Make sure to read the worst reviews to determine why they rated so poorly.
  • Read reputable review websites like Consumer Reports, Wirecutter, and PC Mag.
  • Watch reviews on YouTube. This can give you a visual feel for what your product will look like and feel like. You can also get some honest reviews.

 

Conclusion

You’ll never be able to fully avoid fake and biased reviews, but if you do some due diligence you can spare yourself a lot of pain.

Yes, it may take some time, which can be difficult if you’re really wanting to get your product, but it’s worth it. The last thing you want to happen is to waste your money on a terrible product.

 

This article is an authorized mirror of John Hawthorne’s original Floship article.

*

More Amazon Tips and Shipping:

How Amazon Floats All That Prime Free Shipping

Amazon and the Future Of Drone Delivery

How to Find an Exceptional Online Order Fulfillment Center

How to Source and Sell Products from China Online

My top 5 brands of scotch

On a rainy winter’s eve in the heart of Atlanta, someone slid a glass of scotch my way.

Single ice cube. Short glass. Bright amber color.

I sipped once.

I sipped twice.

And I fell in love.

Since that night, I’ve made it my mission to find delicious, affordable scotches wherever I go.

These are my top five brands (and bottles within each brand.)


Balvenie

In the shadow of Balvenie Castle, Dufftown, Scotland, the finest scotch-makers in the world distill casks of liquid sunshine.

With bright, bold flavors in a wide variety of prices, Balvenie is great for both entry-level scotch sippers and seasoned scotch lovers.

My first sip of scotch ever was a glass of Doublewood 17, possessed of a particularly dark & bold flavor. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to try almost every Balvenie (save the elusive 50-year, of which I’d kill to claim a bottle.) I’ve yet to find one I don’t enjoy.

Favorite cask – Balvenie 21 Portwood – equal parts dark and delicious.

*

Aberlour

A friend and fellow scotch lover offhandedly mentioned his experience with a bottle of Aberlour 15 Select Cask Reserve (shown above.)

I bought the very same bottle that very night, and now I’m hooked. Aberlour’s a somewhat smoother, slightly less colorful scotch than Balvenie, but no less amazing. I prefer it when grilling red meat, noshing on a fine dessert, or closing out evenings on the back deck.

For a bargain, Aberlour 12 will serve your palate right.

To step it up a notch, try my personal favorite, Aberlour 16. Can’t beat the bourbon and sherry dual-cask flavor.

*

Glenlivet

Probably the single finest bottle of scotch I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste – Glenlivet XXV (25y)  It’s pretty much like drinking sunshine. I recommend it to everyone…even people who don’t normally like scotch.

So there’s that…

Most full-bar restaurants in Atlanta (and elsewhere) carry Glenlivet 12. If I’m you, I stay clear of the 12; it’s unnecessarily sharp. However, all the other casks are worthwhile.

My favorite, other than the XXV (which will set you back a pretty penny) is the Archive 21. It’s so rich you’ll think you’re drinking a glass of sunshine-flavored syrup. Aunt Jemima wishes she were this delicious.

*

Glenmorangie

Glenmorangie translates roughly into the Gaelic term ‘Vale of Tranquility.’ More like ‘Vale of Big Flavor,’ leastways to me. Few scotches are as bright, sharp, and bold as the Glenmorangie family.

Nectar D’Or, Glen’s 12-year offering, is an excellent introductory scotch. It’s reasonably priced with a crisp, bold flavor easily blowing away the standard American whiskeys of the world. Eat your heart out, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, and all the rest. Glenmorangie has your number.

They say alcohol (in one form or another) has been produced in Tain (hometown of Glenmorangie’s distillery) since the early 1700’s. Makes sense to me. The stuff’s got the taste of something I’d gladly drink for 300 years.

My favorite is definitely the aforementioned Nectar D’Or. Grab a bottle tonight…and spend some time in Heaven.

*

Dalmore

I’m new to the Dalmore experience, so I can’t claim a range of knowledge about every last one of their casks.

