Free Short Story Time: Piece by Piece

I’m trying to figure out this publishing thing. I’ve got the book, got a comic, got a little novella, but I know I need to do more. The chances of anyone having just one thing out there in the void and suddenly hitting it big are pretty low. And that’s fine with me. I know it is a marathon and not a sprint (to borrow that old cliche’). Still, the projects I’m working on don’t really feed the beast of The Dark That Follows. And while I have ideas for the sequel, I’m not ready to really dive in (too many other projects that must get done).

So how do I fix that? How do I get potentially more eyes on this book I wrote without writing another book in the same world?

writing

An aside… when the four of us teamed-up to form this little spot in the corner of the internet we talked about doing a short story for the site. Something that might even be able to use the name Tessera in its title or as its inspiration.

Jeremy jumped in, both feet first, because that man is a machine. Maybe in an effort to make everyone else look bad (jerk!) or maybe to light a fire under our collective asses, he wrote Old Man of Tessera (free on this here website!).

I’d been thinking about a story, but I really wanted it to tie into The Dark That Follows somehow. Have a place where they could get the short for free and if they liked what they read, maybe they’d check out the book. Something extra. And a story began to shape itself in my mind.

A short story.

This is the old two birds one story idea. And while I didn’t name it Tessera or Tesserization or Tesselation or… (well, you get the idea), it does take a little bit of inspiration from trying to see a bigger picture from little bits of information.

PIECE-BY-PIECE-COVER

So without further ado, I present to you Piece by Piece. You can find it here on the site, and shortly you should be able to find it for free download on the various other platforms… but you can get it first!

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and now the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

Caption Contest (Part 3 of 10,000)

Oops! A week without skulls! What has the world come to?!

This week, let’s dip back into freebie-ville. It’s simple. You blow up the comments section with a funny caption of my favorite animal in the entire world (her name’s Sticky Buns). Whoever makes me laugh the most wins a free, signed, softcover copy of Dark Moon Daughter, which releases in about two weeks. It’s pretty easy to make me laugh. So if more than one of you bust my gut, I’ll consider multiple free copies.

 

IM000021

Sah-wing and a miss!

So let’s review. You make fun of this: IM000021 and if you win, you get this:  Dark Moon Daughter Final Front Cover Large (600x900) (600x900)

Contest ends on Midnight -Friday, April 4th.

Boom.

Love,

J Edward Neill

 

How it all began…

Malog J Sketch

 

 

 

Quite by accident, this week’s blog…

 If not for a cup of chance, I’d have drowned Tessera in an entirely different ocean of bones. But an old friend stumbled upon a twenty year-old folder I thought I’d lost ages ago, and I found myself unable to resist writing about it. Not that twenty years is all that long, but to me, still a wee lad, two decades feels like an eon.

I haven’t always been a writer. Well…maybe a little, but not in the way I am today. Long ago, in the primeval soup of early creative-dom, I fancied myself an artist of a different kind. Not with quill, ink, and keyboard, but with markers, pencils, sketch books, and posterboards. I airbrushed T-shirts, made huge Slayer banners (signed by the band!) and silkscreened dark, crazy images onto every bit of cloth I could find. Those were different days. My stories lived on the tips of my fingers, not in the cavernous void inside my skull.

And then one day I started sketching.

I can’t remember the exact moment. It must’ve been cold outside, or rainy, or both. My mind wandered realms both dark and mysterious during those days. I’d already dreamed up the stories and characters which would later become haunt the pages of Down the Dark Path, but I’d gone no further. Lacking the skill or the means to write an epic fantasy, I likely locked myself in my room, climbed on my captain’s bed, and started drawing the images that’d been locked away in my mind’s dungeon. I wasn’t particularly good at it. I hadn’t attended but a few art classes, and while the teachers had taught class I’d never done anything but daydream. I was a novice, an oaf, a blunderbuss of smudgy pencil rubs and cheap not-meant-for-real-art pens. Even so…

So without further ado, I humbly offer my earliest fantasy scribblings. These are the images I first dreamt of when mortaring the bricks of my first epic novel in my mind. I beg only that you forgive their simplicity, and perhaps appreciate the strange glory of passion without talent:

Grae Knight J Sketch

 

My first try at a Graehelm knight. In retrospect, he needs a saddle, but what did I know? Ignore the tree and tower in the background. They were part of a different sketch crowded on the same page.

 

 

Wraith Sketch 2

 

 

– Look at this ghoulish guy. He’s one of my favorites. He never actually appears in any of my novels, but I like to think he could. He’s reaching out for you. He doesn’t want you dead. He wants you to join him.

 

Wraith Sketch 1

 

 

– Another dead dude. A precursor to the Furyon warlords. I always liked the head of his spiked flail. Imagine getting whacked by that thing…

 

 

Undead J Sketch

 

 

 

– Ok, so maybe one spiked flail head wasn’t enough. Here I sketched two. And if you couldn’t already tell, I really liked (ok, still like) imagery of undead warriors. This hasty little sketch is cartoony and anatomically goofy, but I still thought it belonged. Maybe he’s an undead guardian of the Furyon fortress of Malog. Or maybe he’s a Sarcophage, whom we don’t meet until Book II…

 

 

Grimwain J Sketch

 

– I drew this guy with but one villain in mind. Here lies Grimwain, the Sleeper, the mover of all the world’s pieces on the chessboard of doom. His hood should be deeper, but I feel I nailed his beard, his collar, and his white, starry, and soulless gaze. He doesn’t appear until Book II.

 

 

Ande J Sketch

 

– In the beginning, the heroine Andelusia Anderae inhabited a role far less ‘benevolent’ than who she eventually became. She was harder, grittier, more roguish and fantasy trope-like . This was my first conceptual sketch of her. Clumsy? Yes. Are her boobs too big? Probably. But something in my teenage mind saw a rare emotion in her eyes, and thus was born the Dark Moon Daughter.

 

 

 

Thank you for indulging me. I’ve a ton more sketches, some of which I might hurl up on Tessera should even a mild clamor arise. It’s strange to think that once, so many years ago, I wanted to be a painter, a sculpter, and a fantasy artist god. Thank goodness I kept my day job, right?

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

 

 

 

 

 

Making Monsters

Sarcophage

 

 

 

He was three-thousand winters dead, as deaf to Andelusia’s bleating as a coffin full of bones. His very presence was evil, his breaths curling like smoke from beneath his iron mask. As he dragged her through Midnon, his passing withered moths and turned bowlfuls of red apples to ash… – Reference to Mogru, Servant of the Warlock – Dark Moon Daughter

 

 

Few things in a writer’s life are as satisfying as creating a villain everyone can root against. Trust me. I know. While there’s plenty to be loved about the nuanced, tragic villain, (see here) sometimes a story calls for a simpler brand of evil. I’m looking at you, Zombies, Terminators, Orcs, and Godzillas. I’m inviting you to the dance, Nazgul, Octoroks, Balrogs, and all the skeletal guys from Evil Dead. Strip away elegance, reason, and humanity, and you’re left with bad guys worth despising. Authors need these kinds of monsters sometimes. Readers crave them. After all, the main antagonists require cannon fodder. They need spawn. They need an evil army with which to take over the world.  

The picture above is an Eileen Herron sketch of Mogru, one of many soulless villains in my latest fantasy novel. I can’t say I’ve ever had as much fun as I did when writing about this particular monster. For as much enjoyment as I gleaned from penning other villains, Mogru took the cake. He’s soulless. He’s indestructible. He’s a skeletal Terminator, only he prefers six foot-tall swords rather than machine guns. How can he be stopped? Well…he can’t be. Writing about every crackle of his bones and every hapless good guy he carves to tatters was pure pleasure. Every writer needs a Mogru. Every reader will find him easy to hate.

So how does one carve away just the right amount of personality to craft a wickedly good monster? It’s delicate work, to be sure. Take away too much, and you’re left with a cardboard, video-game cutout of a bad guy. Add too much flavor, and you’ll be stuck with a Jar Jar Binks or a BeBop and Rocksteady. What you’ll need, and what readers appreciate, is the just enough/not too much approach.  If the minion must talk, keep it brief and sharp. He’s a minion, after all; his master should do most of the talking. If it’s a monster you’re making (and it is; that’s why we’re here) describe it, but not too in-depth. Our imagination should make the horror in our minds, not two pages of extrapolation about whence he came. More than anything, focus on action. Use words as the monster’s weapons. The skeletal knight shouldn’t walk, he should shamble along, dragging his rusted sword through the muck. The dragon shouldn’t simply fly, but soar through halos of smoke belched from his foul gut. The maggoty goblins should slither and skulk, wandering the glooms in search of children to devour. See what I mean? Hell, just writing those three little sentences made me want to make a new monster.

Some of my favorite baddies in literature/film:

White Walker

 

 White Walkers (The Others) – Game of Thrones (The book and the show) – We don’t get much of them, but the tastes we do get leave us salivating for more. Raising the dead, living in the frozen wastes…you’ve got to love their deathy style.

 

 

Alien

The Xenomorph – Alien & Aliens – They’ve no personality, which makes them perfect. They’ve nothing to love, nothing to live for save to spread across the galaxy. Loathsome. Horrifying. Killing one is nothing, since there’re thousands more coming.

 

 

 

Nazgul

 

Nazgul – Lord of the Rings – Scaring the shit out of Middle-Earthlings everywhere. We know just enough about them to terrify us, but not so much as to burn away their mysteriousness. Definitely easy to root against, though I admit getting teary-eyed when Eowyn butchered the Witch King.

 

 

There you have it, my shout out to all the lesser evils of the world. What’s a master without a minion? What’s a wicked wizard to do without an undead host to serve him? If nothing else, monsters give the good guys something to do. And thank the stars for that, else their heroic lives would feel woefully boring.

It’s dark now. I’ve a rare moment alone to work. I think I’ll sculpt a new villain. You’ll see her soon enough.

J Edward Neill

A Long Time Ago… We Used to be Friends…

My wife is obsessed.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you were a writer and you happened to know a Chemist, the best thing for you when you need to insert a generic scientist into your story MIGHT be to make that character a Chemist. I mean you have the access to that knowledge (so your story can be a little more authentic). It just makes sense.

Veronica_mars_intro

With the TV show Veronica Mars, I have access to an expert as well.

Now I’m not 100% on this, but I’d be willing to bet that she’s watched the show (3 seasons and 60+ episodes) more than anyone else on the planet (at the very least she has to be in the top 1% of Veronica Mars fans when it comes to watching episodes) (which probably means I’ve watched every episode 6 or 7 times). We own the DVDS and she’s manged to wear 2 of the seasons out from the repeated play (yeah, I didn’t know that could happen either with DVDs). When the SOAP Network (RIP) began showing the series in order during a 2 hour block every day (and then on the weekends as well) there was many a day I would come home from work to find V-Mars playing on the TV. Think about it, she’d watch episodes with commercials in them because she loved it so much (well, maybe there was a bit of laziness in there as well, not wanting to hunt down that particular episode).

A little obsessed…

So when Veronica Mars had a chance of returning to the world through a movie with their Kickstarter Campaign about a year ago, it was never a question of IF we’d be supporting the project. The only question was “how much would we pledge”. And when they passed 2 million dollars she squealed like a teenage girl. Then the countdown was on, and on March 14, 2014 at 7:15 we sat in a theater, about 1/2 full, and watched Veronica appear on the screen for the first time in about 8 years.

We also have a digital copy of the movie. Don’t ask how many times she’s watched it (I ran out of toes and fingers counting).

