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

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 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

Just Remember Me When

Sometimes these things take time. And by the time I mean way too long to actually have passed before a story leaves your head and hits the page. And sometimes you can ensure a speedier process by just outlining and sitting butt in chair. But sometimes the finish line is so close that it completely eludes you. There is nothing to do but wait patiently while it all comes together.

That’s what happened yesterday. A couple of years worth of thinking about possibly, maybe we can, no we can’t, what’s it missing, what does it need? When will it be finished?

Yesterday Courtney and I released our second Veronica Mars Amazon Kindle Worlds Novella! You can find it right here!

Because much like Pringle’s, you can’t just write one story in the Veronica Mars universe and be completely satisfied. There are too many possible characters to write about. When our first novella came out, I wrote about it here. In that, the character of Max was not only the easiest choice, but it felt like no one else would immediately use her for their own stores. This time around if you are writing during season 1 or most of season 2, you can’t avoid the character of Duncan Kane. He’s Veronica’s on again/off again boyfriend. Yet, at times you really don’t know what’s going on in his head very much. To both of us that presented an opportunity to maybe see what makes this character work or not.

No biggie, just hanging out with the Ghost of my dead sister.

His parents are controlling. His sister was murdered (and for a while, it looked like he might have been the culprit). He is best friends with the guy is now dating his ex (and rooming with the guy).The reason this one took longer was that the core story came so easily. Duncan’s current girlfriend’s car has gone missing, and he can’t ask Veronica for help (because of the whole – she’s his ex).

There some complex stuff going on in there. Add to that the summer sessions between seasons make for decent fodder in the “I want to know what you did last summer” vibe.The reason this one took longer was that the core story came so easily. Duncan’s current girlfriend’s car has gone missing, and he can’t ask Veronica for help (because of the whole – she’s his ex).

That said, the reason this one took longer was that the core story came so easily. Which seems counter to how this whole thing should work.Duncan’s current girlfriend’s car has gone missing, and he can’t ask Veronica for help (because of the whole – she’s his ex).

“Duncan’s current girlfriend’s car has gone missing, and he can’t ask Veronica for help (because of the whole – she’s his ex).”

Pretty straight forward, right?

What happened was we wrote 90% of it and then couldn’t quite figure out what the missing 10% was. Some of it was massaging what we had, but some were to add in new scenes, try some different kinds of story-telling in the B story with his therapist sessions.

What we have now is something we’re both very happy with. I’m interested to see how it does in comparison with the first one.

An excerpt from the novella:

You’d think she’d care a little bit more about what happened, but the woman is unbreakable. It is always about appearances with her. And right now, she can’t go to any of the dinner parties without the looks of pity from everyone she knows. She can’t spin it, so the next best thing is to remove herself from the equation until enough time has passed that it doesn’t matter anymore. Some new scandal will reveal itself and things will return to her version of normal.

She tries to make it all about me, but truthfully, it’s all about her.

Her image.

Her social class.

Her life.

I can’t take it anymore. Sometimes it’s better to sit there and remain silent. And then there are the other times. “Don’t you think the justice system might look poorly on Dad leaving the country given the obstruction charges?”

Her look is a mixture of astonishment that I‘d even bring up her husband’s temporary incarceration, and her defense mechanism immediately deflects. “Don’t worry about that. That’s why we pay our lawyers the immense fees.” Then, without missing a beat. “Now go pack. I want to leave early in the morning.”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.” I’m sure it won’t matter. She never listens. “I’m staying. I have classes. Finals.”

“Didn’t you hear me; you can do all of that over the computer.”

“No.”

“Duncan. This isn’t a request. You will-“

“I’m tired of being handled. That’s all you do anymore. I’m not sure if it’s because you feel guilty about how Lilly didn’t follow in your footsteps or what? Do you think if you control every little thing I do then nothing bad can ever happen again?”

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novellas Theft & Therapy and There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

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

 

Grinding Away in a Creative Life

It’s sunny outside.

It’s the kind of morning of which I like to dream. Not cold, but not quite warm. No clouds. No wind. I can hear the birds and smell the honeysuckle. It’s perfect.

It’s enough to make me want to freeze time and wander the morning for a few thousand years.

I should be working, but I’m not. I’ve just finished publishing another pair of books, and I find myself slogging through a short story about which I’m only somewhat passionate.

Sometimes, when I hit a lull like this, I pick up my paintbrush and spread out a few shadows. Maybe a colorful tree. A mournful maiden. Or maybe something terrifying.

Not today. I’m not in the mood.

I really just want to hang with the cat.

This is where I’m at:

Eaters of the Light, my sci-fi/romance/thriller series? It’s published.

My goal of finishing thirty canvas paintings at this point in the year? Exceeded.

The latest entry in my ridiculous ‘Reasons to Break Up’ trilogy? Slapped together and shipped.

It’s been a good year so far. But I want more.

Some people talk about creative exhaustion. About writer’s block. About procrastination, lack of direction, and boredom.

Nah. Forget all that.

I’ve got 99 problems, but none of ’em are those.

My cardinal sin? Setting reachable goals.

Yeah. Oops.

It’s like this. Some mountains in life are meant to be climbed. You say you want to save $1000 bucks for a vacation? Boom, you did it; now get in the car and head to the beach. Land a big promotion at work? Achieved. Need to step outside and mow your lawn? Nice, you’re finished…hopefully with a cool glass of bourbon awaiting you inside.

But artistic goals – are those really meant to be conquered? Of this, I’m not so sure. Is there ever a point at which an author sits down and says, ‘You know…I think I’m done. No more books. I’m just gonna drift away into the sunset .’ Do painters, sculptors, and photographers one day just set down their tools and declare their life’s work complete? I mean…maybe. Maybe some people can do it. Maybe the best of the best reach a point of contentedness, and afterward float away in the clouds with a satisfied smile on their faces.

Maybe.

But somehow I doubt it.

My son – the G Man. He’s not impressed.

Last night, for the first time in forever, I didn’t create. My brushes sat in a Mason jar full of water, soaking up nothing. My new short story ‘Nadya the Deathless’ laid untouched on my century-old laptop. I didn’t draw. I didn’t write. I didn’t wander outside beneath the perfect stars to dream up a new and exhilarating story.

I just sat there in the gloom of my basement. With a bowl of Progresso soup. Vaguely watching a movie. Not really thinking, moving, or existing.

For a while, maybe an hour, I floated in the stillness. Near the end, a scary idea crept over me. I thought perhaps I’d made a grave error in setting goals that were too easy to achieve. ‘Aim low, and you’ll hit your target,’ I realized. ‘Shoot for the moon, and though you’ll never make it, you’ll get to die trying.’

I opened my eyes. The back door was open, and the moths fluttering inside to get at the room’s only lamp. My cats dozed beside me, savoring my rare moment of inactivity.

It was then I knew my low-goal setting hadn’t been some tragic thing.

I can make a new goal, I realized. Something lofty. Something impossible to reach.

Something I’ll be proud to die trying to do.

So let’s talk goals.

Absurd goals.

Quest to drop the One Ring into Mount Doom kind of goals.

Right now I’ve got thirty-two published books. My new goal – one-hundred.

Right now my painting store is stocked with one-hundred nine original canvas paintings. New goal – three-hundred.

Season one of Hollow Empire is finished. New goal – finish three full seasons.

This giant fantasy trilogy, the one I published five years ago, has begun to gather dust. New goal – sell one-thousand new copies…and write a sequel.

And my most ambitious goal, the one that’ll allow me to sniff retirement, is to sell one-million copies of this little tome. (Right now I’m only at thirteen-thousand copies sold.)

Challenges, challenges…

Insurmountable.

Unlikely.

Delusional.

This should be fun.

It’s still sunny outside, although maybe a bit warmer now. And there’s just a few things more I want to share before I wander outside.

My art partner, Tahina Morrison, with whom I’ve created nearly one-hundred sculpted paintings, is leaving town. It was inevitable, this change. It’s humanity’s natural ebb and flow.  As I sit in my little chair and think about the challenges that will arise in her absence, I can’t help but smile.

We did good work together, she and I.

We had a blast.

 

Furiosa

Twilight Shaman

 

Horned Queen

*

These are just a few of my favorite collaborative pieces. In Tahina’s absence, I realize my painting goals will be even more difficult to achieve.

So be it. Challenge accepted.

Now then…

I think it’s probably time.

Time to open the door and step out into the sunlight.

Time to stop talking about goals and start realizing them.