For starters, check out their interesting backstory, which explains the stag appearing on every Dalmore bottle.

At least for the bottles I’ve sampled, I’ve found Dalmore to be smokier than other brands. It’s a flavor that might deter new scotch drinkers, but one that appeals to me for its uniqueness. It’s best sipped after a glass of fresh water, and probably separate from meals – so as to best appreciate its spicy, smoky punch to the palate.

My favorite thus far – Dalmore 15. The subtle hints of orange compliment the smoky sherry flavor rather well.

Try it.

Try them all.

*8

If you’re thirsty and want to read more of my scotch adventures, go here.

If you’re more of a wine-lover, try this.

J Edward Neill – Artist and scotch aficionado

Thursday Art Assault – Sketching Pretty Girls

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 latest installation of  Thursday Art Assault

*

For my latest round of short stories, I’ve decided to sketch my own cover art.

It’s a challenge.

…and I love it.

This next piece is a sequel to this.

Here’s a quick progression:

Nadya – or at least half of her. I started with strictly pencils, sketching her face on a huge sheet of watercolor paper. Surprise, surprise….watercolor paper is excellent media for fine pencil sketches, especially realistic pieces.

*

I used a blend of charcoal, graphite, and dark pencil lead to deepen Nadya’s eyes and hair. Here’s my arsenal….

*

 

Nadya, the Deathless is a character in the novel Hollow Empire.

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 Nadya, you might also like these.

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

Power Rankings – The Top 10 Most Powerful Fantasy Characters Ever

Hey…

I know…

Let’s count down the top 10 fantasy characters of all time.

Each of the following fantastical characters appears in a popular fantasy book, movie, or video game.

Some are modern. Others are old school. I’ll rank each from 1-10 in terms of their power.

A few rules:

  • Each character is a headliner – central to the book, movie, or game in which they appear. In other words, no background characters. Sidekicks are up for consideration (as long as they’re well-described.)
  • No one too obscure, meaning we’re not gonna pull up some random side-god from Final Fantasy 700
  • Humanoids only. No dragons, Cthulu-esque monsters, or Moby Dicks. Two legs and two arms are required (even if illusory) to play this game
  • Lastly, I didn’t include characters appearing primarily in comic books or cartoons…because…well…I simply don’t know enough about ’em. Also, since comic book characters are typically made to be over-powered, it feels like cheating. We’ll avoid them…with one exception.

Feel free to argue the results in the comments section.

Let’s get started…


Top 10 Most Powerful Fantasy Characters

*

# 10 

Raistlin Majere (Dragonlance)

Raistlin Majere by AkiraNao

Coming in at number ten, we have the proud and dangerous wizard from the Dragonlance novel series. Raistlin starts out as a good guy (mostly) but after his test at the Tower of High Sorcery, he becomes something else. With his eyes, he sees the effect of time on all things (powerful indeed.) Ultimately, his powers grow such that he’s able to do battle with the gods themselves.

Not bad for a woodcutter’s son.

Also considered for this spot – Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

*

# 9 

Randall Flagg (Various Stephen King novels)

Randall Flagg by Michael Whelan

*He’s understated. He looks like your average Joe (sometimes.) And he wears many, many faces – Marten Broadcloak & Walter o’Dim, to name a few. As a demon, a sorcerer, and an infamous man of malice, the seemingly unstoppable R.F. moves throughout time and dimensions with bad, bad things on his mind.

Did he kill Pres. Kennedy? Will he eventually kill everyone? Who knows?

I wonder who’d win in a fight between R.F. and Raistlin Majere. Hmmmm…

Also considered for this spot – Moiraine Damodred (Wheel of Time series) and/or Yennefer of Vengerberg (The Witcher video game/novel series)

*

# 8 

Doom Guy (Doom video game series)

But…he’s just a guy, right?

Wrong.