Amazon-Kindle-Worlds

Then when Veronica Mars was announced as being a part of the Amazon Kindle Worlds program, whether we were going to do a project was secondary to who the story would focus on, when to place it…

For those that may not know, Kindle Worlds is a way for you to write Fan Fiction in a world in a more legit manner. They license the properties and open them up to anyone to contribute. Whatever your opinion of fan fiction might be, it still strikes me as a kinda cool way to be more apart of the world(s) we all know and love.

With this opportunity and this particular World, my wife and I had to do something.

And that led us to Mac.

Veronica Mars

 

Mac is Veronica’s friend. She’s sorta the Q to Veronica’s James Bond. And since we weren’t going to write about Veronica directly she jumped out at us.

Collaboration is always tricky when writing comics or prose or whatever, but collaboration with your spouse… well, it was actually fairly easy. We spent a couple of weeks after the initial announcement in early February just talking about plot lines, possible angles to take. Which characters would appear? Which season would we set things? And so on. Then once we had the rough beats for things I started writing and over the course of about 2 weeks pounded out the first draft. She read it in 2 parts, the first 3 chapters and then the last 3 chapters. I then took her edits and did another pass on the story with her sitting beside me to really go over any places I had questions about.

The final step, after multiple drafts, was to read it aloud. I’ve read about other writers who do this in order to make sure that the sentences aren’t too awkward. The idea being that if you stumble over it as you read it aloud, then it probably needs to be rephrased. I gotta say, that after doing it I not only noticed more than a couple of odd sentences, but also caught a couple of simple errors, double words, that sort of thing.

So maybe there is something to this technique.

Anyway, we hit submit on the novella Sunday evening and last night I got the email from Amazon that it was now live! Right Here!

That’s right, you can now read a Veronica Mars story by me and the wife, if you happen to be into that sort of thing. And you should be, especially if you were ever a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joss Whedon appeared in the show and at one point said it was his favorite show on tv (at least while it was on the air). So that’s gotta count for something, right?

dana-whedonverse

This guy likes Veronica Mars, you should too.

And now a little excerpt from the novella (just a taste)…

Get away from Beaver. Now. He’s a killer. I’m in the lobby.

The words scream at me from my phone. Veronica’s attempt to help me. To save me.

It’s been two weeks, and I’m not sure exactly what those words mean.

Oh, I understand the big things. The newspapers had part of it, and Veronica filled me in on the rest. Beaver was the one who killed all those people on the bus. Beaver tried to set Veronica up. And that night, he tried not only to kill her, but almost killed her dad with the bomb, which blew up Woody Goodman’s plane.

Get away from Beaver. Now. He’s a killer.

The words are in English, and yet they make no sense. Nothing about that night makes any damn sense. Try as I might I can’t wrap my head around it. What was supposed to be a special night became a nightmare. Since then, the days have been the better part of a blur. So I sit here at Java the Hut and stare at my cell phone, hoping through sheer force of will the phrase will make a little sense at some point.

I’m not holding my breath though.

He’s a killer.

What does that even mean?

***

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.

am.

Cover Reveal – Dark Moon Daughter

DMD Slider 1

 

 

 We will bend the Father and bury his children. We will curl the roots of every tree and strip the clouds from heaven. This is what we adore: the midnight, the bottom, the end.  – Excerpt from the Pages Black, lost text of the Ur

 If I’m extra happy this week, don’t blame me. Blame my cover artist, Eileen Herron, for rocking out the new cover art for Dark Moon Daughter. I’m thrilled with her vision of the next installment in the Tyrants of the Dead series. My dark little heart beats a little faster every time I see it. My underwear definitely needs changing.

So let’s break this down a bit. The first sliver of the cover (above) gives us a glimpse of Andelusia doing battle. The pale, multi-eyed, razors-for-fingers beast in the upper right is the Mortician, one of many wicked creeps our heroine (or villainess, depending) must contend with. In the upper left, we’ve an image of the moon, only not the moon you’re used to seeing. In Ande’s right hand, she wields the fabled Ur flame, an errant drop of which can melt a city…or the world. Look closely and you’ll see the Ur language on her forearm. This is why I love Eileen’s style. With so little room in which to work, she includes elements I’d have never thought of. Hell, in Down the Dark Path I even changed a chapter based on what she painted.

DMD Garrett v Sarcophage

 

 Our next slice of the painting gives us Rellen Gryphon doing battle with a Sarcophage. (What’s a Sarcophage, you ask? – You’ll have to read DMD when it comes out!) I like the classic, almost Dungeons and Dragons appeal to Rellen’s handsomeness, as well as the horror of the masked and armored monster he’s fighting. Not to be missed is Andelusia’s leg. What’s an all-powerful witch to do without showing a little skin, right?

 

 

DMD Warlock Image

 

 At the painting’s bottom we have one of the antagonists. It’s a great smirk he’s wearing, isn’t it? I happen to know the guy Eileen used as a model, and she really captured a part of his inner evil here. The shadows swirl around him, hiding the rest of his body. It’s appropriately mysterious. What’s this guy doing down here? Why’s he smiling so deviously? The reasons are many…

 

 

And now, the final product in all its glory. There’s tons going on here, from small story elements to hidden visuals only the keen reader will spot:

DMD Original Cover

 For any writer, cover art is key. For me, it’s doubly so. I wanted movie poster appeal. I wanted many story elements colliding. I wanted a sexy girl, a terrifying monster, and shadows galore. Eileen delivered. I hope you like it as much as I do.

If you like the cover, just wait ’til you read the book.  Dark Moon Daughter – Due out any day now… Forget about elves, dwarves, dragons, and vampires. Let’s go deeper. Let’s get darker. Let’s go all the way to the bottom.

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

 

Harry Potter for #TBT

I began reading the Harry Potter books when my daughter was three or four years old. They weren’t books I had to think my way through. I read them to laugh, to escape, to have fun.The first four books I read before I moved to the UK 2004, another two while living in London and The Deathly Hallows when I returned to the US in 2008. Several memories stick out over course of those eight years.

1. I watched the first film on a flight to Paris in 2002.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

In 2002 I graduated from the University of Georgia, a few years off my original target but I graduated nonetheless. I’d left college in 1997 due to a slew of bad choices, then married and had the child doctor’s weren’t sure I’d ever have. After my short attempt at marriage ended, I wanted to finish my degree, not something all single mother’s would have the courage to attempt, but I beat Cancer, it couldn’t be as difficult as that, right? The trip to Paris was a gift from my mother and step father for beating the odds.

The seats, on my first international flight, had monitors built into the back of the headrests. When I found Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on the movie list I could hardly contain my excitement. I’d not seen the movie because I didn’t have anyone I thought would want to see it with me. I wasn’t as brave then as I am now. With the earphones plugged in, I escaped into another world. It was my half contained giggles throughout the movie that eventually pulled my mother into the films too.

Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban2. I took my daughter to see The Prisoner of Azkaban in London.

My daughter wasn’t reading the books yet, but she’d caught onto the Harry Potter craze. (Up until a couple months ago we still had our VHS copies of The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets.) When we moved to London in 2004 The Prisoner of Azkaban was still out, little did I know how creepy the Dementors would be! But it didn’t phase her one bit. She’d obviously inherited my iron will. This also happened to be our first movie going experience at our local Odeon on High Street Kensington. I’ll never forget it.

3. My daughter and I read The Deathly Hallows together (or rather simultaneously).

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows

When we moved back to the US in 2008 my daughter decided it was time for her to read all of the Harry Potter books; which is an easy task for a child who can read a 300 page book in one sitting. I’ve seen her read three such books in one day! While she caught up, I re-read The Half-Blood Prince. Then we both read The Deathly Hallows. Until Part 2 of the film released, we both felt as if we belonged to a secret club. My mother has seen the movies, but not read the books. Yes, she’s one of those people. My daughter and I were careful not to give anything away, but when she wasn’t looking we gave knowing smiles. We knew the truth (about Snape).

And now, you know the truth. It was my fault. I sucked my entire family into the wizarding world of Harry Potter!

As ever in Shivershore

Illyoc

 Year 12, date unknown

 It is cold outside, as ever it is in Shivershore. The sea’s salted foam crashes outside my window. The sun sets beneath a dreary, unhappy sky. Save for my lonely candle, my little friend who likes to dance with each draft of air seeping between the shutters, I have little light to write by. I sit here, inking words no one will ever read, squinting to see the page before me. I am too anxious. This will be my final entry. I wonder if I am ready.

Today will be my last day in the tower. This crowded pillar of tired, sea-bleached stones has been a good, if humble home. The corner hearth keeps it warm enough, while the tower’s perch amid the tangled rocks and battered shoreline cliffs affords me the sort of privacy and solitude I have found nowhere else. Though my comforts are few, my years here have been useful. I have unraveled the secrets I sought and brought many intangible truths to light.  I have sacrificed much in living here, but soon all of it will be worthwhile. Today marks winter’s last gasp. Tomorrow a new season begins. And so I bid you a fond farewell, good tower. I hope to never see you again.

I packed my things yestereve. I slid a few important sheaves of paper, a loaf of bread, some wine, and an extra set of boots into my weathered satchel. I suppose I might even find room for this journal, though it seems rather meaningless, considering I will not tend to it again. Looking at my bag, small and crumpled as a peasant’s hat, one would never know the places I am bound for.

 I dreamed again last night. I have dreamed often of late, too often, suffering many doubts while I sleep. My nightly imaginings have been particularly dark, twisting my life’s hopes and ambitions into nightmares, poisoning my mind with images of death and failure. Even so, every time I wake I feel no weakness or perturbation. This strikes me as comforting. Perhaps my dreams are trying to send me a message, whispering horrors into my ear and reminding me of my simple beginnings, while at the same time fortifying me. Though I tremble as I slumber, the very moment I wake I feel strong again.

Last night while cleaning out my cupboards, a number of unexpected questions tumbled into my mind. I suppose I had been concerned with the execution of my plan for so long that certain possibilities escaped me. I sat at my lonely table, chewing on a brick of hard, stale bread, and the questions struck me just as the sun began to set. I wondered; how will my coming be perceived? How will my subjects view me? When I stand on my pulpit at the world’s twilight, what will they think? Will I be adored and praised or feared and reviled? Will they see me as a savior from their daily futilities or will they look upon who I am and what I have become and turn their cheeks with wordless scorn? Kneeling upon the earth, stretching fearfully from meadow to sea, what will they whisper? Tyrant, I wager they will name me, destructor of the earth. But it is not certain, not knowable for now.

These questions and more pummeled my mind for too much of the night. As I swallowed my bread and dwelled upon them, I came to no meaningful conclusion. I decided I did not know the answers. I cared not. I cannot fathom the emotions of others, nor do I wish to. What the people will think at the end does not concern me, nor will it when I become king.

King. It has a pleasant taste to it. I say it often to myself, and it snaps so easily off my tongue. No wonder the term is so often misused. The local lord risen to power, the snot-sniffling heir, the winner of some inconsequential military affair, they all think they are kings, and that they above all others know what it means to possess power over mankind. If only they knew what I know, they would not think themselves so wise. They would wet their gilded chairs by day and shiver in their beds by night. They would beg for a taste, a single lash of their tongues just to lavish their minds with a fragment of what I know. What horror would befall their minds were the truth to strike them? But now I am rambling again. I do it too often. I am nothing if not someone who talks too much. 

Each time I reflect upon my long, slow years of study, I realize my greatest sacrifice has been living here in this tower. Because of my choice, I have had no one to talk to, no one to share a cup of tea with or sit beneath the night with and discuss the meaning of the stars. During the endless days, this journal was all that kept me from madness. I have been drawn to it every night, dithering for a moment before penning to paper the least significant parts of my day. How quaint it seems, a child’s diary. How ordinary. How weak.