Time to feed my cats.

Thanks to all my readers for sticking with me. Thanks to all the art collectors who’ve invested in me, and who happily stick my canvasses on their walls. And special thanks to Tahina and the G Man, without whom the last two years would’ve been infinitely less rewarding.

Goodbye for now.

I’ll be back.

 * * *

Readers will want to check out this book here. Trust me…you’ll be happy you did.

And dark art lovers might appreciate this piece, which I created based on an actual skull sitting in my living room.

J Edward Neill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover Art Reveal – Shadow of Forever

There once was a boy who took to the stars…

He sailed into the darkness…alone.

…and waged war against the horrors he found.

And now, he’s back.

***

Now available – the sequel to Darkness Between the Stars.

Shadow of Forever

Cover art by Amanda Makepeace

Shadow of Forever

Earth is no more.

Every human settlement in the galaxy has been destroyed.

…except one.

On a planet far from home, Joff Armstrong watches the stars and counts the years until the Eaters of the Light return. He knows it’s only a matter of time. He ended one of their worlds, but thousands more remain.

No one believes him.

No one understands the coming darkness.

And so, as humanity’s twilight nears, he will steal his way into the stars.

Alone.

One man against legions of star-killing undead.

Searching for a way to stop the darkness between the stars.

* * *

The complete novel is available here.

Book 1 – Darkness Between the Stars – is here.

Find more of Amanda Makepeace’s art right here.

J Edward Neill

Shadow of Forever – A preview

Ghosts

*

 “She’s getting what? To who?”

The rain thundered against my house’s glass walls. Rivers of water slid down the panes, blurring the greyest afternoon I’d ever seen. With her arms crossed, Callista floated above the table while wearing a too-big smile.

“You heard what I said.” She feigned a yawn. “Your sister’s getting married.”

I sucked in a deep breath and leaned back in my chair. I felt calmer at once. It wasn’t as if I’d spent much time with Aly in the last several years. Whom she married and why wasn’t any of my business.

“I guess I thought she’d never do it,” I said. “I mean…you know how Aly is. She’s a loner. She’s always working, always doing her science.”

Cal floated down and sat on the table’s edge. She looked absurdly beautiful, especially with the grey rain dimming the world beyond her.

“I don’t think it’s love.” She stretched out her legs. “Not that I really know what love is like. I got the impression, without cheating and reading her eyes, she’s marrying him for business’s sake.”

I retreated into thought.

I thought she’d marry the young man who used to bring her flowers. If anyone, it should’ve been him.

This can’t be for love.

After what happened to us, she doesn’t want children.

I guess it’s ok…

…if this is what she wants.

“They’re moving to Arcadia?” I asked Cal.

“Moving?” Cal shook her head. “Nope. They’ve already moved.”

“Am I invited?”

She smiled. “I am your invitation.”

I stood and walked to the window. I had to step over piles of clothes, eating containers, and a mound of soggy towels. I wasn’t much for cleaning up after myself. My only visitor ever was Cal.

And she doesn’t judge me.

“When?” I asked as I gazed into the rain.

“Seven weeks,” said Cal. “It’s going to be lavish, whatever that means.”

“It means I’ll have to shave,” I murmured.

“And maybe dress in something other than a twenty-year old tunic,” Cal added with a grin.

A gust of wind caught the rain beyond my window. The day was as dark as twilight, and the sheets of falling water moving as though alive. I lost myself for a moment. In the spaces between the rain, I imagined eyes. In a peal of thunder, I swore I heard voices.

“Maybe she’ll listen now.” My voice was almost a whisper.

“Listen? What do you mean?” Cal floated to the window.

“If she’s marrying him, she’ll be wife to the governor. She’ll have his ear when he makes policies. She’ll be…influential.”

“Joff, don’t—”

The thunder rolled, low and powerful. I touched the glass with my palm and imagined monstrous shapes moving in the rain. They weren’t there, not really.

And yet I see them.

“Don’t take it lightly,” I said. “If anyone can help make people believe, it’s Aly. She knows.”

“Everyone knows,” Cal argued. “It’s just—”

“They don’t understand,” I interrupted. “To them it’s just a story. It’s not real.”

Cal let out as long a sigh as a little blue nano-girl could. She knew exactly where my mind had wandered.

“The last time you tried to argue this with her, you two didn’t speak for a year,” she reminded me.

I know, I thought.

“And Aly, she’s the only person on this planet as stubborn as you,” Cal added.

I know that, too.

“So just how is it you’re going to change her mind? How, with nothing new to show her, will you convince her?”

I wish I knew.

“I have…information.” I pulled my mind out of the rain. “Two-thousand three-hundred thirteen more stars have gone missing since we talked. And it might be even more, but I’m only working with one orbital scope. No telling how many other stars they’ve destroyed.”

Lightning flared beyond the window. The rupture of cold white light burned shapes into my eyes. I caught myself shivering.

The Strigoi.

They’re out there.

They’re—

“Joff?” I heard Cal say my name. “Joff, are you listening?”

I blinked, and the shadows fled my mind. I was just Joff again, standing in my kitchen. The only light in the house came from Callista. There were no Strigoi, at least not out in the rain.

“Sorry.” I wiped the sweat from my forehead.

“As I was saying, it’s not just about Aly,” Cal continued; she must’ve been talking the entire time I’d stared into the rain. “You’re asking an entire planet to mobilize against something they’ve never seen. You want four-million people to leave their lives behind and go to war.”

“Their lives…” I mumbled. “You mean the ones they won’t have.”

Cal went silent. In part, it was because she knew I was right. The Strigoi, eaters of the light, were out there. We’d seen them butcher hundreds of people on the planet Ebes. We’d heard their voices echo in the void. And we’d killed them together, burning away one of their planets using the only thing that truly caused them pain.

Sunlight.

But Cal also went silent because she knew there was no point in arguing. We’d done the same dance several hundred times. I’d always tumble into a dark state of mind, and she always tried to pull me out.

By then, she knew better.

* * *

For the rest of Cal’s time at my house, I didn’t mention the Strigoi. I knew she hated it. All it ever accomplished was to put us both in foul moods.

So for her sake, I did my best to imagine a future without all the darkness. That afternoon, after I filled my belly with food, we took a walk in the rain. The worst of the storm had passed, and the warm drizzle felt as good as any shower. Even though I expected the wind and falling water to disrupt Cal’s nano-light, she fluttered through the storm with ease.

“How do you do it?” I asked her. We were tramping across a muddy field in the thick of the rain.

“I can survive in the vacuum of space.” She flitted between rain droplets as though dancing between swords. “I can turn myself into a stream of particles and travel down nearly any energized conduit. You think a little rain should bother me?”

“I just thought…well…” I stammered. “My dad used to say electricity and water were no friends of each other. And I found it out for myself one day. I used a powered wrench to fix a nut on a tractor’s coolant line. The line popped. So did the wrench.”

Cal laughed. She scattered herself into a few hundred-thousand nodes and then retook her perfect shape farther down the path. I’d seen her do it countless times before. It never ceased to amaze me.

“Now you’re just showing off,” I said. “You must be glad to have your old body back.”

“I am. But didn’t you just call me a wrench?” she laughed again.

“Yeah. I guess I did.”

Most nights, we’d have stopped walking at the green river. But that eve, just as the rain began to die, we crossed a narrow bridge and entered the fields beyond. I didn’t mind being soaked to my bones. It felt liberating, as if I’d washed away the morning’s darkness.

In the day’s last light, I looked across the fields. I saw the remnants of all the work I’d done to help the people who’d lived in the village near my home.

I saw the tops of the drain pipes we’d laid, exposed after years of heavy rain.

I glimpsed the lines we’d carved in the soil, the pattern of the farm that once had grown.

The crops were mostly gone, having long ago weeded over. It was the trouble with farming on Sumer. The rains were so heavy and the crops grew so quickly that within a decade all the nutrients were sapped out of the dirt. And without much animal life to provide natural fertilizer, most farms wore out their usefulness far swifter than they would’ve back on Earth.

“It gets old sometimes,” I said as Cal and I meandered along the riverbank.

“You mean being human?” she quipped.

“No. I mean thinking of everything like a farmer would. I can’t walk anywhere without thinking about soil densities, nitrogen levels, and drainage.”

“Uh oh.” Cal made a face. “Is this where you tell me another story about farm boy life? About tractors and griddlecakes.”

“No, I guess not,” I grumped.

“I’m only kidding.” She circled me and sat on my shoulder. “You can tell me any story. You know I like to hear them.”