He’s a demon-slaughtering, Hell-smashing demi-god resurrected for the sole purpose of saving humanity from incineration. In the latest Doom iteration, we learn Doom Guy hails from an ancient order of Martian soldiers responsible for one task and one task alone:

Kill. Demons.

If you’re surprised he’s earned 8th place, don’t be. I’m not sure there’s a wizard alive whose magic could stop a BFG to the face.

Or a chainsaw wielded by Doom Guy with a Berserk power-up.

🙂

Also considered for this spot – Kratos (God of War) and Darth Vader (Star Wars)

*

# 7

The Night’s King (Game of Thrones (novels and TV series)

He’s the ultimate necromancer.

He raises armies of wights with a flick of his fingers.

He slays dragons. He walks through fire. He turns babies into White Walkers. He orchestrates the invasion of all Seven Kingdoms.

Do NOT F with the Night King.

Also considered for this spot – Jadis the White Witch (Chronicles of Narnia) and/or Emperor Palpatine (Star Wars)

*

# 6

Ganondorf (The Legend of Zelda)

Perhaps most compelling about good old Ganon is that he keeps coming back.

No matter how many times Link rises up to banish or destroy him, the ‘Dorf finds his way into Hyrule. And by virtue of claiming the Triforce, he has far more power than many of his contemporaries.

He’s sometimes a great beast. He’s often a powerful wizard. Even now and then, he’s a living, breathing cataclysmic presence in the sky.

And he edges out the Night’s King due to having already conquered his kingdom of choice…several times.

Even though he always seems to lose it in the end.

Also considered for this spot – Dracula (Bram Stoker’s novel)

*

# 5

Gandalf the White (Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit)

He once slapped a Balrog of Morgoth off a mountain.

He defeated his own boss and plotted the downfall of Middle Earth’s primary nemesis, Sauron.

And he smokes a mean pipe.

Often cantankerous, sometimes downright mean, Gandalf might seem human, and yet he’s anything but. His powers are largely un-catalogued, but so obviously formidable. Sometimes, true power isn’t just lobbing fireballs and blasting lightning bolts. It’s all in the intellect, of which Gandalf has more than most.

Also considered for this spot – Albus Dumbledore and/or Voldemort (Harry Potter series)

*

# 4

Pennywise  (Various Stephen King novels, also the movie, It)

Now we’re getting somewhere.

You might think of Pennywise as just a serial-killing clown. But It’s much, much more. As a Lovecraftian horror from beyond all normal dimensions, It’s come to Earth to consume as much humanity as It can.

It thrives on fear. It can shape-change. It can move about almost at will. By virtue of Its eternal nature and Its bizarre, otherworldly powers, It beats out earthbound characters. It’s possible some of the others might defeat It in one-on-one combat, but It’d probably just self-resurrect in the Macroverse and find some other food source to fill IT’s belly.

Yum.

Also considered for this spot – Lord Haliax of the Chandrian (The Kingkiller Chronicle)

**

# 3 & 2

Superman & Wonder Woman (Movie versions)

 

Yeah. I know what I said. Comic book characters are generally only special because of their bloated superpowers…blah blah blah.

But since these two are mainstream and they’ve been in a few movies, they’re fair game.

Let’s talk Superman first.

His powers (at least in the movies) are absurd. He can seemingly take limitless punishment, as long as the ones dealing out the punishment don’t use Kryptonite. He flies. He lifts impossible weights. He shoots fire from his eyes. He can breathe in outer space. No elements appear to affect him. Maybe some of the aforementioned wizards would know of a way to stop him.

But I don’t. And so he takes spot #2 on the list.

As for Wonder Woman…well…

She’s a master of hand-to-hand combat. And that’s all well and good.

But she’s also decked out in a full array of divine gear. Without it, she’d lose a fight to pretty much anyone else on this list. But with it…she’s damn near unstoppable.

Her sword can cut atomic particles. Her bracelets are completely invincible. Her lasso makes everyone else tell the truth, which is extremely powerful if you think about it.