My things are packed. My cleaning is complete. I am ready for a last night’s sleep. As I stretch upon my sagging bed, I feel a moment of longing. It is a strange sensation. I almost wish someone else were here, a woman perhaps, a pretty thing with a sympathetic ear. I wonder how pleasant it must be to lie with a beautiful girl or to be a man with many friends. But what do I know? These things are forgotten to me. Rather than sit and pine for the world to comfort me, I must remember my chosen path. My own thoughts are the only ones I shall ever know. I will be alone from now until the end.

 The winter fails. The sea rages outside. I am weary of writing. I have come to it at last, the end of my preparation. My candle, my only companion, is dying, the victim of too many nights spent watching over these sad little pages. When I lift my pen, my hermit’s life shall end. Not long from now, perhaps on an evening not so different than tonight, the skies will fall, and I will be the last living soul in all the world.

* * *

Prologue to Dark Moon Daughter – Book II in the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy

J Edward Neill

 Illyoc painting by Eileen Herron

 

Top Five Most Memorable Book Chapters Ever

a-skull-on-the-open-book

 

Perhaps it was the way the leaves went utterly still, or perhaps the sudden silence of the birds, but she felt watched, as though a creature from the pages of her book had leapt from the parchment to stalk her. – Excerpt from Dark Moon Daughter

 

Enjoy this week’s expressionist skull. It’s a painting by Vladimir Tatlin. If anyone wants to sell it to me, here I am.

 As I prepare to do some damage to Tessera Guild tonight, my fingertips are crackling. The hour is late. I’m parked in my comfy recliner, honey mead in hand, laptop humming away. About a week ago, I launched my new personal website here. My deep, dark wish is that you’ll visit the site, clickity click the subscribe button, and follow me into the abyss. I’m excited about it. Forgive me.

Now then…

For as much as writing is an art form, it’s my belief the art of reading is no less a beautiful thing. Learning to read is our own personal One Ring. It’s sacred. It’s precious. It’s powerful. We conquer the words as children, but it’s not until much later we grasp their true meaning. It’s with this reverence in mind I hunker down to write this piece. Some lists will give you the best books. I mean to dig deeper and give you the most memorable chapters. These are the five chapters whose pages own the tallest bookshelf in my overcrowded head, who sit front and center in the card catalog floating inside my skull. (See, I always bring it back to bones.)

I am legend

 

 

#5 – I am Legend – Final Chapter

We begin with a chapter not known for its quality, but perhaps more for its brevity. After our journey with Robert Neville takes us to the lowest cavern of loneliness, despair, and even depravity, we are treated with an abrupt end to it all. I’ll not confess to love the way Matheson ended an otherwise engrossing novel, but the way he terminates his protagonist will forever haunt me. No, the good guys don’t always win. Yes, sometimes the point of our existence is that there is no point. In a way, we should’ve expected Neville’s death in the exact way it arrived. Who among us could live alone in the world surrounded by death? Well, perhaps I could, but anyone else?

Shrike

 

#4 – Hyperion – Remembering Siri

‘But Siri knew the slow pace of books and the cadences of theater under the stars. I knew only the stars.’ – The Consul

For those not familiar with Dan Simmons’ epic Hyperion series, here’s your crash course: Hyperion is a futuristic semi-retelling of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, with loving homages to the poet Keats sprinkled liberally throughout. Remembering Siri is not a single chapter,  rather an entire sixth of the novel from the perspective of the Consul. Let’s be clear; Hyperion is not really about the sci-fi-ness of it all, the weapons, or the technology. These elements are everpresent, but the stories of the novel’s inhabitants, their lives and feelings, are what makes the novel gripping. Nowhere is the emotion more powerful than in Remember Siri. The Consul has lost the love of his life (Siri) and all his movements through space and time are shadowed by her memory. I’m not really a love-story kind of dude, but even my inky soul warmed up to the Consul’s tale.

the-count-of-monte-cristo

 

 

#3 – The Count of Monte Cristo – Final Chapter

Perhaps no more powerful tale of vengeance exists than The Count. It’s a challenging novel, not only for its length and depth of exposition, but for its themes. I’ll say only this; the payoff is worth the struggle. At the bittersweet end, having doled out more than enough vengence for those who’ve wronged him (and a few who haven’t) the Count reflects upon all he has done. Is he God’s justice or is he no different than the people he’s destroyed? In my mind, the true mark of excellence in writing arrives when the author confronts the reader with a moral dilemna. Would you have gone as far as the Count? Do the ends always justify the means?

300px-Red_Wedding_by_FatherStone

 

# 2 – A Storm of Swords – Red Wedding

It is nothing, she tried to tell herself, you are seeing grumkins in the woodpile, you are become an old silly woman sick with grief and fear. – Catelyn Stark

There are rocks some people live under…and there are mountains. Most folks, either via the book or the cable series, have already read or seen the Red Wedding. If you haven’t, get on it. I’ve seen both, and I’m here to tell you the book version is better. From Martin’s buildup in previous chapters to Catlyn’s gathering dread to the crossbowmen dressed as minstrels (who can’t carry a tune), the reader isn’t quite sure what will happen. And then, once it begins, we think, “When will someone rush out and save Robb? When…when…when?” But it never happens. In a few quick pages, Martin delivers the best kind of death. Quick. Bloody. Permanent.

Gandalf_fights_the_Witch_king_by_ChristianTsvetanov

 

 

# 1 – Return of the King – The Siege of Gondor

“Old fool!” he said. “Old fool! This is my hour. Do you not know Death when you see it? Die now and curse in vain!” – The Witch King of Angmar

When Grond comes to your door, you’d best pay attention. In the Siege of Gonder, I get a lot of everything I want in a chapter: A sense of dread. A battle raging. A lord setting himself on fire. A confrontation between a wizard and a monster. Forget the movie. In the book, you can actually believe the bad guys will win. When the Witch King stalks alone through Gondor’s shattered front door (an entrance antagonists everywhere should emulate) you feel the horror, the blood running cold, and the city of men breathing its last. Chapters like this only turn up every once in a while. Any author planning to write a battle scene, take heed. The Siege of Gondor is where it’s at.

So then, what’s your favorite chapter ever? Inquiring minds want to know.

J Edward Neill

 

A book is a book (Right?)

Mummy Skull

 

 

New week. New skull. I’ll try to make it relevant at some point during the post. But probably not.

 

Years ago, after I’d finished the first draft of my first book, I took a respite from writing. It didn’t last long, but I needed it…badly. I’d just completed a novel spanning a half-million words, and my fingers were tired. You think I’m kidding. I’m dead serious. I was bone-weary in the way only three years of living in a word-dungeon can produce. For a span of a few weeks afterward, I thought, “I’m done. I’ve finished it. I need do nothing more.” I didn’t understand that my journey had only just begun.

During my miniature exile, I didn’t lie in bed with a stupid, self-satisfied smile. I had no laurels, and even if I would’ve, I wouldn’t have rested on them. I wasn’t really content with having finished a book. My brain thought I was done, but my heart knew better. So rather than sleep on my small success, I found other ways to pass the time. I did homework, so to speak, searching the web and pestering my already-published friends for tidbits of wisdom. How am I gonna get this damn thing published? I asked anyone who would listen. What about editing? A half-million words is way too many; how am I gonna fix that? What? Why? When? 

Thus began my first assault on the realm of publishing. I gathered my troops (me) and started researching in earnest. I would finish this thing I’d started, the world be damned. I decided I’d sooner become the mummy in this week’s pic (see, told you) than give up. And so, after two weeks of learning, unlearning, and sharpening my sword for the world’s throat, it all came down to: What the hell have I written? How am I planning on marketing this thing? What category is my novel? What neat little box does my life’s obsession fit into?

Well, the publishing world asked, what’s your answer?

Did I write fiction? (Yes)

Is it epic? (Yes)

Fantasy? (Mostly)

Sci-Fi? (A little)

Romance? (Maybe)

Young-Adult (How would I know?)

Chick-Lit (WTF is this category anyway??)

Bisexual Vampire Steampunk (Huh?)

Before I began answering these questions, I’d no idea about all these categories. A book was a book was a book. The only two divisions were fiction and non-fiction, or so I’d believed. The concept that I needed to refine my work into a neat little genre box was foreign…and mildly offensive. I didn’t understand. I was confused. I was angry.

Parchment

Fiction? Non-fiction? Allegory? Or maybe a YA Vampire scroll?

So…

After being clobbered with the inevitable: We like your work, J. But it’s too long to publish, especially for a rookie. Define it into a clear genre and carve about three hundred-thousand words out, and we’ll talk, I decided to crawl back into my cave. I rewrote my first book…twice. I tapped out one sequel, then another, and then a prequel, and…you get the idea. I took a long hiatus from caring about categories, blurbs, agents, double-agents, and query letters. I stopped giving a rat’s ass about the notion of genres. I allowed myself to be as free as I had been while writing Down the Dark Path. And soon enough the words began to flow again.

When asked what they like to read, most people will give you a few authors’ names or a short list of their favorite books. Most won’t sit down and say, “I only read YA Dystopian novels with surfing sub-themes, and nothing else.” Even so, I know a lot of writers who decide what genre they’re going to write in before they actually write it. Maybe it’s just me, but that approach feels manufactured. Readers might benefit from cracking open a book whose genre they’re oblivious to. Writers will definitely benefit from letting the words flow sans inhibition. While it’s true eventually every published book will end up in a tightly-defined category, I believe it’s in readers’ best interest to ignore these categories, and writers’ to write without worrying about what the publishing world will call their masterpiece.

Because, let’s face it, most of us don’t write because we want to make tons of money doing it (Hint: we’re probably not going to.) We write because we find it compelling, tortuous, wonderful, terrifying, and everything in-between. It’s the same experience readers go through. Don’t try to define it. Don’t put shackles on it and lock it in a box. Let it be what it is: beautiful. Agonize over the details afterward.

Love,

J Edward Neill

 

Top Ten Villains of all time

The Skull

 

It’s simple. To achieve perfection, abandon morality. I’ve been doing it for decades.” – Archmyr Degiliac, Pale Knight of Thillria

 

It’s no secret. I love, love, love the bad guys. I love to read about them, write them, watch them, and (gasp) root for them. I’m the kid who got pissed off every time Skeletor lost to He-Man, the teenager who pulled for the Alien to wipe out everyone (except the cat), and the guy who wept a little bit inside when Sarah Conner flattened the Terminator. I find a strange sort of beauty in antagonists’ raw emotion, be it their mania, their arrogance, their self-loathing, or their cold, cold dedication to being evil. Better still are the rare little moments when the sunlight cuts through the shadows and the bad guy glimpses himself as a better man…and then plummets straight back into darkness.

I’ve looked forward to this for a while. And so, without further delay, I present to you my top ten villains (in film, literature, and video games) of ALL time:  

Shrike

 #10: The Shrike – Hyperion 

 Memorable Quote: None. The Shrike has no voice

 Bio: It time travels…backwards. It slows time for itself, but not for its victims. It moves at will through the universe, vanishing on one planet only to reappear an instant later on the other side of the galaxy. It’s nine feet of shining, stabby chrome, and it’s nigh invulnerable to conventional weaponry. Among all the villains on the list, the Shrike is probably the most powerful. It enjoys the luxury of emotionless power, which most other baddies should be jealous of.

Moriarty

 #9: James Moriarty – Sherlock Holmes short stories (and one novel)

 Memorable Quote:You stand in the way not merely of an individual, but of a mighty organisation, the full extent of which you, with all your cleverness, have been unable to realise.” – Speaking to Sherlock Holmes 

 Bio: The evil genius of all evil geniuses. The puppetmaster prime. Even though the Professor appears in limited capacity, he defines his antagonist role flawlessly. What he lacks in raw evil power, he makes up for with his wicked wit. I envy his genius, if not so much his obviously tortured soul.  