“Nah. Not tonight.”

Together, we sat on the riverbank. The last of the rain died and the fog slithered away into the dark. I pulled off my boots and dipped my feet in the river. Back home, on an Earth that was no more, the water would’ve been frigid. But the little green river swirled around my ankles, warm and pleasant.

“You think Doctor Abid ever imagined us sitting here like this?” I kicked up a little plume of water.

“Oh. Him.” Cal made a sour face. She’d never forgiven her creator for sending us into space, alone and likely to die. “I don’t think he imagined anything for us…other than dying.”

“You know, by putting us in the Sabre and shipping us off to Ebes, he saved us,” I pointed out. “If we’d have stayed on Earth, if someone else had gone in our place, we’d be dead. Just like…you know…Mom and Dad. Just like everyone.”

“Does that mean you’re thankful?” Cal looked at me.

“No. I mean, not exactly.” I couldn’t think of the right words. “It’s not like he did it to help us. There’s no way he could’ve guessed what would happen.”

Cal offered a slender smirk. “Well then there’s your answer. He didn’t imagine us here. Not on Sumer. Not sitting by this river. Not alive. Not together.”

“You’re right.” I nodded. “I’m sorry. I’ll never bring him up again.”

She didn’t answer. But I knew she was happy to hear it.

* * * 

Later that night, as I roamed around the lower level of my house and clean up my messes, Cal drifted down the stairs and into the room. I worked by the light of three blue lamps, in whose light she floated and danced. Within one of the lamplights, she hovered longer than the others. The shadow she made on the pale wall was the same size as a person.

And for a moment I watched her.

Wishing.

When she left the light, her shadow vanished. She had a serious look in her eyes. She’d been upstairs for hours, no doubt plotting whatever she was about to say.

“Your sister’s getting married.” She flitted around me as I carried off a pile of clothes.

“Yeah. I heard.”

“She’s moving on with her life.” Cal ignored my sarcasm. “She’s making happiness for herself. She’s joining the rest of humanity.”

I dropped my clothes at the bottom of the stairs. There was no sense in avoiding Cal. She had something on her mind and she meant to share it.

“I know where you’re going with this,” I shambled back into the light.

“Well…” She crossed her arms. “I want to know what you’re going to do with your life. You’ve talked for years about dying early because of the Strigoi poisoning, but that hasn’t happened. Not even close. You have all these reasons for staying out here and being a hermit. And I…I just want to see you happy. This obsession of yours isn’t healthy. After Aly’s wedding, I think you should live in the city with me. We don’t have to move to Arcadia or anywhere fancy. But I think you should be with people again.”

“With people…” I murmured.

“Yes.” I could tell she was upset by the way the light in her body intensified. “Besides, I’ll have a body in a few months. A real one. It’s almost finished. I’ll be as human as you. Same voice. Same face. You don’t have to…you know…love me. But we should live close together. You should talk to other people. You should live a full life. I want it for you.”

I hadn’t expected her outburst, but I should have. For years, she’d dropped not-so-subtle hints about the hopes she had for my life. It was hard to see her so upset.

I stopped moving, stopped thinking, and gazed across the room at her.

“I like it out here. It’s peaceful,” I offered.

“No.” She shook her head. “You like it out here because you can walk in your field and stare at the sky all night. You like it because no one questions you or challenges you. You like it because you don’t have to be human. You get to pretend you died on Earth with everyone else. Well, guess what? You didn’t.”

I might’ve been angry.

But Callista was right.

*

 

* * *

Ghosts is the second chapter of upcoming science fiction novel, Shadow of Forever.

The first chapter is here.

Shadow of Forever is the sequel to sci-fi hit, Darkness Between the Stars.

It’ll be out in the first half of 2017.

Both books are by J Edward Neill

Both covers are by Amanda Makepeace.

Five ways I refuse to market my books

Everyone will agree.

The hardest part about self-publishing isn’t the writing. Long hours of hammering out words are inevitable no matter what avenue an author takes to launch their books into the market.

No…the true challenge lies in an author’s self-presentation to the world. It’s how a writer markets oneself. It’s the image they create, the test of their willingness to engage the rest of humanity.

To truly take the next career step, modern authors have to leap out of their comfort zone. That means shaping a presence on social media, talking to (sometimes unsavory) people, learning all kinds of software, and getting (and appearing) comfortable with all aspects of self-promotion.

That said, for this author, some things cross the line between palatable and icky.

And here’s my list of things I’m just not gonna do:

*

*

No Hashtags

Yes, I know they help people search you out on Twitter and Instagram. And yes, I realize it might help them find my art and books.

But…

I figure just as many (if not more) people will be so annoyed or disgusted by hashtags they’ll choose not to be interested in all things me.

Because really, hashtags are that obnoxious. Am I right?

*

*

*

*

No Review Swaps

Yeah, this is still a thing. People ask me for them all the time. “Hey J Edward, can you review my vampire porn novel and I’ll pretend to read your book about the two dudes who destroy entire cities when they fight?”

“No thanks.”

First of all, I don’t have the time. Second, Amazon cracks down on that kind of thing. And third, other authors don’t handle brutal honesty like I do.

I realize how many reviews this has cost me. And because of the value of reviews, I realize it’s cost me money. Doesn’t matter. I can’t bring myself to do it. Despite the thousands of high-quality self-published authors out there, many thousands more (the majority of the industry) don’t have the fire or commitment to pump out high-quality books.

Meaning more than likely I’d get stuck reading trash.

Nah.

*

*

No Paying to Enter Writing Contests

It’s my personal oath to never enter a writing contest requiring a payment. Writing contests in general are governed by arbitrary rules and judged in a questionable manner. More often than not, the organization holding the contest is more interested in turning a profit and/or getting their own name out there than they are in helping authors earn legit recognition.

Even some of the free-to-enter contests employ some pretty questionable tactics, though at least they’re free.

To other writers, I’d recommend doing some serious research before entering any contest you encounter on the net.

And to readers, I’d cast serious doubt on any author whose bio begins with the phrase, “Award winning…” It probably doesn’t mean what you think it does.

*

No ‘Best-Selling’ BS

If I had a nickel for every time I saw an author boast ‘best-selling’ credentials, I’d have…well…a lot of nickels.

It probably sounds elitist for me to say this (it’s definitely not intended that way) but some authors need to cut the crap. Showing up a few times in Amazon’s top authors lists or having a really big sales day doesn’t qualify as ‘best-selling.’ While it’s true the major literature publications (NY Times, USA Today, etc) aren’t the only people qualified to choose who’s best-selling and who’s not, there’s just too much exaggeration in the industry.

I’ve seen authors boast ‘best-selling’ in bios containing multiple grammatical errors.

I’ve seen authors with one published book and no published reviews declare themselves ‘best-selling.’

I’ve seen…never mind. You get the picture. Until I’m a household name with a fixed place in a steady market, I’ll be the last author alive to shout ‘I’m best-selling’ to the world.

Lies do not become us.

*

*

No Spam

There have been days when I’ve opened up Facebook and Twitter to the usual parade of politics, cat pictures, poorly-lit selfies, and cute babies. And there are other days when I open up my social media to find fifteen consecutive book ads…all posted by the same person.

Look, I love it when another person shares or reposts something of mine. It makes me oh so happy. But…it doesn’t mean instant and incessant reciprocation. Nobody on this earth cares to see an endless timeline of vampire were-hooker book ads in place of actual cool content. Actually, let me rephrase. I don’t want to see it. So I’m careful about what I share, meaning my stuff and my supporters’ stuff. The goal is to inform and entertain, not to drown.

Three Facebook book ads per week from me, max. And that includes sharing other authors’ work. As for Twitter, go nuts. No one reads retweets anyway. 🙂

*

More things I can’t bring myself to do:

 Post memes about writers’ problems (They’re all so bad.)

Demand reviews (Politely ask once, then move on with your life.)

Shave on a regular basis. (Sorry, this guy stays scruffy.)

*

Now you know all my weaknesses. Go forth and exploit them. 🙂

J Edward Neill

Painter of Shadows

Writer of books about star-destroying space vampires

 

Tessera Guild at the Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo 2017 – March 11 and 12

Come meet the members of the Tessera Guild at the third annual Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo on March 11th and 12th, 2017.

North DeKalb Mall in Decatur, GA. Admission is free.