Other characters, even the magic-wielding ones, would be hard-pressed to stop her. I’m not sure whether she’s #2 and Superman’s #3, or vice versa.

And I’m not sure it matters.

Also considered for this spot – No one in particular

**

# 1

Morgoth (The Silmarillion)

Morgoth holding the Silmarils – Ron Foerster

Most powerful of the Ainur, Morgoth (or Melker, as he was once known) was the tyrant of Middle Earth long before little Sauron came to power.

His powers were many:

Shape-changing. Orc-breeding. Dragon-ruling. World-creating (and destroying.)

Tolkien describes him as having more power than all his brethren (the Valar) combined. If he hadn’t spread his power so wide in his quest for dominion, he might’ve ruled Middle Earth until the end of all days.

Alas…in his arrogance…

Also considered for this spot – Lucifer (Paradise Lost)

*

*

Notable mentions:

Darkness (Legend) – He can permanently end the sun’s reign. He can summon fire, twist the desires of mortals, and command various evil entities to do his bidding. His one problem: he couldn’t defeat Tom Cruise in a one-on-one duel. Also, he fell in love with Mia Sara (as did we all.) Shame on you, Darkness. You almost made the list.

Sauron (Lord of the Rings) – Ah, Sauron. You would’ve made the list if not for your boss (Morgoth) and the fact that you tied up too much of your power in a tiny little ring. Do better next time.

Intentionally left out:

Queen Bavmorda (Willow) – She’s an (almost) all powerful witch. She once turned an entire army into harmless pigs. She commands a mighty army of ruthless, skullmask-wearing warriors. But…and it’s a big but…she loses her final battle to a ‘peck,’ accidentally exiling herself to the nether world while fighting lil’ Willow. Step up your game, Bavmorda.

The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz) – You died. To a little girl. With a bucket of water. Don’t they make magic spells to stop that sort of thing from happening? Must’ve sucked never being able to go outside in the rain.


If you like powerful characters, formidable wizards, and impossible-to-kill monsters, try some of these.

Until next time.

J Edward

An ordinary guy’s movie review of Blade Runner 2049

Disclaimer: This review contains no spoilers. It does contain minor plot elements and thematic discussions.

*

I’m fresh off a viewing of Blade Runner 2049.

And I’m buzzing.

Director Denis Villenueve’s latest film tackles the not-so-easy task of reviving one of the more classic cult films of the early 80’s – the original Blade Runner. And boy, does he do it in style. For those not familiar with the bleak, mega-dystopian feel of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 recaptures it…and it does so in grand fashion.

Ever present rain drips from a never-sunny sky.

No birds. No leaves. No softness.

Just hard angles, harder hearts, and possibly the most brooding atmosphere since…well…pretty much ever.

Blade Runner 2049 isn’t a remake, in case you wondered. It’s a sequel, occurring decades (in movie time and real time) after the events of the original. In it, ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) gets down to the dirty business of hunting the last of the old model ‘replicants.’ Replicants are programmed humans – faster, smarter, and stronger than regular people – but also mostly enslaved to humanity’s will.

As you can imagine, things don’t go particularly well for K. Every time his boss (Robin Wright) rings him up on his next-gen cell phone, you know s**t is about to go down.

And it does.

‘Luv’ – played to perfection by Sylvia Hoeks. When you see her, run.

Now then, if you were to waltz into the theater expecting a bang-bang action flick, you might as well tuck tail and head right back out the door. B.R. 2049 isn’t really an action film. That’s not to say action doesn’t happen or that the fights aren’t razor sharp. It’s just that Blade Runner 2049 is a thinking film-lover’s movie. At its core, it’s about atmosphere, emotion, and tension. It’s about feeling like you’re actually walking through the stark, cold wasteland of Los Angeles 2049. It’s a look at what our world might someday become.

It’s exhilarating. And terrifying.

I felt it. I think you will, too.