Spacey

 #8: John Doe – Seven

 Memorable Quote:What sick ridiculous puppets we are, and what gross little stages we dance on. What fun we have dancing and fucking, not a care in the world, not knowing that we are nothing. We are not what was intended.”

Bio: John Doe is a sick, sick man. He’s not the sort of villain even I could root for. That said, he’s marvelously effective at what he does. Grimmer so, he believes in what he does. And his speech about the innocent (a bit too long to post here) still gives me chills. What’s in the box, John? What’s in the box?!

 Harkonnen

 #7: Baron Vladimir Harkonnen – Dune

 Memorable Quote:Alone and vunerable at the edge of the universe, Duke Leto Atreides will finally come face to face with fear. When I’m done with him, he won’t know who to trust, not even that Bene Gesserit whore he sleeps with. They’ll all be turning on another like rats in a flood. By the time the traitor is fully revealed, the fate of Atreides will already be sealed.”

Bio: The universe’s hugest hedonist. The Jabba the Hutt of the Dune milieu. He’s rich, he’s hideous, and he’s chock full of good (bad) ideas. He sprinkles sleeper agents around like candy. He delights in imprisoning his relatives. He corrupts his enemies and makes them his allies. Hell, even after he’s gone and his imperial army crushed, he’s guaranteed to live on in his enemies’ bloodline. We need more baddies like the Baron. He’s just so…damn…thorough about his work.

Ganon

 #6: Ganon

 Memorable Quote:My country lay within a vast desert. When the sun rose into the sky, a burning wind punished my lands, searing the world. And when the moon climbed into the dark of night, a frigid gale pierced our homes. No matter when it came, the wind carried the same thing… Death.”

Bio: Zelda’s antagonist takes many forms: a pig-faced mutant, a blue-skinned desert nomad, a godlike warrior. He’s the only video game villain to crack my top ten. Ganon is not particularly mysterious. He just wants the Triforce (and who can blame him?) Link whips him again and again, but he doesn’t care. Another entry in the Zelda series due out soon, and he’s up for it.

Dracula Book

 #5: Dracula – Bram Stoker’s

 Memorable Quote:Listen to them—the children of the night. What music they make!”

 Bio: Dracula is the best kind of villain, leastways to me. He’s ancient. He’s terrifying. His desire is not to do evil simply for evil’s sake, but for vengeance against God, for the preservation of  his immortality, and for love. He’s much more romantic in the movie than in the book, but both versions have villainous value. Bram Stoker wrote him indelibly. Gary Oldman played him perfectly. Forget Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Nosferatu, etc. Vlad Dracul is where you want to be. And better still, some of his most brutal acts are based on real events. Chilling, just the way I like it.

 Satan

 #4: Lucifer – Paradise Lost

  Memorable Quote:Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

  Bio: I have to tread lightly here due to Tessera Guild policy regarding religion. That said, I believe Lucifer is history’s most easily sympathized-with villain. I plunged into Paradise Lost some dozen times during my high school years. It’s no easy read, but more’s the better. Poor Satan. He’s tormented by his position of servitude. In the beginning he desires freedom, but by the end…hmmmm. His journey through the abyss might be considered a noble quest were it not for the religious aspects of his rebellion. By no means is John Milton’s work canon as far as Christianity is concerned, but I urge everyone, religious or otherwise, to try it out. Shove aside what you think you know. No evil is absolute.

 Darth Vader

 # 3: Vader

 Memorable Quote: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

 Bio: Forgive me this, my most obvious of entries. For a long while, Vader was the standard by which I held all other villains. He has everything. He’s a warlock. He’s a swordsman. He’s physically intimidating. He casts a huge shadow (literally and figuratively) across every room he’s in. What better story (I’m looking at you, Empire Strikes Back) than one in which the bad guys win? And what villain has ever entered a room with such Force (pun intended) than Vader?

Darkness

 # 2: Darkness 

 Memorable Quote:Every wolf suffers fleas. ‘Tis easy enough to scratch!” 

 Bio: Now we’re getting somewhere. If Darkness is so high on my list, it’s because he’s the purest embodiment of an antagonist. He’s not a man corrupted by tragedy or an angel cast down by his creator. He always was, always will be. And yet…even so…I find him worthy of sympathy. He hungers, as we do, to be loved. He suffers just like mankind. Like so many of us wish we could, he is passion, fire, and he wears it all on his sleeve. No matter that he wants to cover the world in eternal night. Never mind that his fits of rage shake the foundations of the earth. He is who he is, and he never regrets it. It doesn’t hurt that his voice (Tim Curry) rattles the movie screen every time he laughs, nor that Darkness’s appearance (transcendant considering the era in which it was filmed) awes and terrifies. If they ever re-release Legend in theaters, somebody call me. I’m there. I don’t care about Tom Cruise or Mia Sara. I want Darkness.

Sauron_Tolkien_illustration

 #1: Sauron

 Memorable Quote: None directly.

 Bio: The watercolor illustration here was painted by JRR Tolkien. It’s not exactly what you probably expected (giant fiery eyeball). In literature, Sauron was man-like. He was the chief lieutenant to the very Lucifer-like Melkor, but every once in a while the second-in-command becomes more terrifying than the master. Thousands of years old, driven by the not-initially-so-awful desire to put everything to order, Sauron becomes more terrifying as time rolls along. He’s willing to sacrifice his physical form to create a relic of absurd power (the One Ring). He doesn’t hire his armies, but breeds them. He means to clear out all the imperfections (men, elves, and almost admirably, dwarves) and afterward sit godlike atop his tower…forever. If not for his hubris (and those damn snooping hobbits) he would’ve gotten away with it, too.

Honorable mentions:

Anton Chigurh – No Country for Old Men

Pinky Demons – Doom (F those guys!)

Oh, and if you want bad guys galore, check out Down the Dark Path.

Who’s your favorite villain? Drop by in the comments and let me know!

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

Illinois Corn, Comics, & Sound Direction

A few years ago (maybe 2006, 2007) my mom’s side of the family, the mostly Chicago based Stephenson clan, decided to hold a family reunion in Monticello, Indiana. Monticello has great vacation spots/ campsites in the area, including a hallmark of Midwest fun times, Indiana Beach, a local amusement park/ waterpark.

Now if you could ignore the various “Anti-Meth dealing” warning signs we saw on various back roads, this place is one to visit.

Emmy-winning meth.

Emmy-winning meth.

In the surrounding area you’ll find picturesque woodlands, replete with nice lakes, small towns, and great places to just barbeque, and while away the day. We were able to snatch up a set of cabins for the entire family, and spent a five day vacation just catching up and having fun.

Our folks had come from all over to commiserate: Atlanta, Sacramento, San Francisco, Jackson (MS), Los Angeles, Chicago.

Heck, there was some family I hadn’t seen since the second Rodney King trial verdict.

Basically, it’d been a while since I’d seen half of these people.

So being Atlanta based my brother (Brandon) and I decided to forgo the sensible option of getting plane tickets to Chicago, and catching a ride with the family to Monticello which was just a few hours away.

Nope, being the guys that we were (and wanting to have some wheels while on vacation), we’d come up with a decision to load up in my 2001 Nissan Altima, and take the 9-10 hour drive to the reunion. Added to this, with the work schedule that I had at the time, we had two options on when to leave: exactly after I got off of work, which would have been around 9 or 11 pm, or wait until the next day.

roadTrip_night_news

Road tripping how it should be done. At least for insomniac’s.

Needless to say, we decided to tap into our inner insomniac and hit the road, caffeine/ Red Bulled up to the gills.

For me night driving is fun, and a bit relaxing. I enjoy being able to see the world when it’s basically asleep, and just catch the sights as most folks are winding down for the day. Our nocturne route took us through Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois, and then Indiana.

Alternating between blasting OutKast, Kanye West, Esperanza Spalding, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, my brother and I took turns with the driving duties.

It was when we hit mid Illinois that things got interesting.

At the time, I was driving, rolling through moon drenched rows upon rows of corn.

Endless-rows-of-corn.

Though I’d gotten use to this from previous road trips to Chicago, to say that endless rows of flat farmland can lull you into a chillastic state is an understatement.

So guess what I had to break me from this stupor?

Police lights ahead of us. A lot of them. Blocking the whole two-lane interstate.

You would’ve thought that damn Dr. Richard Kimble was on the loose with all the lights that I saw.

No caption needed. This scene was just all sorts of awesome.

No caption needed. This scene was just all sorts of awesome.

First thought I had: Damn.

Second thought I had: Damn, damn.

Third thought I had: Our current situation playing out like the one from “The Five Heartbeats” when the cops pull the main characters over on a lonely country road

Check the movie out and you’ll catch my drift.

So I wake my brother up, who’s a much cooler dude than I am. He tells me to just chill, and we hit the roadblock.

I rolled down the window and the officer asks for my license and registration. As I’m handing it over I decide to ask why the whole freeway is closed down at the latest hour known to man.

The cop hands back my information and doesn’t give a reason. At all. Just hands it back. Then asks where we’re headed.

Yeah....our cop wasn't Mr. Smiley.

Yeah….our cop wasn’t Mr. Smiley.

I told him Monticello, and then ask is there an alternate route we can take to get back on the highway we were on.

The cop mumbles something about taking a nearby exit, follows up with something else unintelligible, and then backs away ready to direct the next car in line.

So as I prepared to barrage the officer with more questions, my brother, sensing that this dude wasn’t going to be too forthcoming, instructs me to keep rolling.

So we follow the officer’s “directions”, and all we see are rows of corn.

We drive in another direction, and see rows of corn.

No indication of how to get back on the freeway. None at all.

So this goes on for maybe, 30, 35 minutes max. As far as gas, we’re doing alright, but not spectacular.

I started imagining thoughts of my mom getting a call from the Illinois State Patrol:

ISP: Ma’am, we’re sorry to have to inform you that, well…., ma’am, your son’s got lost and gorged themselves to death on corn.

Ma: Oh….. God….No….

ISP: The truly tragic thing about it miss, is, well…. there was a McDonald’s not but a step or two around the corner from where their bodies were found.

Ma: Noooooo!

So as we’re driving my brother points into the distance.

“BJ (my nickname), look.”

I look in the direction he’s pointing and see a convoy of taillights. A semi-truck convoy.

“Who would you figure might have the best idea on how to get back to the interstate?” Brandon asked.

I figured, heck, we’re not having any success so why not follow them?

Keep on truckin'.

Keep on truckin’.

Relying on faith, and the sound judgment of Brandon, we struck pay dirt. Following the truckers lead we rolled through a small town, sleeping neighborhoods, took a bunch of side roads, and within a bit of time, we were back on the freeway.

After hitting the interstate, we were good to go. Heck we even got to the vacation spot before anyone else in the family.

One thing I learned from that situation and in countless one’s before and since, is it’s sometimes good to follow the lead of others. Not those folks who don’t have your best interest at heart, but those who care enough about you to set you on the right path.

On the nerdy/creative front it’s happened a number of times.

Some of Ms. Butler's most awesome sci-fi works.

Some of Ms. Butler’s most celebrated sci-fi works.

My Dad introduces me to the awesome work of Octavia Butler, a talented sci-fi novelist to whom I now look for inspiration on the writing front.

One of my closest friends Oscar gives me a copy of Alan Moore’s seminal work, Watchmen, and this writer’s mind is blown. An awesome friend, Patrick, loans me his entire of collection of Preacher to read, and I devour the books in the span of a weekend.