Robert Jeffrey IIJohn McGuire, and Egg Embry, along with Sir Leland Beauchamp, will host four panels over the two days:

 

I AM BlackSci-Fi.com
Saturday, March 11th from 3:00 to 3:50 EST

Hosted by Robert Jeffrey II as well as William Satterwhite

“Since its inception BlackSci-Fi.com’s goal has been to be “the premier site for the latest updates on Sci-Fi, Sci-Fact and Fantasy entertainment, news, people, places, and events and the measure of their impact on the African-American community, while also seeking to inform and inspire the imagination of individuals who aspire to live beyond the boundaries of everyday life”

Join Editor-in-Chief Robert Jeffrey II, and contributing writer William Satterwhite as they discuss the in’s and out’s of working for BlackSci-Fi.com, the websites goals and future plans, while touching on the general state of Black speculative fiction.”

 

You wrote something. Now what?
Saturday, March 11th from 5:00 to 5:50 EST

Hosted by Robert Jeffrey II as well as Bobby Nash and Milton Davis

“Join writers Bobby Nash, Milton Davis, and Robert Jeffrey as they discuss what happens after (or during) writing a book (novel, comic, short story, etc). Enjoy this insightful look into each writers path to becoming a published author followed by a Q&A session.”

 

John McGuire co-hosting: Freelance Writing and the 9 to 5

Freelance Writing and the 9 to 5
Sunday, March 12th from 3:00 to 3:50 EST

Hosted by John McGuire, Robert Jeffrey II as well as Nicole Kurtz, and William Satterwhite

“The Ups, the Downs, and Everything Between
By day, mild-mannered 9 to 5-er, but by night they create worlds! Join freelance writers as they discuss keeping a balance between the daily rigors of their 9-5s and writing careers.”

 

Sir Leland Beauchamp co-hosting: Dice, Kickstarter, Cash-in

Dice, Kickstarter, Cash-in
Sunday, March 12th from 12:00 to 12:50 EST

Hosted by Egg Embry and Sir Leland Beauchamp

“Role-play, write-up, and crowdfund your RPG adventures!
Have an original adventure, series of monsters, or tabletop game? Interested in crowdfunding its publication? Join Egg Embry and Leland Beauchamp for a a beginner’s guide to monetizing your tabletop RPG products. We’ll create a D&D creature to take through a hypothetical Kickstarter (idea to pitch to funding to production to delivery to what comes next).”

 

Egg Embry co-hosting: Dice, Kickstarter, Cash-in

For directions to North DeKalb Mall and this free convention, visit the ASFE website here.

 

 

* * *

 

 

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Missed the show? Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt or wall clock or ice tea glass!

 

 

* * *

 

 

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

Ten Ridiculous Scenarios to Consider

 – Ten Ridiculous Scenarios –

In other words…

How many buttons will you push?



Money Button

Suppose you could push a button that would steal one dollar from every person in the world who has a bank account and deposit it into your account.

It’d be a totally untraceable transaction.

No one would ever know.

Well?

Push or no push?

*

Vampire Button

For every time you push this deep, dark crimson button, you’re guaranteed to add one year to your lifespan.

 However…

Each time you push it, two years of life are sucked from another person at random. This person can be anyone in the world. You might never know.

How many times will you push the button?

*

The Waistline Button

For each time you push it, this slim little button will carve five pounds of fat off your body permanently. The weight will come off whatever body area you desire.

Keep in mind you’ll never ever be able to gain this weight back.

Pressing it?

How many times?

*

The Button of Inches

This button will add 1 inch of height to you for every time you push it.

There are no negative side effects.

Would you push it?

How many times?

*

The Pink Slip Button

If you push this button, you’ll get a big promotion tomorrow. Your pay will be doubled. You’ll get a corner office, a sweet company car, and all the perks a top employee at your company could expect.

However…

The very next day, a random person at your company (other than you) will be fired with no chance of being rehired.

Push or no push?

*

Grey Button

Push this faded red button, and all the color will vanish from your life. Every sky will be grey. Apples will be pale and colorless. Leaves will be a washed-out shade of white. The world, as far as you see it, will forever be white, black, and various shades of grey.

But…

$250,000 cash (on a grey deposit statement, of course) will appear in your bank account.

Do you dare?

*

All or Nothing Button

 If you push this button, you will become the most famous person who ever lived.

You’ll be adored, worshipped, and loved by every single person on the planet. Because of this, you’ll have all the riches and luxury you desire, but you’ll also have no privacy and nearly no alone time. Ever. Your life will be scrutinized to no end.

If you don’t push this button, you’ll become a hermit. You’ll be alone, friendless, and without a lover. But you’ll have all the peace and quiet you want.

Push or no push?

*

Persuasion Button

There are no real drawbacks to this button.

…unless you abuse it.

Upon pushing, you will gain the power to persuade any one person in the world to take one single action.

You can only use it once.

You must know the person’s full name.

You must be very specific when determining the one action they must take.

Would you push?

If so, who’s doing what?

*

Bad, Bad Button

This shady little button is just begging you to push it.

If you do, you’ll learn every negative thing your closest friends and family have ever said about you.

Every time they’ve said something behind your back.

Every time they’ve secretly criticized you.

Everything bad. Ever.

Would you dare push such a button?

Or is it better to let some secrets remain unknown?

*

The Reality Warp Button

If you press it, all crime will end. No one on Earth will ever break any law. Governments will pass only peaceful, fair rules for every population to follow. No prisons will exist. No police will be needed.

However, lacking the urge to break any rules, everyone alive will have 75% less time for entertainment.

If you don’t push it, society will continue as it is.

Push?

Or don’t push and keep on truckin’?

*


*

*

Each of these ten questions (buttons) appears in my brand new book, Big Shiny Red Buttons – A Book of Ridiculous Scenarios.

You should check it out.

It has more than a hundred buttons for you to push…or not push.

Hasta la vista, baby.

J Edward Neill

Want to destroy the stars?

 Darkness Between the Stars

* * *

3,000 years from today, Earth is all but recognizable.
Stark cities made of black towers and white houses dot the planet. Tiny robots and powerful dream-inducing software keep humanity entertained. Nearly everything is automated.
But on one rural farm, a lone family lives a remarkably old-world lifestyle.
They harvest wheat. They repair their machines by hand. They drive the only combustible engine car left on Earth.
At night, the family’s youngest member of watches the stars and dreams of one day flying between them.
And when he sees them begin to disappear, he knows what will happen…

The beginning of the end.

Darkness Between the Stars

A science fiction journey by J Edward Neill

* * *

DarknessPaperbackFront

Consume me.

Review me.

Thank you,

J Edward Neill

Why you need to push Big Shiny Red Buttons – A Book of Ridiculous Scenarios

In Big Shiny Red Buttons, a variety of fun, serious, and absurd scenarios awaits you.

More than a hundred buttons are dying to be pushed. The only question is: will you push them?

Suppose something terrible will happen if you don’t? What if pushing a button would bring you great prosperity, but cause harm to someone else?

Every scenario is different. Some will make you laugh, while others will force you to think. Some are serious, and some flat out absurd.

So how many buttons will you push?

And how many lives will be changed if you push them?

Want to start pushing buttons right now? Go here!

Want a few samples? Scroll down!

***

Sample Buttons!


Sell your Soul Button

 Whenever pushed, this red (but flecked with gold) button deposits $1,000,000 into your bank account.

The only price: it also shaves three years off your lifespan every time you push it.

So…

Will you push it?

How many times?

*

The Combusti-Button

One tap of this big round button will destroy any one cultural phenomenon.

Completely.

Examples: memes, Facebook, hashtags, a specific music type, a specific slang word, a new fashion, et cetera.

You only get to use it once.

Wanna push it?

Whatcha gonna combust?

*

The Duplication Button

One press of this unassuming button can be a powerful thing.

If you use it, any one person in the world will adopt your moral code, your intellect, and your view of the world. They’ll still be themselves physically, but their mental state and beliefs will resemble yours.

You only get to push it once.

Will you?

If so, who’s your target?



Big Red Shiny Buttons – the most fun you’ll ever have in a book.

Enjoy!

J Edward Neill

Creator of Coffee Table Philosophy

Painter of Extreme Darkness

Why Collaborate?

Every day that I keep at this – the writing, the editing, the story-telling – I’m hopefully getting a little better. But much like an athlete who trains by themselves, eventually they must turn to others in order to truly gauge how good they are, where their deficiencies might lie, and what things they can do to simply improve overall. They say you can never improve unless you are playing with people who are better than you are.