Ok. So let’s go ahead eliminate one concern you might have. No, you don’t have to worry about Harrison Ford. Unlike in The Force Awakens, he doesn’t just show up as wallpaper guy rehashing a thirty-year old shtick. He’s as vivid as everything else in the movie. And yeah, he can still fight.

And speaking of vivid performances, I’m allowing myself a moment to gush about one of the movie’s most intriguing characters. Joi (K’s pseudo-lover, played by the absurdly beautiful Ana de Armas) just about won my heart over in every scene she appears in. Poor Joi’s just a hologram-girl meets Stepford wife, and she nails her performance. Hers might’ve been an easy role for movie-goers to brush off as window dressing, but in my mind, she gives us a glimpse at what the future of human relationships might look like.

Bleak. Yet fascinating.

And it doesn’t hurt that Ana de Armas is simply stunning to behold.

Blade Runner 2049 is a long movie. Let’s be honest. Some of the scenes take a good while to develop, and others take their sweet time in coming to a close. This will assuredly provoke boredom in some movie-goers. At times, I admit I found myself begging for the next scene to start. And yet…the longer the film went on, the longer I wanted it to be. The quiet moments aren’t boring; they’re allowing us – the audience – to think. To ponder. To wonder what’s next.

In this respect, Denis Villenueve does very well. Just like he did in Arrival, he doesn’t leap casually from scene to scene. There’s a thoughtfulness in his pacing uncommon to most modern film directors. Some won’t appreciate it. Others might suffer bouts of impatience. But as for me…I learned to love it.

I wanted time to think.

During a movie like this, I needed it.

Plenty of spaces like this appear in the movie. Big. Sparse. Sterile. Beautiful.

Let’s talk antagonists. The bad guy is played capably (if weirdly) by Jared Leto. He’s cool, for a blind dude. The bad girl, however, is one of the best parts of the film. Her name is Luv. And no, she doesn’t luv anything except kicking ass. Evil ass-kicking women with no remorse…well…that just floats my film-lovin’ boat. I think everyone will ‘luv’ Sylvia Hoeks’ performance.

Musically, the film score (by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch) sounds a ton like the score from Arrival. It pairs well with the atmosphere, though sometimes feels a little loud. I’m a Hans Zimmer nut, and I’ll admit this isn’t his best ever effort. It’s too derivative. Even so, it’s better than most.

In the end, Blade Runner 2049 creates one of the finest dystopian atmospheres you’ll ever see. It’s populated  with fascinating characters, most of whom continually surprise movie-goers. Even I, the king of know-it-alls, got hit with a few plot twists I didn’t see coming. In a world full of predictable movies, that’s a good thing.

Once again, B.R. 2049 is long. Maybe too long for some. Early on, things take a while to develop. And not everyone will buy into the ending. There’s questions left unanswered, to be certain.

But…

For the patient fan, for the fan who likes to wander into worlds far different than our own, and for those who wonder what humanity’s fate might someday be, this movie is for you.

Go see it twice. I know I will.

And someone please get me Ana de Armas’ phone number.

*

Read my other movie reviews here.

J Edward Neill

Thursday Art Assault – Shadow Art

On a lonely Friday eve, long after midnight slid by, I stood before a black canvas with the last drop of white paint clinging to my paintbrush.

Songs a bit dramatic, right?

Anyway, I made good use of the white paint.

And out came my latest painting, Night Emperor.

Night Emperor

*

And of course, Night Emperor needs his bride.  Here’s ‘Frozen’ sculpted and painted by artist (and lady of the night) T. Morrison:

Frozen

They make quite a pair, don’t you think?

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

If you like Night Emperor and Frozen, you might also like these.

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows

Author of darkness

A Book to Break your Coffee Table

You say you want a perfect book for your coffee table?

The only one you need is here.

It’s like the rest of the Coffee Table Philosophy series, only instead of ice-breaking, improve your love life-type questions, it’s full of deadly serious inquiries. Think Socrates meets Stephen Hawking, Plato meets Carl Sagan, and that’s kinda what this book is like. It’s for science buffs, astronomy lovers, old world philosophy fans, and serious truth seekers.