 

 

 

A man of many talents.

A man of many talents.

One Saturday afternoon I get a package from my Dad in Atlanta, and was introduced to the mind-blowing universe of Milestone Media, and another writing inspiration, Dwayne McDuffie.

My mom picks up a copy of “The Amazing Spiderman” from the drugstore (remember those days folks?), and my world is forever rocked by the exploits of a certain web slinger who often had problems paying the rent on time.

 

 

 

 

 

I meet up with the folks of Terminus Media, who teach me the ins and outs of writing/ creating comics, and I’m now a published comic book writer.

A little comic I created.

A little comic I created.

Through the instruction, and direction of my editor/ brother from another mother, Dennis, I got a firsthand instruction on what it took to be a successful freelance journalist.

Heck, the often maligned Wizard Magazine got me pushed in the right direction of another writing inspiration, Greg Rucka.

Tara Chace. Her Majesty's Bad Ass.

Tara Chace. Her Majesty’s Bad Ass.

So if you get the gumption, take a chance, and follow the direction of those folks willing to offer a helping or a guiding hand. Makes things fun, heck even easy in some cases.

I’m still doing it, and think I’m all the better for it.

If you don’t you might find yourself stuck in endless rows of corn.

 

Holiday? What holiday?

Skelsanta

 

 

So here we are. It’s the ass end of the holiday season, and 2014 will be here any minute. For many of us this means a return to the long, slow slog between January 2nd and…oh, I don’t know…Memorial Day. It tends to be a brutal time, these next five months. It’ll be cold. It’ll be wet. It’ll be vacation-free. It may even suck.

I’m looking forward to it.

With the end of the all-consuming crush of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and all the volcanic activity in-between, my fingertips will be back on the move. I’ve no fewer than three big writing projects slated for completion in  2014. Here’s the rundown on each one:

1. Dark Moon Daughter – Book II of the Tyrants of the Dead Trilogy

Yes, it’s true. I finished the first draft of DMD eight years ago. But now, much like an alluring ex-girlfriend, I’m coming back to it. You see, originally Down the Dark Path (Book I) was meant to be a solo work. No sequels, no prequels, just a lonely epic lying on the edge of the night. But shortly after I finished DDP, I realized I’d only just begun. I’d only lightly grazed Andelusia, Garrett, Rellen, and the Ur. I needed to drill deep into the minds of my protagonists, and deeper still into the topics I thrive in: heartbreak, sacrifice, betrayal, and death. Dark Moon Daughter takes a much different perspective than DDP. It’s the meat on the marrow, the flank steak on the beast. I’m nearly done editing the final draft. After a few test reads, it’ll hit the market, and I’ll be happier for it. My deadline is March 21st. The pressure is on, and I love it.

2. Hollow Empire – Season One – Night of Knives (co-authored with John R McGuire)

I haven’t talked much about Hollow Empire. Don’t take it for disinterest. I love writing it so much, I’m a little sad to have finished my portion of the first draft. I’m writing the characters Nadya Veraltz and Murgul has-no-last-name, and I’ve fallen quite in love with both of them. What’s it about? Well…Hollow Empire is a post-apocalypic dark ages drama. It’s an, ‘Imagine if the apocalypse happened in a medieval setting‘ concept. A horrific event has torn the nation of Vhur to tatters, leaving Nadya, Murgul, and John R McGuire’s characters to pick up the pieces and survive. We’re releasing it in six separate episodes, each available in e-book form. At the end of the e-run, we’ll release the entire saga in softcover form. If all goes well, we’ll move on to Season Two and beyond. I’m thrilled to be a part of Hollow Empire. The episodic format and dystopian setting are both new for me, and as it turns out, I’m loving it. Cue McDonald’s music.

3. Darkness Between the Stars – Prequel to the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy

I could’ve put a number of projects here in this third spot, but Darkness Between the Stars is  the one I’m most looking forward to. After making sweet, sweet love to the original trilogy for the last twelve years, I realized I didn’t want to let it go. There’s still more to tell, and I’m a sucker for origin stories. More importantly, I’m a sucker for origin stories that focus on the antagonists. I love the bad guys, if you’ve yet to figure out. I’m still in first draft mode for Darkness Between the Stars. In writing it, I’m taking a completely different approach than all my other works. The entire thing (either one or two books) I’m writing in first-person perspective. One character, one voice, one path to the world’s bottom. Readers will witness the antagonists (yes, the Ur) work their evils from a singular point of view. I believe there’s beauty in sticking inside one character’s state of mind. I think you’ll find the same.

So stick with me, Tessera soldiers. I’ll still keep blogging my usual odds and ends, but I’ll spruce it up with excerpts, updates, new art, and all kinds of sexy links to keep you busy.

Oh, and pretty please clickity click on our subscribe link on the Home page.

Thank you, y vaya con diablo,

J Edward Neill

 

 

It’s A Christmas Miracle!

As I was preparing to hang out with family on Christmas day I have been a little (read: a lot!) distracted by my smart phone. As it rested in my pocket or on the console of our car or where ever I was throughout the day, I found myself fishing for it and checking my email. First for the news for this:

 

The Dark That Follows_Ebook

 

That the cover was ready. I had formatted the novel over the last week, pushing myself to finish what ended up being (and what Chad told me) about 8 hours. Just prior to that the last of the edits came in, so I put all other projects on hold and got the book ready.

Which leads me to today (or actually Christmas Eve as I write this) and waiting for that cover to be ready. And then uploading it… I called my wife over to the computer so that she could click the Publish button with me (she actually clicked it faster than I could).

And then more waiting. Is it live yet? Check? Nope, no email. Thirty minutes later check again. Nope.

Around 8 I checked Amazon.com to just see if I could find it.

Sure enough, there it was (the email appeared shortly thereafter).

I’ve heard the saying that writers don’t actually like writing as much as they like finishing. I’m not 100% on that one. The act of putting words on the screen is very much a huge part of what I like to do. Those words may not always be the best ones or even the ones that last the longest, but they offer me the escape into those other worlds. I love the writing.

Now, after 3 and a half years of typing the first few lines of The Dark That Follows… after various drafts… after Beta reader comments… after hiring an editor and going through things one more time… staying up until 2 in the morning many nights in a row and then finding my way into work the next day…

I’m releasing this into the world. And it feels pretty good. I’m beginning to understand why a saying like the above could come into being.

So I may take a couple of days to bask in this one. To allow myself a moment to reflect on it all.

At least until January 2nd… then its on to the next project!

John

PS – The Dark That Follows is available on Amazon.com as an ebook (the print version is forthcoming). Hope everyone has a grand Christmas!

My Muse

Today is my wife’s birthday.

Courtney puts up with a fair amount from me. She has endured the loss of an entire closet to a boatload of comic long boxes. But it doesn’t end there. Comic books are normally lying all over the house, and she just takes it in stride… though her favorite line may be “do you need to go buy another long box to put these comics in?” (meaning, maybe these need to go upstairs in the comic room).

longboxes

Now, we’ve been together since high school, so she did not enter into this situation unaware. MAYBE she didn’t quite understand the extent of how many comics I had or how deep my love is for the format, but she had a preexisting knowledge of some aspect of it.

Over the years I even managed to get her to read a Bone comic. She has a Superman t-shirt and a Wonder Woman t-shirt.

She journeys to all the latest comic related movies. She knows not only who Mary Jane Watson is, but knows that her husband hasn’t read a Spiderman comic since their marriage was done away with (even if she doesn’t know how that bit of strangeness happened in the first place).

avengers-movie-poster-1

I try to take her to this type of movie…

 

batman_and_robin_movie_001

Not this type of Superhero movie!

But that’s not all. I’m not sure she knows this (I don’t know that I’ve said it to her), but she’s my Muse.

She’s the person that has to endure my random story-ideas as we are driving around, running errands, or perhaps even worse for her, when we have a longer trip planned. I can only imagine what she thinks of some of the things which roll past my lips. Yet, somehow, someway, she not only spares my feelings when perhaps the idea is not one of the better ones, but she helps to flesh out some aspects of these tales. There has been many a time where my side of the conversation began with:

“So I have this idea about a guy who does this X thing… and that’s all I have really.”

She takes this in stride and knows to ask questions that may or may not prompt me into some kind of discovery.

This is how The Dark That Follows came to be. I literally had the barest spark of an idea for a story (I didn’t know what it would be or the length even): What if a fortune teller could actually see the future? And then what if he came across a person who no longer had any kind of future? What then?

That’s all I had, just the barest of a thought. She was the one who encouraged me to begin writing that book. And then she assumed her next role… that of my Alpha reader.

Through this entire adventure through my writing those first couple of short comic stories for the Terminus anthologies to my first novel (extremely soon to be released), she has been the rock that not only supports my dreams, but shares in them. I’m in the final phase of editing/formatting The Dark That Follows, and I think she is happier about it than I am (that’s not to say I’m not happy, but it is mixed with a sense of relief that I can finally release this thing I’ve worked on for the last 3 years into the world). She’s bouncing up and down thinking about various ways of letting people know, her hand on the trigger to call all the friends and relatives as soon as the book goes live on Amazon.

And that feeling, knowing that she is proud of the work I’ve done, proud of OUR accomplishment in all of this, is better than the finishing of the book. Because this book is as much hers as it is mine. Without her constant support, I’m not sure I would have gotten this far… perhaps video games or some other shiny object might have occupied my attention.

In the new year, I want to repay her for a little of this support by writing the book she’s been wanting me to write for about a year and a half (currently titled The Edge of the World). Again, I hit her up with a bare-bones idea, but she latched onto it. I keep teasing her with it, telling her that it is next on the docket as soon as I get some free time, as soon as the writing schedule frees up. And in January I should have a little time, maybe a bit more in February, so I’m putting it out there in writing for all to see. It’s not quite wrapped in birthday paper, but it will be my gift to her.

And who knows, maybe a year from now I’ll be talking about publishing that one.

birthday

Happy Birthday, Courtney McGuire!

Thank you for everything you do… I literally couldn’t do it without you.

Under the Covers

It’s a cold, blustery day in North Georgia, but I’m fine with it. I’ve got something to be excited about.

This:

SoulOrbCoverPaperback

 Yep. For the holidays, I commissioned an alternate cover for Down the Dark Path. Our own Amanda Makepeace painted it. I feel it’s a sharp piece, perhaps grimmer than the previous cover, but closer to my own heart. The image is of the Soul Orb, the world-killing artifact appearing in the second half of the novel. This new version of the book is available for Kindles here:  DownTheDarkPath   The alternate-art softcover version will be available by Dec 22nd. Please check it out, read it, enjoy it, and review it. You’d be my hero.

Ok, so we’re done with that little sales pitch. Let’s move on. Reloading with the new art gives me a chance to talk about the book, and how I came to write it.

It all began during a bitterly cold winter night more than a decade ago. I’d long had the tale of Down the Dark Path locked away in the corner of my mind. Back then I called it Tyrants of the Dead, the title which would eventually become the name of the entire trilogy. That night, alone in my office, I sat down at my keyboard and wrote the prologue. I initially wrote it in first-person perspective, a comfortable mode for me, but ultimately I changed it to common third-person prose. This is gonna be a long, long book, I knew even then. First-person won’t quite cut it, imagery-wise.

And so, for the next six years, I hammered away. I knew where the story was going all along, but I’d yet to flesh out the dialogue, the side characters, the small settings, city names, and all the little intricacies that make a book a place you’d like to call home rather than just a pile of words. Six years. Yes, seriously. I wrote at night, during lunch at work, in the mornings before I went to work, and half of every weekend (whenever I wasn’t playing football, watching movies, or reading.) I was obsessed. I’m pretty sure I wrecked a few friendships and dug a shallow grave for my marriage along the way, but hey, I was writing, and that’s what made (makes) me happy.