It’s not that much different on the writing side. Except that writing lends itself more to the solo aspect. You could go days or weeks or months without any feedback on the next project you’re writing. The only comfort you gain is knowing the story is progressing. That, too, can be just as maddening.

I think it is why I not only like to collaborate, but I seem to seek out such opportunities whenever I can.

During the earliest days of Terminus Media, when it was just a group of 5-6 guys trying to figure the whole “writing” thing out. Times where we might not even know what we did not know. Every week was a new potential project, every week was a new idea presented by someone at the table, and we did our best to foster that sharing. You could see where other people were having problems, and hopefully, not make the same mistakes on your own work (you inevitably did, of course).

I started to learn how to accept (constructive) criticism by sharing my words with others. I learned that the best way to learn was to DO the work. If there was a project that needed something written, the following week was spent figuring out how to actually write a short film script, or a TV script, or a comic script.

One week I had no idea and the next, knowledge replaced the nothingness.

Years later, Mr. Neill and I were talking about a serialized possibility. Here we both were trying to finish novels or start new ones, but there was something about getting our heads together and seeing what could happen.

Hollow Empire happened.

The biggest benefit, unseen by me (and probably cursed by Jeremy later) was editing. You effectively add a partner in this realm as well. Hopefully their strengths can fix your weaknesses and vice versa. Perhaps you are a little too sparse in your descriptions and your partner too sparse on the dialogue – now’s the perfect opportunity to learn from each other.

In those first drafts, which Jeremy edited to the bone, my prose got a little tighter. When I got new chapters in from him, it forced me to push to get better. I wanted him to be excited when my emails came rolling in. We all need to be pushed. Having a partner, someone you are accountable to, means that when you aren’t hitting your deadlines then you’re letting someone else down. Building the world through these characters in a way that makes the whole work really about those characters more than about the “Big Events” which may be going on around them.

Getting better with every keystroke.

In the last couple of years, I’ve worked with Robert Jeffrey on a pair of projects. Each of us bringing some ideas to the table and we settled on one idea from each list: The Crossing & Entropy.

The thing is that with another head there, you obviously have double the potential ideas. However, you are really forced to push your own ego aside… for the betterment of the story. When it is only you, it means a singular vision, but it also means you’re pretty much confined to whatever the old brain comes up with. With another person contributing ideas, you have more opportunities to find the best idea. You’re no longer insular… BUT you have to be willing to allow the other person to have that idea. If you are the type of writer who can’t deal with writing “someone else’s story” then you might as well stay a solo act.

To live in someone else’s world where much of the original idea was someone else’s, but you could still be a cog in the machine and help it get further than it could have done on their own. The ability to make something better than one person simply through the ideas being shared and passed back.

But the best part is being able to lean on someone else to help carry a bit of the workload. And when Writer’s Block threatens to show up, you simply give your co-writer a call or email. That way they can talk you off the ledge, getting you back to work all the sooner.

The dirty secret about all of this, whether it is short stories, novels, comics, film, or whatever… it doesn’t have to be such a lonely pursuit. You DON’T HAVE to go it alone. You can help your fellow creators, and they can help you as well.

Hopefully each learning a little bit more through the experience.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

What if the stars started dying?

3,000 years from today, Earth is all but unrecognizable.

Stark cities made of black towers and white houses dot the planet. Tiny robots and powerful dream-inducing software keep humanity entertained. Nearly everything is automated.

But on one rural farm, a lone family lives a remarkably old-world lifestyle.

They harvest wheat. They repair their machines by hand. They drive the only combustible engine car left on Earth.

At night, the family’s youngest member of watches the stars and dreams of one day flying between them.

And when he sees them begin to disappear, he knows what will happen…

Follow Joff as he begins his journey into the Darkness Between the Stars.

Now available on Amazon.

The first chapter is free right here.

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The cover art is by Amanda Makepeace. Find her here.

Free ARC copies are available for reviewers. Find me here.

J Edward Neill

Author of A Door Never Dreamed Of

A Door Never Dreamed Of gets all cut up

For the next few evenings, my sci-fi novella A Door Never Dreamed Of is only $0.99 (or £0.99 in the UK.)

It goes a little something like…

A thousand years from today, nearly all of humanity is jacked-In.
We sleep, connected to machines, dreaming our lives away.
For most people, it’s the perfect life.
But for the few who never jacked-In, it’s exile.
Abandoned, persecuted, and betrayed, the Outs plot their vengeance across the centuries.
And when they open the Door, only one way of life will survive…

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Buy A Door Never Dreamed Of here.

And learn more about my other titles here.

Thank you for reading,

J Edward Neill

Cover Reveal – Darkness Between the Stars

A young boy will journey into the Darkness Between the Stars.  And he may never return…

I’ll have 20 softcover editions to give away as ARC’s (advance review copies.)  If you’d like one, and if you’re willing write an honest review, look me up on Facebook, Twitter, or via email.

And now, the amazing Amanda Makepeace cover art:

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A free preview (the entire first chapter) is here.

Darkness Between the Starsnow available via Amazon

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J Edward Neill

Author of sci-fi hit, A Door Never Dreamed Of

Creator of the Coffee Table Philosophy series

The Ultimate Video Game Quiz

So you think you know video games?

Or maybe you know someone who claims to be a video game god(dess)?

In my new book, The Ultimate Video Game Quiz, I put gaming know-it-alls to the test. The idea came from my son, who proudly proclaimed he knew everything there was to know about video games. Only…when I hit him up with obscure Metal Gear questions, requested the location of every heart piece in Twilight Princess, and asked him how to find all the 1-up mushrooms in the original Super Mario Bros, he fell silent.

Um…errrrr…can I think about it?” he said.

And that got me to thinking.

What if I made a book to test the full breadth of knowledge possessed by gamers? What if I crammed my geek experience together with that of all my buddies? And what if I tested the entire world to see who’s the most knowledgeable video gamer ever?

So here we are – 114 questions deep.

Don’t worry. In the Ultimate Video Game Quiz, I don’t get obnoxiously obscure, and I try to stick to mostly classic games. Though of course I’ve sprinkled a few off-the-grid questions around. I’ve got gamer friends who wouldn’t let me off the hook if this book were too easy. They’d go all Ganondorf, Ridley, and Bowser on me.

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The idea is this:

Each page contains one, two, or three questions.

The next page has the answers.

There are four sections, with each section containing progressively harder trivia.

Except for the final section, each question answered correctly is worth one point, no matter how easy or difficult.

After you (or your friends) get through the whole book, add up all your points.

1-15 points – You’re not a hardcore gamer. Thanks for playing! J

16-30 points – You’re pretty slick, but you haven’t quite cracked gamer god status. Go play Witcher, Metroid Prime, Grand Theft Auto 5,000, and Dark Souls III. Then we’ll talk.

31-50 points – Most impressive. All I’m sayin’.

51-70 points – You are a true gaming scholar. Or you used Google extensively to cheat. Either way, your dedication is commendable. Let’s hang out sometime.

71+ points – First of all, no person to whom I’ve administered this quiz has ever scored higher than sixty-something. Second of all, if you actually, legitimately scored this high, you’re probably a pro gamer or own every single gaming system ever made. Congrats. You win.

I encourage readers of The Ultimate Video Game Quiz to write their answers and point totals in this book. After all, it’s only a few bucks, a far cry from some of the enormous novels I’ve written. It’s light. It’s fun. It’s for every level of gamer.

And that’s exactly why I wrote it.

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Buy the Ultimate Video Game Quiz for only $5.99 right here.

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If you like it, leave a review! 🙂

If you like books chock full of interesting questions, you’ll probably like this.

J Edward Neill

Dark new cover art for a Collection of Shadows

Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Shadows

Earlier this year, authors J Edward Neill, Chad J Shonk, River Fairchild, John R McGuire, Phil Elmore, JL Clayton, Robert Jeffrey II, F Charles Murdock, and Roy T Dodd gathered to create a collection of flash fiction and short, grim tales.

It went a little something this:

Tread lightly into ancient, forbidden realms.  Wander into the futures of apocalyptic worlds. Know what it feels like to face the darkness alone. 

Today we’re introducing new cover art for the book.

It goes a little something like:

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Machina Obscurum contains:

The Stiletto

Appetite

My Ears Rang 

The Sleepers

Phoenix

The Jupiter Event

Proxy: Fontane Di Roma

Til the Last Candle Flickers

Old Man of Tessera

Let the Bodies

Crispin

Murgul

And I Feel Fine

The Crossing: Moonlit Skies

Ice Cream

The Journal

The Sound of Silence

By the Time I get to Arizona

The Dark That Follows

Herald of Tessera

Crawl 

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This book took shape due to the The Write or Die Project.