Introducing:

101 Qs for the End of the World Front Cover

101 pages. 101 awesome questions.

Here’s seven little samples to get you started.

And here’s a perfect selection of DIY coffee tables on which to kick back and read.

Where did my Halloween go?

As a child, I remember stalking the streets until 10PM.

Alone…

With a plastic jack o’ lantern in hand…

And hoards of candy awaiting me.

Those were the days. Those were the nights. Beneath the pallid streetlamps of my suburban Chicago neighborhood, I craved All Hallows Eve. In the rain, in the bitter cold, in the deep shadows through which the wind tore ragged holes, I was king.

As Darth Vader, I hunted bucket-loads of candy.

As a vampire, I hid behind oak trees and scared the crap out of the other kids.

As a demon, I shambled to my neighbors’ front doors. They didn’t know me that night. My mask earned more than a few shudders.

And when at last I returned home, belly full of candy and cheeks wet and chilled from the night, I arrived to the sight of jack o’ lanterns on the porch, candles still flickering in their bellies, dry leaves crackling at their bottoms.

I remember this…

And this…

*

Where have the nights gone? What happened to the crisp afternoons during which the sun dared only a few peeks through the clouds? Where are the sidewalks buried in fiery leaves, the crickets chirruping long before evening descended?

I’ve lost these things.

I want them back.

I’m middle-aged now. And while my exhilaration for All Hallows Eve has taken a twenty-year nap, it’s not completely gone. I still crave all the things October brings, but now I do it more for my son’s sake than my own. He loves his Halloweens much the same as I did. Carving jack o’ lanterns and wearing creepy masks are his domain. We light bonfires in the backyard, build mountains of candy in our kitchen, and take twilight walks to savor the coming Samhain.

He’s too small to understand it. But Halloween in the modern age isn’t what it used to be.

And somehow I’m sad.

Maybe I’m getting old.

Or maybe All Hallows has changed more than expected.

*

Anymore, there’s not enough of this…

And entirely too much of this…

*

Sometimes I no longer recognize my favorite night of the year.

I’m not against sexy things. I’m a guy like any other, and I appreciate a scantily-clad beauty as much as any man alive. But I’m glad my son (and the other neighborhood kids) aren’t caught up in what adults have made of Halloween. In fact, the thing we adults celebrate isn’t really Halloween anymore. It’s cosplay. It’s something other than what it was. It’s undefinable…and in some ways bizarre.

It’s pointless for me to rebel against what Halloween has become.

But I’ll allow myself to long for what it once was.

Long ago, All Hallows was meant to be a glorious, frightening thing. A day for driving demons and witches back into the dark. A night to celebrate the harvest, the end of summer’s warmth, and the arrival of a long, cold, and dangerous winter.

You can keep your sexy nurses and stores stacked high with cheap autumn-ish decorations.

I’ll take my…

my…

and my…

*

As Halloween draws near, I’ll try to do it right. My son and I will carve our jack o’ lanterns a little creepier. We’ll picnic out in the leaves. We’ll take walks at dusk and leave our windows open while we sleep.

And when we head out to haunt All Hallows Eve, we’ll stay out a bit later than the other kids. We’ll dress a little scarier. We’ll stretch out our ghoulish fingers and grab a piece of Halloween the way it used to be.

November will arrive the very next dawn.

But our Halloween will last forever…

J Edward Neill

Specialist in spooky stories

Thursday Art Assault – Sylvan Eternity

I’d just finished working on several highly-realistic sketches.

…and my pencil hand was tired.

To ease my mild suffering, I picked up a huge (24×48″) canvas and went after it with green, black, yellow, and white paint.

The result was…well…

Sylvan Eternity

**

…big.

I enjoyed every second of painting this giant landscape. Now it’s back to cover art work.

Prints are available here.

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

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

J Edward Neill

Painter of shadows