And then, when I was finished, I rewrote it. The entire thing. I took 400,000 words and pared them down to 280,000. I killed off characters who previously survived, burned villages that’d somehow gone untouched, and turned what had once been a reasonably sunny fantasy novel into a work of fiction rife with shadows. This agonizing (but rewarding) process consumed another two years. I say consumed in a very literal fashion. The book ate up my life, chewed it up, and made entire swaths of time go away.

When I was done, I wrote two more books: Dark Moon Daughter and Nether Kingdom. I should’ve been searching for a publisher, an agent, or at least a print-on-demand service, but I preferred to write, write, and write. I turned the small stories locked away in my mind into a million-word trilogy, and later chopped it down to about 700,000 words. Dark Moon Daughter suffered a half-dozen title changes, but Nether Kingdom was always Nether Kingdom, by far the grimmest thing I’ve ever put to paper. The longer I wrote, the darker the subject matter turned. I touched on murder, betrayal, war, shattered hearts, suffering, and sacrifice. I went through all the emotions my characters did. I sketched out their clothes, their weapons, and I drew scores of maps detailing their travails. Told you I was obsessed.

Since the whole thing began, I’ve been asked a thousand times, “So what’s the trilogy all about?”

Well…  

Down the Dark Path is the story of a world-consuming medieval-era war told from the perspective of six different people. It’s non-high fantasy, meaning no elves, no dwarves, no dragons, through I do sprinkle in quite a bit of black magic. I stray from politics, and focus largely on actions and emotions. Some of the characters, particularly two of the protagonists and one of the villains, consume the lion’s share of the action, but the other three get plenty of screen time. One of the characters, the young woman Andelusia, ended up being my favorite. (Who knew I liked writing women so much? Not I.) In Dark Moon Daughter, I cut the main character roster down to four (actually more like 3.5.) One of their stories I tell exclusively via first-person journal entries, so the character is heard from but rarely seen. I thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace, and continued the journal tactic well into Nether Kingdom, the darkest entry in the series and by far my favorite.

Combined, these three titles have consumed nearly twelve years and countless nights in my man-cave. It’s been one hell of a ride, and now that I’ve committed to a prequel, it seems the end isn’t quite at hand. I’m currently in the final stages of publishing the second two books, and I’m thrilled. Commercial success isn’t really the aim. It’s a labor of love. To all writers everywhere, I suggest a similar outlook. Love the words first. Let all other considerations be secondary. I’m convinced finishing a book or sometimes even a chapter is like an orgasm, except it lasts longer and there’s less cleanup (sometimes.)

And finally, throughout the years I’ve posted tons of images online for the series. Here are my favorites:

Dead trees (2)

A pencil sketch I did a while back. It’s supposed to be the dread fortress Malog as viewed from a distance. Thank goodness I hired professionals to clean up my mess.

Very Dark Buildings

The dark city of Illyoc, hub of Furyon commerce. It’s here our heroes must venture to reach Malog. Art by Eileen Herron.

Furyon Orig

Eileen Herron’s first image of a Furyon knight standing beneath the Emperor’s storm. His armor is Dageni steel, and is nigh indestructible.

Soul Orb Small Image

Amanda Makepeace’s first imagining of the Soul Orb. Notice the subtle runes on the Orb. The language of the Ur becomes a focus of the second two novels in the series.

Ande Best Cover 600x800 for Kindle

Eileen Herron’s original cover. I have the painting in my man-cave. That’s Garrett Croft riding with the blue-flamed sword. The Soul Orb looks angrier here, its thorns reaching to claim Andelusia.

Dark Moon Daughter – Due out early 2014

Nether Kingdom – Due out late 2014

Until next time…

J Edward Neill

 

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Self-promotion

Psionic Dreams by Amanda MakepeaceSelf-promotion. The necessary evil we do battle with each day. If you sell a product, no matter what product, you walk this tightrope. It’s not as simple as shouting, buy my stuff, from my the highest peak. Self-promotion is hard work and it involves a ton of patience. It’s not always fun and you don’t always see results. I personally dislike the feeling of forcing my art on people. Each time I share something on Twitter I wonder, am I annoying folks? Is anyone even looking at my art? But then I start to pay attention to my statistics. Days I don’t share and talk about my art my views go down. Days I do… You get the point.

What might be the most difficult part about self-promotion for me, is the act of sharing things not about my art, but myself. I’m a quiet person. Not as quiet as I once was in my younger days, but my fellow Tessera Guild members will tell you–I’m quiet. I’m a thinker, and sometimes a loner. I don’t often say something unless it’s worth saying 100%. Ironically, this is key to self-promotion via social media networks. Key.

When you interact with your fans you’re also building trust. Building trust will make your product look far more appealing than someone elses they don’t feel they know. Last year I wrote a blog post about building trust with online buyers after reading an excellent article at EmptyEasel.com. EmptyEasel is geared toward visual artists, but these five rules will apply to authors, musicians and anyone else selling something online.

1. Don’t Make it About “You”

“It’s about the community. People aren’t going to follow you if all you do is try to sell them stuff and promote yourself. Become a trusted resource, instead of a salesperson.”

2. Be sociable

“…the next time you think about listing one of your art pieces, take the time to figure out how you can present that piece in a more social manner.”

3. Show the real you

“Use a photo of yourself for your profile image, not a photo of your art, or company logo. People want to connect with people, not products or businesses.”

4. Respond to your fans

“When you respond to your fans (or customers)…have a conversation with them.”

5. Be consistent

“From how you portray your company across various social networks, to how often you post…”

The Price of Magic by Amanda MakepeaceI’ll be honest. There are days I don’t feel like socializing at all. I don’t beat myself up about that. Tomorrow is a new day and we all have off days. But when I am online I try to follow these rules and above all I try to have fun. I’ve met so many wonderful people since I joined Twitter/Facebook/deviantART and the various other sites you can find me. Some I even consider more than just acquaintances. They’ve become friends who support my creative vision and that’s invaluable.

To show my appreciation here’s a coupon code for my Etsy shop, Makepeace Studios, good for 30% off!!! Use the code DIEHARDFAN when you spend a minimum of $15.00. The coupon code is only good till December 13th.

Who in the Hell…?

Blank

Ask anyone who knows. If they’re so inclined, they’ll probably tell you a few things about me. Maybe. Maybe not. What are some things they might say? Well…they’ll tell you I’m about 6′ 1″, that I have cropped blonde hair, a short and bristly beard, and a general problem with authority. They’ll know I’m athletic, extremely competitive, sometimes humble, and just as often arrogant. They might even tell you about my perfectionist nature, my need to keep everything in its place, how I’m comfortable in large groups of people, but generally unreachable in intimate settings.

What else will they know? Very little, I think. It’s hard for people to know a man (or a woman) who spends so much time walling the world out. What won’t they know? Well…they’ll probably have no idea about the strained relationship I have with my parents. They’d probably tell you my gregarious facade is genuine, that I make friends very easily, that I’ve a good work ethic, but am certainly not obsessive. They might even believe I’m not half as haunted as I claim, that I’m a womanizer, and that all I think about is winning, women, and proving myself in the world.

They’d be wrong, to be sure.

I keep my secrets close…very close. For instance, I doubt anyone in the world save the very best of my friends knows that I’ve only once been in love. The poor girl, no matter how long I’ve known her, doesn’t know as much, but I was dumbstruck with love the first time I saw her, and have been ever since. My best friend, bless his heart, doesn’t really know he’s my only friend, and that everyone else is too far removed by time and distance. More importantly, for all the passion and perfectionism I pour into my work, my duties, and the games I play, I really don’t love those things. I love family. I love my woman. For all my blustering, all I really want is her and my family. I think about it so often my heart threatens to implode, for I so seldom have what I want. I’m too long at my work, too many leagues removed, and too obsessed with being perfect. I’ve been known to sit in the dark and sharpen one of the many swords in my collection, all the while wishing I were sitting at a table, surrounded by all those I whom I love. It’s all I want. I swear it.

 * * *

You won’t know me at all, not the real me. Maybe I’ll help you out and tell a little bit. I’m from a small town in the middle of nothing and nowhere; population: 355. Growing up, I only lived with one parent. I had only one real friend in my youth, a relationship I’ll always miss. My first work was as a bartender, which I was entirely too young to be doing. My customers spent most of their time trying to bed me, and the rest being drunk…and offensive. What did they see in me? I’m not really sure. To this day, I’m still as skinny as a whip, pale as the moon, and so very lost in a permanent state of daydreaming.

Coherent thoughts are rare for me. Honestly, coherant anything is. Since leaving home, I’ve lived in more places than I can recall. Would you believe I once lived in a mansion? It’s true. The place was huge (and full of soldiers preparing for a war!) I once spent a week living in the woods…during the wet season…with only two changes of clothes. It was amazing. And then, after my week in the woods, I lived in the oldest building in the oldest town in the entire country. For a daydreamer like me, it was heaven, though only for a while.

Because you see, in-between all my daydreams, I think extremely dark things. It happens especially at night or during cold, cloudy days. I can’t help it. I imagine there’s something very wrong with me, and yet it’s not as though I can run and tell everyone. Not these things. Never. Whenever I’m alone (often) I wonder when and how I’ll die. Will I be a ghost after I’m dead? I ask myself. Will I wander the world forever? Will the clouds come down and drown me? If I slip beneath the water at night, will I ever want to come up? Am I already dead? Is all of this just a dream?

It’s not that I’m suicidal. I’m not. It’s just that I’m…complicated. I’d apologize for it, but tomorrow I’ll still be the same.

* * *

I won’t apologize for who I am. The word ‘sorry‘ isn’t in my vocabulary. But it’s true; I’ve done many things in my life I’m not proud of. Growing up in my world was never easy. I was a son, a father, a brother, but I also played hundreds of roles far less noble. I’m not a braggart. In fact, I rarely talk at all. For all my failures and successes, no one in the world knows my feelings about any of them. The truth is; I’ve been in more fights than I’ll ever admit. I’ve hurt too many people, good and bad. I never enjoyed it, not once. But I did it, and it’s a part of who I am. This life has precious little room for weakness, and none for cowards. I sound judgemental. I sound harsh. I sound hard. I’m none of these things. I’m as human as the rest of you, only not.

Some people are jacks of many trades. They’re good at conversation, at cooking, dancing, living, and loving. Not I. The reality is I’m only good at one thing, and I can’t tell you what it is. I’d rather you never know. It’s as I said; I’m not a boastful man, but save for one or two others in the world, I’m the best at this one thing. I’m focused. I learn. I set all hope of happiness aside just to excel. Everything that has ever happened in the world was a learning experience for someone. But things don’t happen to me. Things happen because of me, and few of them good. That’s the nature of my talent. I can’t say much more about it.

The strangest thing about me, and the thing some will say defines me, is that I never ask questions. Never. Not ever. I can’t bring myself to do it. The words ‘how, why, who, what, and where’ are foreign to me. I learn nothing from asking questions of people. I learn everything by watching them. People are creatures of habit. Watch them enough, and their habits will become clear. This is true of their moods, the way they work, they ways they argue, laugh, listen, and love. But more than anything, it’s true of the way they fight. And that’s all that should matter to me. I want to be a lover, a father, a soulful celebrant of this beautiful world we live in. I do. I swear it. But I’m not any of these things. I’m only here to do what I’m good at, nothing more.

And that, my friends, seems a shame.