Check it out tonight…

J Edward Neill

Replacing Createspace – A huge change for KDP authors?

(Nov 1, 2017 update!!! – I’ve now used the new Amazon KDP service extensively. My commentary regarding my personal experience appears at the bottom of this article.)

(Sept 22, 2018 update!!! – Createspace has moved entirely to KDP. It’s not even an option any longer. RIP Createspace. All hail KDP!!)

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Authors who use Amazon’s Createspace or KDP services might want to take a look at the new option recently released.

Apparently Amazon has decided to consolidate some of their print-by-demand services by offering softcover book sales via KDP.

What does it mean? Situation: not quite certain

Right now the KDP softcover print option is in beta mode, meaning Amazon is testing its viability. But if it takes off, and if it expands print services to include non-standard book trim sizes, (right now it doesn’t) one wonders if the shift in focus away from Createspace will benefit authors. Will KDP-like marketing services (similar to Kindle Countdown) be made available? Does Amazon have additional marketing services in mind?

Here’s the basics straight from Amazon’s help page:

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Move Your CreateSpace Paperback to KDP (Beta):

Moving your CreateSpace paperback to KDP will consolidate your paperback and eBook publishing on a single website. You will receive combined royalty payments for the marketplaces you sell your eBooks and paperbacks to. You do not need to do anything extra – your current account settings, payment information and tax details do not need updates. With KDP, you can distribute to Japan in addition to the US and European marketplaces. We also offer a multilingual user interface and customer support in German, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, and Japanese.Although KDP doesn’t yet offer author copies, proof copies, or expanded distribution, we will be adding those features in the future.KDP’s print features won’t affect any existing CreateSpace titles unless you choose to republish them on KDP. It’s up to you whether you want to start publishing new paperbacks on KDP.

KDP and CreateSpace feature comparison chart

Feature KDP CreateSpace
Distribution to Amazon.com (US) Yes Yes
Distribution to Europe (Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, and Amazon.es) Yes Yes
Distribution to Japan (Amazon.co.jp) Yes No
Order physical proof copies Not yet Yes
Order wholesale author copies Not yet Yes
Expanded distribution to bookstores and non-Amazon websites Not yet Yes

How to publish your CreateSpace paperback on KDP

  1. Set up a new paperback title on your KDP Bookshelf.
  2. On the Paperback Details page, enter the same metadata used for your CreateSpace book.
  3. Select “Yes” when asked whether this book was previously published on CreateSpace.
  4. Click “Save and Continue” to move on to the Paperback Content page.
  5. Under the ISBN header, enter the same 13-digit ISBN used to publish your book on CreateSpace. If you have a 10-digit ISBN issued by CreateSpace, use the ISBN converter to find your 13-digit ISBN equivalent.
  6. Click “Continue” to sign in to your CreateSpace account and validate your ownership of the title.

Once you’re redirected back to KDP, you’ll want to enter the same book details (publication date, trim size, paper type, cover finish) and upload the same manuscript and cover files you used to publish on CreateSpace. KDP’s print specifications are similar to CreateSpace, except we don’t support custom CreateSpace trim sizes. See the trim sizes KDP supports

With our Online Previewer, you can proofread your paperback manuscript online or download it to view offline.

After you publish your CreateSpace book on KDP, we’ll automatically remove your CreateSpace paperback from sale, and your KDP sales will be tracked in your KDP sales and royalty reports. You can still access historical sales reports on CreateSpace but you will not need to take any additional action there.

Files made with CreateSpace templates

In most circumstances, if you used a CreateSpace template to format your cover or manuscript file, you can reuse the same files to publish your CreateSpace paperback on KDP. See exceptions where you’ll need to edit your Cover files and Manuscript files below. If you paid for a CreateSpace cover or interior service, contact CreateSpace customer support to get your files.

If Online Previewer finds errors in your uploaded files, you’ll want to correct the formatting and reupload the files. Troubleshooting tips follow below, and you can also see our KDP Print Publishing Guidelines for detailed help with formatting errors.

Cover files
Some older CreateSpace cover templates include white space around the edges that trigger errors on KDP’s Online Previewer. If you used a CreateSpace template to create your cover, make sure it matches your book’s intended trim size and remove any extra white space. Learn more about KDP’s cover size requirements.

Manuscript files
KDP does not support custom CreateSpace trim sizes. If you used a CreateSpace interior template to create your manuscript file, make sure it’s in a trim size that KDP supports. If not, reset the trim size and reformat your manuscript file to match your new trim size.

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I’m intrigued (and maybe a little bit hopeful) about this move.

Although, considering the huge issues with Amazon’s reporting of page-reads via the Kindle Unlimited program, maybe I shouldn’t be so optimistic.

What do you think?

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November 1st update!!

Over the last several months, I’ve moved about half of my paperback titles over to the KDP system. I did this as a trial run to gauge KDP’s effectiveness for in-print titles.

My findings are as follows:

  • The KDP reporting interface is significantly simpler than Createspace. It’s always nice to centralize sales reporting in a single database, and KDP does it nicely, meshing e-book sales with print sales in quick, clean fashion. Reports are easy to download, and sales charts are clean and accurate.
  • Moving titles from Createspace to KDP is about as easy as one could hope. Just plug in the book’s Createspace ISBN, and boom, the manuscript, cover art, and meta-data move over within minutes. Also…no lag time. Books published or changed in this fashion don’t go offline for days (like they do for Createspace.) Authors who wish to edit/change their best-selling books will appreciate the streamlined process and the lack of lost sales.
  • However…and this is a BIG deal…since moving a total of sixteen softcover titles from Createspace to KDP, I’ve seen a precipitous drop in sales volume for a number of my titles. I didn’t change meta-data, keywords, cover art, or the manuscripts, and yet sales of this, this, and this instantly fell from about 60 per month to near-zero. It’s inexplicable to me, and is the deciding factor to NOT move any additional titles to KDP.
  • And then of course, the big problem remains – KDP still doesn’t allow authors to buy copies of books at wholesale pricing. Meaning, if you’re hosting a book signing, selling books face-to-face (like I do) or selling direct to bookstores (like I do) you’re pretty much out of luck. Rumor is this will eventually change, but as of yet I haven’t seen any movement toward allowing authors to buy at wholesale.

While it’s possible a wild coincidence may be to blame for three high-selling titles to fall off the map completely at the exact same time they were moved to KDP, I’m just not buying it. At this time, I’d recommend against authors (new or established) using the KDP print system. Stick with Createspace for now. It’s clunkier and has its issues, but buying wholesale is invaluable, as is not risking a meaningless sales-plummet.

KDP Softcover Grade – D

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May 15th update!!

  • Finally! KDP allows authors to buy their books at wholesale prices. AND it allows purchases of beta softcover copies for editing/reviewing. This is a BIG deal, allowing authors to access inexpensive softcovers for high-volume sale at shows, conventions, and book signings.

I’m upgrading my grade of KDP Softcover system to a B+

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Sept 22nd, 2018 update!!

 

  • Createspace is all but gone. KDP has consumed it, and it’s now pretty much mandatory to shift titles over to KDP.
  • Fortunately, the process is fairly seamless. Click here for the complete scoop.

Also, I’m upgrading my grade to an A. Finally!!

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J Edward Neill

Author of sci-fi hit A Door Never Dreamed Of

Creator of Coffee Table Philosophy

 

Review my deep, dark fantasy – Nether Kingdom

I’m hunting for honest reviews of my deepest, darkest fantasy novel yet, Nether Kingdom.

At the world’s edge, Andelusia awakens to the terrible realization that all her dreams have come to nothing. No matter that her father, the warlock, has fallen into exile. No matter that the enemies of mankind have retreated into darkness. When the shadows in her heart cause the seasons to change and deadly storms to sweep across Thillria, she knows what will come:

Nether Kingdom

Click here to buy and review!

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Nether Kingdom is the third and final book in the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy.

It can be read as a standalone novel.

Books I and II are here:

Soul Orb New DDP Cover Second Try Dark_Moon_Daughter-InitialCover

J Edward Neill

Master of sci-fi and fantasy

Creator of Coffee Table Philosophy

What’s the best way to get to know someone?

It’s obvious. Get my book. Available now

It’s the very first of my books with cover art straight from the paintbrush of my five-year old son. (<<< That’s actually true.)