* * *

You won’t believe me. Why should you? By now you’ve heard about me. You’ve seen what I’m capable of. And if you haven’t, you will soon enough.

It’s true, all of what they’ll tell you. I’ve gotten away with murder. Again and again and again. Truth be told, I can’t name or remember a single soul I’ve killed. Why should I? They’re dead. Their part in this world has ended. Mine has just begun.

I’m exactly as they describe me. I’m 6’2″, 200lbs. I’ve hair black as a raven’s feathers and skin as ashen as curdled milk. At least, I think I do. I’m not much for mirrors. I’m not handsome. I’m not noble, wise, or capable of normal relationships. My father lives like a king some five-hundred miles away. My mother is…well…who knows where she is? Meanwhile, here I am, as alone as any soul in the world. So to hell with it. If I’m going to be a part of this miserable, wretched world, I’m going to take a large chunk of it with me…into the abyss.

In the end, it won’t matter. I’ll be just as dead as all the thousands I’ve laid in the grave. All the fires I’ll set will eventually go out. The world, if it’s lucky, will go back to the way it was before I set foot in this damnable country. Or maybe not. Maybe all the hard work I’m doing will change everything. Maybe all the wars will end forever. And that’s ultimately why I’m doing this. I’m tired. I weary of it all. The human wheel of war, peace, and war needs its cogs shattered. If, by the sheer stench of the fires I light, the cycle should snap, my bones will smile in my coffin. If it takes a few million dead to accomplish it, I’m fine with that. It’s my happiness that matters, and no one else’s.

* * *

Ok, the jig is up. None of these truths are mine. None of these stories belong to me. Had you going for a moment there, didn’t I? Forgive me. Each one of these is a profile for a primary character in Down the Dark Path. The only question is; which belongs to who?

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

 

Chad’s Theory of 10%

a good muffin

I apologize in advance for the brevity of this post. Sometimes the words flow out of you, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you can’t stop writing; sometimes you can’t start. In this case, sometimes you have too much to write and your weekly blog post gets shuffled to the bottom of the pile.

I am currently adapting two works into other mediums: a novel called Proxy into a treatment for a motion picture screenplay and a motion picture screenplay called Dakota Skye into the first of a series of novels.

I wrote both of those things. So that means I’m adapting myself.

And it ain’t easy.

Partially because I’ve told both of these stories before and it’s hard to get up to tell them again.

But mostly because I’m struggling to find the magic 10%. What the hell does that mean? you ask. I’ll explain.

Novels have been adapted into films since the beginning of cinema. Modern readers are often disappointed with the adaptations of their favorite books: “why did they cut that?” “she wouldn’t say that!” “where is Tom Bombadil?” “that’s not how it ends!” “what are you Hollywood morons doing to my favorite thing?!?”.

Understandable thoughts, I think. I’ve had those reactions myself. Understandable, but quite unreasonable.

You see, the major narrative mediums: fiction, drama, television, film, web series, operas, comics, and, to an extent, video games, are 90% the same. The tenants of storytelling apply across the board. Structure, pacing, conflict, character, tone. Storytelling hasn’t changed much since the days of bards and minstrels.

So, if all these mediums are so similar, if storytelling is so uniform, then what makes them different? It’s that missing 10%. That 10% (obviously just an arbitrary symbolic ratio) to me is what makes each art form its own. Every single one of those storytelling vehicles I listed above have something that the others can’t do. A great book, movie, or play takes advantage of what it does better than its peers.

I believe that you should create your work with only one medium in mind. You shouldn’t write your novel thinking about how it would make a good movie. Don’t make your comic book with visions of a video game in your head. Because that thinking limits you to that 90% and keeps you from realizing the full potential of what you’re writing. To me, that’s where you get boring books, paint-by-numbers films, and mediocre television.

I had an incident two years ago that illustrates this. I had an idea for a web series. A friend of mine has a character, an alter ego you would say, that he has created, and we were always looking for something to do with it/him. So I hit on an idea that I thought would work as a web show. I took into consideration the limitations of the form (and our wallets), but also what I thought could make it unique and interesting and funny by working within those confines. By making something that only made sense as a web series, that catered to the viewing habits of internet watchers, that made it unique.

We both loved the idea, but we thought maybe we needed to bring in a few other people to help, because we probably would need a little money. We met with an couple guys that were looking to get into producing web series. We started talking about the show; they had read the pitch already. We all thought it was a good, funny idea.

But then things went south. They started to talk about ‘opening it up’. Taking the character ‘out into the world’. Varying up the types of episodes. Making it less specific, trying to reach a broader audience. It dawned on me what they really wanted to make:

They wanted to make a mini-sitcom.

Which is a terrible fucking idea.

But what they were looking at this web series as was a means to a bigger end and to me, it was the end. They wanted to make something that could then be picked up as a regular television show if successful. So they wanted to apply many of the (outdated) rules of TV to it.

But this idea of mine, it would have been an awful, unsustainable television show.

But a great web series.

I ended up scrapping the whole thing because these guys didn’t understand new media. Had no idea. I would mention very successful web series like ‘The Guild’ and get blank stares. They had never seen a web series. They wanted to make short-form TV pilots.

They wanted to make a show that covered the 90% and ignored the 10% that would make it special. And in my experience, if you write something in one medium with another medium being your goal, you are going to create something that falls short of both.

The same thing happened when I was working on a comic book with a creator/artist who could not shut up about how much money he could make with the toys and movie rights. I kind of wish he had spent less time dreaming about being Todd MacFarlane and more time actually making the fucking comic because it’s been several years since my departure from it and the book has yet to see the light of day.

When I wrote the screenplay for Dakota Skye, I only ever thought of it as a film. Even though it’s talky, I still tried to think visually, using the language of cinema to tell the story. Film stories are flimsy things; there is not a lot of depth to them based on the limitations of running time. You have to do things, like create a love story, in brief and broad strokes. Luckily, a single image can convey what a novelist would need 5000 words to evoke. The image is at least 75% of film’s 10%.

(Getting tired of the arbitrary percentages yet? Sorry. There will be more.)

So now I’m sitting down to turn this screenplay into a novel and whoa boy. I learned on Proxy that a book requires many more words than a screenplay (a script page is mostly blank space). A lot more writing. Adapting Dakota Skye is reinforcing that bit of knowledge with a vengeance. I sat down to write the first chapter, based on the first couple scenes of the script, and just wrote what was in the script. Didn’t add any dialogue, just included very simple descriptions of what was happening and didn’t go too far into the characters’ thoughts. I did a very faithful version of the scenes that people know from the movie and script.

When I was done I had about a page and a half.

So what I’m doing now while I’m writing the book is searching for that 10%. I’ve taken away the things that make the movie a movie: the ability to convey information with imagery alone, characters coming to life through the use of actors, the ability to augment pace and emotion with things like editing and music. So, what do I replace those things with to make Dakota Skye: The Novel into an actual novel in the way Dakota Skye: The Movie was a movie?

It hasn’t been easy, but it mostly involves adding a fuck-ton more words.

At the same time, a few producers have expressed interest in considering thinking about the idea of my novel Proxy as a film. Before they can even see that, though, they need a treatment (a short prose description of the film, usually written before the screenplay) and eventually a script. So I’ve been working on that at the same time as the new novel and am facing the same challenge: the 10%.

In the case of going from the novel to the screen, the specialness you’re losing is the depth. The ability to dive into a character’s mind, to go off of tangents that may or may not enhance the narrative, to take characters on long, complex journeys step-by-step without having to use shorthand, to build robust worlds for your characters to inhabit.

The main thing you lose is the characters’ internal lives, especially with a first-person novel like Proxy. In a film, you can’t describe what a character is thinking: you need to show it. You can’t meander in and out of the world you’ve created: there’s no time. A characters thoughts, emotions, beliefs, motives, they all have to be on the screen. Sure, you can use voice-over (I did in Dakota Skye) but that’s very easy to do wrong and even when it’s done right (like in Dakota Skye) you have to use it sparingly.

No, film truly is ‘show don’t tell’.

So now I have to take this book I wrote, this book that was the center of my world for over a year, strip it down, simplify it, find ways to convey complex information in broad strokes, get rid of the asides and deviations, and mostly ignore the world I’ve built, and in addition serve certain non-diegetic concerns such as commercial viability, budget, and casting.

What do I get in return for these sacrifices? I get the things I’m having to lose from Dakota Skye. The image. The edit. The visceral experience that a book cannot provide. Do you know what will be better in a film version of Proxy than in the book? Fights. Chases. Sex. Things that you can do fine on paper but that movies excel at. Finding the ways you can take what you’ve done and make them visual filmic is difficult and rewarding. Sometimes you add things; sometimes things have to go.

So remember that the next time you see some stupid filmmaker fuck up your favorite book. A book is not a movie; a movie is not a book. That 10% is 100% the difference.

Taking a book and making a word-for-word film version would not just make a thirty-hour movie, it would be impossible.

Taking a screenplay and making a word-for-word novel version would not just leave you with a 45-page book, it would be impossible.

So, anyway. that’s where I am now. This crisscross of adaptation. I’m not going to lie and say it isn’t difficult, but I am determined to find each project’s special 10% that will help it make the transition properly.

This was going to be a blog post about how I didn’t have time to write a blog post. I ended up writing one anyway. I’m a big fat liar like that. There’s at least a 62% chance that I’ll have something substantial next week as opposed to this unorganized rant about how busy I am and my 10% philosophy, one of my many annoying and I’m sure incorrect ideas about writing and art (I’m sure I’ll inflict more of those on you at another point).

Anyway. Gotta go. My other projects are calling me.

Now, should I work on the adaptation…

or the adaptation?

My Curious Case of Fiction Fatigue

writing

I don’t think I’m writing enough about…well…writing on here so here’s a writing post.

Creating fiction is new to me. Well, it’s old, if you count high school and college, but as a serious career path, I just decided to try my hand at it last year. I’d spent a dozen years writing screenplays, which couldn’t be farther in process and structure than a novel. Writing Proxy was a difficult task, one that took longer than it would have a more seasoned writer of prose. I learned a lot, including the fact that my skills were rusty as hell. That you have to get into another mindset; screenwriting is all about showing, not telling, but writing prose, you have to do a lot of telling. Plus, man, there are so many more words in a book than there are in a screenplay.

All of these things I expected, but there has been one side effect from my foray into writing novels that I did not anticipate:

I haven’t finished reading a book in over a year.

I love reading. Not a surprise for a writer, I guess, but I do know several writers, especially screenwriters, who don’t read books. I love movies, television, comics, music, and pretty much every other artistic medium. What makes reading different for me is the quiet. The peace. The zen-like trance a good book can put you into, where all that exists is you and the words.

Few things thrill me more than an expertly crafted sentence. As much as I respect story, what I truly read fiction for is the prose. I love words and love seeing them used in sharp, innovative, and insightful ways. The way Ernest Hemmingway strung words together turns me on more than you want to imagine.

Hardback, paperback, Kindle, doesn’t matter. I don’t care about the delivery system; I care about the words.

I also have a particular reading cycle. First I start with:

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1) A work of ‘literature’. Either a classic novel or a modern piece of serious fiction. I like novels that are challenging, like Faulkner, or epic, like Victor Hugo, or funny, like Vonnegut, or something new and awe-inspiring, like the work of the late Roberto Bolaño. I don’t mind heavy or difficult (although I admit I haven’t been able to crack Proust yet). I want something that is either going to fill in a gap in my literary knowledge or something that will enhance me as a person and an artist. A tall order, I guess.