It’s…

The Ultimate Get to Know Someone Quiz

The most entertainment you can squeeze into 101 pages.

Pass it around to friends and family. Bring a copy to your breakroom at work. Crash a party with a few copies in hand.

Inside you’ll find a ton of fun, quick (and ridiculous) questions designed to shine a light on your friends’ and loved ones’ hearts and minds.

The best part? It’s only $5.99. Snag your copy today!

gtksq-front-cover

With cover art by Garrett Alexander Neill.

And questions by me…

J Edward Neill

Gift Books for the Holidays

Got a few stockings to stuff?

Have a friend you have no idea what to get for Christmas (or a birthday?)

Need something for under $10?

Solutions await thee.

Welcome to the Coffee Table Philosophy series. These slim, sexy coffee table books are full of fun questions and quizzes to keep anyone (or any gathering) entertained for hours. There’s something for everyone: women, men, couples, singles, et cetera!

The best part? Most of the books in the Coffee Table series are under $7.00!

Get some…

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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 pages – 101 questions.

Buy it here!

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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. Includes questions that are slightly more serious than other entries in the series.

Buy it here!

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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.

Buy it here!

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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, war, politics, and much more.

Buy it here!

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444 Questions for the Universe – Meant to entertain for hours, 444 Questions is a grand compilation of serious yet fun questions. It includes four books worth of questions: Humanity, Midnight, Women, Men, plus 40 bonus ‘Questions from Beyond.’

Buy it here!

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101 Qs for the End of the World Front Cover

101 Questions for the End of the World – Definitely the most serious entry in the Coffee Table Philosophy series, the questions in this volume challenge readers’ minds regarding science, philosophy, and the meaning of life.

Buy it here!

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101 Deeper Darker Cover

101 Deeper, Darker Questions for Humanity – 101 dark questions to test your morality, challenge your ethics, and entertain your friends. The questions here are slightly longer and more in-depth than other entries.

Buy it here!

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The Little Book of BIG Questions – This one is a compilation of the most serious entries in the Coffee Table series. It includes the entire volumes 101 Questions for the End of the World and 101 Deeper, Darker Questions for Humanity.

Buy it here!

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101 Qs for Couples Front Cover

101 Questions for Couples – Love and fun collide in this lighthearted collection of questions meant to turn up the heat between lovers. Want to get to know your partner better? This will help!

Buy it here!

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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. For adults only!

Buy it here!

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101QSP

101 Questions for Single People – In the modern world of swiping left and never looking back, 101 Questions for Single People explores every facet of love, lust, and human romantic connection. Includes questions about every aspect of dating!

Buy it here!

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Spread the love!

J Edward Neill

If you’re into more serious fare, click here. 🙂

Giving away the Graveyard

That’s right.

I’m giving away four free softcover editions of my spooky novella, The Hecatomb.

All you have to do is click the creepy cover below. It’ll take you to Goodreads, where you can get clicky and enter to win a signed copy. There’s no catch. Entries are valid from Oct 25th – Nov 25th.

TheHecatombWeb

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.

The Hecatomb includes four short stories, including previously published horror shorts Let the Bodies and Old Man of Tessera. Each story is set in the same world.
It’s up to readers to decide the order in which they happen…

If you’d like to straight-up buy or review The Hecatomb, follow the dark path here.

J Edward Neill

A Quick Guide to Rating Books (1-5 stars) on Amazon

This game sucked – One star review

This widget did exactly what the description said it would do – Five star review

My new windshield wipers arrived late – One star review

This shirt is red. And it fits – Five star review

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See where I’m going with this?

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For 99% of the products sold on Amazon (or any site where reviews are gathered) rating things is a fairly straightforward process. If a product doesn’t work, doesn’t match its description, or showed up a billion years late, the result is usually BOOM – bad review. If a product works, fits its description, or basically doesn’t fall apart within five minutes, BOOM – good review. It’s easy. It’s simple. It’s a formula that applies to most consumer goods, from clothing, tools, toys, jewelry, et cetera.

But for books…whoa.

Totally different process.

But it’s no problem. Not at all. Simply refer to my handy guide on deciding how many stars to rate a book on Amazon.

Now let’s start at the bottom:

one

 

One Star Reviews

To be used only when a book is awful, unreadable trash, the one star review should seldom be applied. I reserve it only for those books that have awful editing, a truly atrocious grasp of storytelling, or a first chapter so dull and uninspiring I couldn’t get past the first few pages. When thinking about one star reviews, consider that if you finish the entire book, it’s probably not a one star book. If you enjoy even some small part of it, it’s probably not a one star book. But if it’s so wretched you feel ill after a chapter, then maybe, just maybe, you can go ahead and kill it with the old single star.

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two

 

Two Star Reviews

Now is where it gets a little trickier. Did you get halfway through a book, but you couldn’t finish it due to a sudden, moronic plot twist spoiling everything? Did the book have a few interesting characters and events, but crappy grammar throughout? Was a book ok, but wayyyy too short or wayyyy too long to really reach out and grab your interest? These are a few of the reasons to hit a book with two stars. Once again, if you can finish an entire book without throwing it at the wall, it’s generally not a good idea to cripple it with two stars.  Although a book might be two star worthy if you find yourself slogging through it just to say you finished it.

Useful side-note: if you stop reading a book due to something going on in your life (as opposed to the book sucking) consider a three star review instead.

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three

 

Three Star Reviews

In theory, this is what most books should be rated. Three stars for average. Three stars for good, but not great. Three stars for readable, but not gripping.

Did you finish a book, but found yourself struggling near the end due to poor plot management? Did you enjoy a novel, but hated a character or two because they were badly, unrealistically written? Was the story pretty darn awesome, but the editing or grammar spotty? Now we’re talking three star material. Three stars is for solid, readable material written competently, but not written masterfully. If something was pretty good, but just a bit too long or short, it’s probably three stars. If it had a decent, but not super compelling story, it’s probably (you guessed it) three stars.

The three star review is underused. Consider adding it to your arsenal.

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four

Four Star Reviews

Now we’re getting somewhere. The four star review is where most good books (should) reside.

If a book has solid grammar, tight editing, and a story that makes you want to read just one more chapter before going to bed, it might be four star worthy. If after you finish, you can’t stop thinking about that one cool plot twist or awesome chapter, it might be a four star book. If I’m an author (and I am) I’m happy beyond measure with four stars. It means I entertained the reader. It means I made them love some of my characters (and maybe hate some others.)

Think of it this way: if right after you finish a book, you’re hoping for the sequel, you’ve probably got a four star story on your hands. If you itch to recommend it to your friends or maybe even re-read it the very next night, we’re talking four stars all the way.

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five

Five Star Reviews

Ah, five star reviews. Perhaps the most overused and misunderstood star cluster in the universe. No author will complain about getting a five star shot in the face, but let’s face it, most of the books a person reads in their lives probably aren’t five stars…even if they review ’em that way.

Five star books should be at least one of the following:

  • Among the best literature you’ve ever read
  • Something that stirs deep thoughts in you for days after you’re finished reading it
  • A book that ignites a new passion in you
  • Something you just can’t put down. It’s so good, you’re willing to lose sleep (and possibly friends) in order to finish it

If a book isn’t really, really good or it doesn’t possess a unique quality compared to other books, it might not be five star worthy. But if it grabs you, scares you, makes you fall in love, or lights up your intellect, that’s when we’re talking five stars.

Five stars should be reserved for the best of the best. If you love-love-loved a book, that’s when you take a dive for five.

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I hope you enjoyed this quick and dirty star-guide.

For even more interesting content, check out the hundreds of articles on Tessera Guild.

Love,

J Edward Neill

If you feel like reviewing some good fiction, try this.

If you prefer non-fiction, go here.

 

 

 

 

 

All Hallows Book Sale Part III

I’ve got a game for book lovers to play this Halloween.

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Every Monday through every Thursday until All Hallows Eve, I’ll be offering random Kindle books for free.

The catch, I’m not telling exactly which ones will be free on which days. You’ll just have to guess.

Each book will be free one day of each week. With six books to choose from, some days will have two freebies.

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Here’s the books:

Dark_Moon_Daughter-InitialCover 415+yIHxswL__SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ WebImageFront 101 Questions for Women Cover soul-orb-ddp-cover the_strange_things_p_cover_for_kindle

Trick or treat!

J Edward Neill

How Playing D&D Reshaped My Entire Life

Christmas Eve 1987.

I was eleven years old.

As far as gift-hauls go, 1987 was a reasonable year. I raked in some fresh NES games, unwrapped a new pile of GI Joe action figures, and rolled my eyes at the requisite stack of clothes for school. I would’ve been satisfied if that’s all it had been. Toys, games, and clothes…what more could an eleven-year old want?

And then my Uncle John rolled into town.

You see, I lived in Chicago with my grandparents at the time, and the snows that winter were brutal, particularly that night. We’re talking piles of white powder in the yard and dirty grey slush on every road. We’re talking fifteen hours of night, and no real breaks in the clouds for weeks. Uncle John had to commute all the way from downstate, which normally takes two hours, but that night it took him pretty much triple the time. Either it was the snow’s fault, or he dreaded Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house.  I guess I’ll never really know for sure.

The hour was late. Ok, maybe not that late, but late for an eleven-year old who’d just spent the entire day begging his grandparents, aunts, and uncles to unwrap a few of all his gifts early. Having succeeded at tormenting them into a massive gift-release, I sat in my bedroom, surrounded by wrapping paper and happiness, content with my life. I could’ve died a happy child right then and there, drowning in a sea of blue inter-connectable racetracks, NES cartridges, tiny plastic rocket launchers, and socks.

But I didn’t die. I heard a summons from the living room, and out I shambled. If I was slow, it’s because my belly was stuffed with Circus Peanuts and Orange Crush. I was sleepy. I was dragging. I just wanted to be left alone for the next three months to fully soak up my gift-haul.

“Jeremy, your Uncle John has one last gift for you. Do you want to open it tonight?” I remember someone asking me.

I halted. Of course I do! I screamed in my head-movie.

“Yeah ok,” I grunted in real life.

Uncle John handed me a wide, flat box. You know the ones. I think it was from Macy’s, and it had all the hallmark signs of being another box full of clothes. It wasn’t gift-wrapped, but it did have a single red bow on top. One. Red. Bow. Uncle John wasn’t a sentimental dude, which I could (and still do) understand.

When I took the box, I had the same sinking feeling every kid does when he sees a box like that.

Great. More clothes.

I thanked him and padded back into the hallway. No one thought much of my departure. I wasn’t two steps away before all the adults (I was the only kid in the house) started talking politics again. Not even Uncle John seemed fazed by my apparent disinterest. Untended to, I plunked down in my bedroom doorway, sighed with all the weight an eleven-year old could muster, and pried the top off the box.

I guess I should’ve realized the box was too heavy to be full of clothes.

And I should’ve known my Uncle John was too cool for sweaters and school shirts.

What was inside?

untitled untitled1 images

Mind. Blown.

Before that instant, I’d never heard of Dungeons & Dragons. I’d never heard about role-playing, tabletop gaming, or rolling dice to kill undead lich lords. As I picked up the first tome (the Dungeon Master’s guide was my favorite) I felt as if a sharp breeze blew away the memory of all my other gifts. It stunned me, and made me shiver both literally and figuratively. Also in the box: a set of sparkly green polyhedral dice (which my players would learn to hate) and a stack of PC stat sheets, but I didn’t yet comprehend their meaning. I couldn’t see it yet.

I was lost, but in a good way.

Winter deepened. Chicago frosted over for most of the next three months. I didn’t care. Even though I lacked local friends to game with or a real understanding of what I was getting into, I consumed the books Uncle John had bought me. When I say ‘consumed’ I don’t mean to imply I merely read them a few times. No…I memorized them. I gobbled up the D&D dialect, became a master at its mechanics, and plotted for the day I’d actually be able to run a campaign.

But more than this, more than just learning the game, I felt a door open inside my mind. I’d always had a vivid imagination, but this was something different. It changed my perspective about what creativity could be.

And in doing so, it changed the course of my life in a very real way.

* * *

Let’s fast forward a few years.

Far removed from frosty Chicago, I found myself in a hot, heavily-wooded part of North Georgia. My parental unit had remarried and shipped us to the deep south, where summers were forever and winters were but a few weeks of rain in late January. I missed the frozen wastes, but thawing out felt nice. And more than the weather were the chances to meet new friends.

Friends who would game with me.

Friends who shared my passion for deep, dark storytelling.

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…friends who would fight this guy with me.

And so it began. In eight grade, I met The Kube, a friend who was willing to spend endless hours rolling dice with me. He created the legendary characters Silverleaf, Black Dragon, and the wizard who became a prime character in my epic fantasy series, Dank. Then in my freshman year in high school, I met Egg, John McGuire, and the devious Chris Griner.

And it was ON.

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I was a dedicated DM, going so far as to create my own 200-page hardcover campaign setting…

*

We spent thousands of hours role-playing.

We downed hundreds of pizzas, killed barrels of Mountain Dew, and endured sessions lasting upwards of 15 hours.

My players learned to hate my dice, but I like to think (in my head-movie) they enjoyed the fact our games were about more than slaughtering imaginary monsters. We told stories. Deep stories about sacrifice and suffering. Legendary stuff that no video game can capture, that not even the longest, most profound novel can duplicate. If you’ve ever played our style of ‘storytelling’ D&D, you know what I mean. The players are a part of an epic tale, not just dice-rolling treasure fiends. The dungeon master is merely a blank page, ready to turn whichever direction the players want to go.

But the best part?

It didn’t stop there.

It began

Many years after my last epic session, sometime in the early 2000’s, all the storytelling lessons I’d learned flashed back into my mind. I missed (desperately) the feeling of sitting down with friends to weave a deep, dark tale, but I knew at the same time I probably wasn’t ever going to recapture it. We’d all moved apart and built our own lives. Some of us were married, and others were exploring new careers. Lacking a way to play the game I loved, I had to find a new outlet for my unbridled creativity.

And so I started my writing journey.

I sat down in the dark, my brain brimming with an entire childhood’s worth of ideas.

And the stories, many of them birthed a decade or more earlier, began to pour out of my fingertips.

Over the next fifteen years, I wrote fantasy novels, sci-fi tales, spooky novellas, and other fictional fare. I couldn’t stop. I was (and still am) a man possessed. Looking back at all of it, I know I never would’ve done it if not for those endless nights of dice-rolling and gold piece counting. I might’ve done other creative stuff, but the depth wouldn’t have been there. The story-telling skills I learned during a decade of D&D’ing were irreplaceable stuff. The seed had been planted on Christmas Eve 1987, and had grown into something I never could’ve anticipated.

Those three little books changed the way I thought. The way I imagined. The way I wanted to create. And after thousands of dice rolls, hundreds of hours spent preparing stories for my players, and countless nights at the gaming table, I wasn’t the same person I’d been. I’d grown to appreciate the art of a story without an end, and I’d learned to love all the crazy thought-collisions that happened while playing this simple little game.

There are those who will mock D&D. They’ll say it’s a game for nerds, introverts, maybe even losers. Some will even claim it supports anti-social, anti-religious behavior. Nonsense…all of it. Done right, D&D is a vehicle for allowing people to take part in a story. It’s better than TV, which isn’t interactive. It’s better than video games, which confines players to a controller and some pixels. In many ways, it’s the most imaginative game ever created. It was for me. And I’m willing to bet, it was for many, many others.

So here’s to The Kube, Egg, Griner, Nicky P, Jeremy II, John, and all the rest. These fine friends were inspirers of more characters than I can recollect. AD&D First Edition forever!

And here’s to Uncle John. He gave me three little books that rocked my world.

…and inspired twenty-four books of my own…and counting.

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Published in 2015….conceived in 1992.

If I had any advice to modern parents, it’d be something like this:

Take your kids’ phones away. Give them a D&D book. And walk away.

🙂

J Edward Neill

Author and Artist

DownTheDarkPath

 

 

 

the Hecatomb – ‘heka’tom/

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.

*

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

or…

The name of my terrifying new novella.

 

 The Hecatomb includes 4 short stories, each connected, each taking place in the same world.

It’s up to readers to decide the order in which they take place.

J Edward Neill

101 Questions for Humanity is Free this week

FREE for the next few days!

101 Questions for Humanity

Designed to provoke, question, and challenge, 101 Questions for Humanity is the supreme coffee table book for armchair philosophers. Crack it open during huge parties, tiny gatherings, or lonely nights on the couch. Entertain yourself…or twenty friends and frienemies.

Review it right here!

101 Questions for Humanity

 To get a feel for 101 Questions’ content, check out my popular blog, 10 Questions for Humanity.

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J Edward Neill