Then, I move on to…

download (1)2) A history, biography, or other type of non-fiction book. I am a big history nut and find reading about it both enjoyable and relaxing. I usually read a lot about a particular subject in a spree; right now I’m reading mostly stuff about ancient Rome and Greece (which I do believe is a required phase for white men of a certain age). I also enjoy biographies, especially about presidents, but I’m getting ready to start Peter Guralnick’s two volume study of Elvis Presley. The best book I’ve read in the last decade, other than some literary classics, has been Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, which I guess is in the category of narrative non-fiction. His books, as well as those of Jon Krakauer, are great reads for people who find regular history too dry. I love reading about real people, real events, the past. Because how else do we learn but by looking back?

After feeding my brain with culture and then knowledge, I quickly pick up something…

 

172621733) Genre. Most would call this category “guilty pleasures” but I don’t believe in that. But this is the slot I use to cleanse my palate and read something of no consequence. Pure enjoyment. When I say I’m a Star Wars fan, I don’t mean I like the first three movies and have a couple toys. I mean that I’ve read every novel, comic, role-playing book, encyclopedia that there is in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. I have Wookieepedia bookmarked in Chrome. I know more about the in-world history of Star Wars than most people know about their own country’s.

So, usually this spot is reserved for whatever the latest Star Wars novel is. And, I’ll be honest, most of them aren’t good. But I read them. And enjoy them. Because it’s a place I like to visit, this galaxy far away, and this step in my reading cycle is for sheer escapism and entertainment.

When there’s not a new Star Wars novel sitting on my Kindle, I read other genre things. Some good, some bad. High fantasy. Science fiction. Old hard-boiled mysteries. Robert E. Howard. Jim Thompson. Edgar Burroughs. Brandon Sanderson. Dan Simmons. Raymond Chandler. All the men I listed above are good to great writers, but that doesn’t mean I don’t also pick up the occasional ‘Forgotten Realms’ novel, or a book based on a video game. Things where I’m not judging the writing as much as I am just enjoying the story and characters, even if those story and characters aren’t very good.

Then, feeling refreshed, I…

4) Go back to #1.

That’s my reading habit. I don’t always stick to it. I go out of order. Sometimes there are two history books I must read back-to-back; sometimes I’m in the mood for a Star Wars bender. But those are the three types of books that are always in my rotation.

Or, were in my rotation. All this has gone out the window because I went ahead and wrote a book myself.

People often say that in order to learn how to write, you read. In order to learn how to make movies, you watch them. In order to learn how to paint, you study the masters.

And all of that is true, for a while. But I think that at a certain point in your development, you need to embrace who you are and write in your own voice and stop trying to learn from those who came before you. Doesn’t mean you don’t learn. I learn every day. Doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate and enjoy the works of others.

But I no longer watch movies to learn how to make them. I no longer read books to learn how to write them.

Hell, I no longer read books.

I haven’t been able to finish a book in a very long time. I hate it. I don’t want to not read. Like I said, I love to read. It’s one of my favorite things. But I’m just finding it very difficult every since I started my first novel, Proxy, and still, as I write my next one, Dakota Skye. I’ve started dozens, but I never get more than a few chapters into any of them.

Why? I have a few ideas. Firstly, I don’t want to accidently subconsciously swipe something from another author. I would never do it on purpose, but phrases, ideas, even lines of dialogue, stick with you and I find that sometimes you write something very similar without even realizing where it came from. I want my work to be mine, untainted by what others have done, and just don’t want to risk any of their ideas seeping into my brain and coming back out as something I think is original.

ernesthemingwaywritingdeskAlso, I don’t want to compare myself. This happens most often during Phase #3, when I am reading genre books while writing my own. I couldn’t stand to read science fiction while I was writing Proxy. Because I knew I would judge myself against what I was reading, against my “competition”. This doesn’t happen so much in Phase #1, because if you go into a Hemmingway or Faulkner novel trying to see how your writing measures up, you will never write another word. Those guys are so good, those masters, that if you judge your skill by comparing it to theirs, you will probably want to kill yourself. Which would be, by the way, the closest you would get to actually being like Hemmingway.

But when reading other genre stuff, the stuff where maybe the writing isn’t legendary, like the Star Wars books, or even with some very popular stuff like Song of Ice and Fire, I can’t help but ask “am I ask good as this guy?” “If this is publishable, is my book?” Because if I think they are better than me, I will be discouraged, and if I think I am better than them, my ego will inflate and I start believing I am a genius or something and will not work as hard to hone what I’m doing.

I think it’s best to write in a vacuum. To not give a shit about what others in your given medium or genre are doing and just write your story, your book, your script, your way, in your voice.

The last reason why I think I’m not a whole lot anymore can best be described by using a crude and clichéd analogy:

It’s like being a gynecologist.

I stare at words all damn day while I’m working to the point of eye-strain and headaches.

Then I’m supposed to look at more of them for fun in my time off?

Honestly, after a long day of channeling thousands of words from my mind through my fingers to the keys to the computer screen, I sometimes get sick of them. Of words.

And I love words so much.

I’ve almost made my way through Tom Holland’s Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic. History is easier to read right now because I’m not writing history. Next up is a book about Star City, the center of the Soviet space program in the 60s. Then the Elvis books. Non-fiction is the only thing I can even consider reading right now.

You know what I should be reading? I should be finishing books by my fellow Tesserans (?): J. Edward Neill’s Down the Dark Path and the rough draft of John McGuire’s next book, which I am supposed to be giving notes on. And I’m enjoying both, but they’re fiction, and, while technically different genres from what I’m doing, they’re close enough that they are victims of my word fatigue. I will read them, I promise guys. It’s just taking me longer than I thought it would.

You want to know how bad it is? I have, for many years, read every single Star Wars book as soon as it came out, usually finishing them within a week or less. Today, this is what my Star Wars folder on my Kindle looks like, all of them unread:

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2013-11-06 09.34.112013-11-06 09.34.112013-11-06 09.34.11

I just can’t do it. I want to. But I can’t.

This probably isn’t very interesting. It’s more of a plea for help. Do any other writers out there have this problem? Any other artists find themselves incapable of processing others’ work while they’re in the midst of making their own? I’d really like to know that I’m not the only sufferer of this malady.

Tonight I’m going to curl up with my Kindle, cue up Star Wars: Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells, read maybe two pages, get frustrated, flip over to read a chapter of Rubicon, then fall asleep.

I miss reading, but not as much as I love writing. I hope this trade-off is temporary, but if it’s not, I will definitely choose to create instead of consume.

There is a bright spot to this. I know that sometime in the future, there is a cure coming down the pipe for me. Something that will make me read, no matter what I’m working on, read voraciously, like I used to:

350px-Marc_Simonetti_Bran_theironthroneJoff

Help me, George R.R. Martin. You’re my only hope.

Caption Contest – Part 1 of 10,000

Who likes free stuff? I know I do.

Who likes captioning random pictures? Yes. Have some.

For the first contest in my ten-thousand part series, I’m offering a sparkly, brand-spanking-new softcover edition of Down the Dark Path. If you win, I’ll sign the inside cover, box it up, and ship it to your house (on my dime) wrapped in a scrumptious bouquet of potpourri and ancient Mayan bone fragments. Ok, that last part is only partly true. The fragments will probably belong to my neighbors. I prefer to shop locally.

Anyway, the rules are simple. Whoever’s caption of the G-Man sporting his new ink amuses me the most…wins. Add your comment in the comments section of the blog, and I’ll choose a winner. All entries must be submitted by Friday, Nov 15th at Midnight. If you win, I’ll contact you somehow (probably by knocking at your door, a la the dead son in my favorite short story of all time, The Monkey’s Paw) and snag your shipping address. No international requests, please. Unless you’re a publisher. And rich. Or if you’re Ken Jeong.

Here’s the photo. G-Man acquired this ink courtesy of All or Nothing Tattoo after a night of binge drinking and building Thomas the Train puzzles:

GTat

‘Got this one in Afghanistan, 2011. Pretty f’n sweet, huh?’

Enjoy, and good luck.

J Edward Neill

Just Finish It

I’ve gone to plenty of writing panels over the years hoping to discover, like Ponce de Leon looking for the Fountain of Youth, the secret formula to their success. How the heck did they manage to get up there with their book, comic, etc? Most of the time I do learn something, some nugget of truth that makes the trip worthwhile (maybe a technique or some obstacle they managed to overcome). But there really is one thing that separates them from those of us in the room:

You want to be a writer?  Then write, sure, but FINISH the task.

Too much I get caught up in the idea of writing. Make sure that I get my WORDS in for the day, or make sure that the latest chapter gets revised.

w-b-park-finish-it-why-would-i-want-to-finish-it-new-yorker-cartoon

 But at some point you have got to get to “Pencil’s Down”. This is something I have only just now begun to understand, and I am not even close to where I want to be.  I have only scratched the surface of this for myself and constantly have to fight to get there.

There is a difference between “Wanting” to be a writer (nevermind the great) and “Being” a writer.

It is the “Doing”.

In everyday life there are people who WANT to do, be, have something.  How many of them take the time to sit down (or stand up as the case may be) and actually do it?  How many distractions can one person have before their WANT simply becomes their DREAM and then later their REGRET.

Dreams Road Sign

 

This is the mantra I have to keep telling myself over and over. When I get tired or don’t want to sit down at the computer, I repeat it.

It seems so simple. It seems like one of those things that you read and say “Of course. What else would you think you needed to do?”

Even knowing it isn’t enough. It’s never that easy. How many ideas do I currently have sitting on my computer or flash drive that are waiting for me to finish them?  Dozens.  How many are finished?  Not nearly enough (not by a long shot). So why can’t I get there every time? What’s the hold up?

Sometimes it is the FEAR. The FEAR that what I’m writing is not going to be liked. I’m just as worried that by finishing said story or script or novel or whatever that people will read the FINISHED product and not like it and then where did my work get me?  What a waste, right?

ed-dans-ed-wood-de-tim-burton-10967401cmebh_1713

Really? Worst film you ever saw. Well, my next one will be better.

I have to convince myself that it isn’t a waste. That with each word that I write (and rewrite and edit and then even the ones I cut) means I am one inch closer to where I need to be. I get to that million words and beyond.

So that unfinished thing is doing you so much good then?  Sure, you can’t get hurt if you don’t finish it, but I have to say, putting that final word down on the page and knowing that you have actually completed something.  That’s got to be worth something.

Right?

When somebody posts their finished piece of art or script or whatever, they are 1 million times ahead of me with my dozens of unfinished products.  It doesn’t matter how much better of a writer I THINK I am because they have already lapped me 4 or 5 times.

I know plenty of people (I am one of those people some times) that start a project and get bored and then jump to another project, get bored, wash, rinse, repeat.  At the end of a year they have enough stuff that you’d think they’d have a Finished Product, but instead it is spread out over ten different things. Ten different UNFINISHED things. Ugh.

It’s an odd thing that really in the last year I feel like I’ve started to have real successes on the writing side of things, but even those are still not quite finished. Sure, issue #1 of The Gilded Age is complete, but I think I allowed myself about 5 minutes to enjoy that it existed in a tangible format before my brain started spinning on when the next issue would be finished. Same with Tiger Style #1.

The greatest thing about comic books is that it is a collaborative process. You need a writer and an artist and maybe an inker and a colorist and a letterer and an editor before the whole thing is ready and done.

The worst thing about comic books is that it is a collaborative process. And that you need to have those other people because when any one point slips, the whole process comes to a complete halt. I don’t get the artist the next issue’s script, well I guess that is going to delay the book. The inker doesn’t get the pencils by the deadline… now we have another delay. And so on.

It can be maddening. It’s one of the reasons I started writing a novel in the first place. Finally, something that is totally on me and only me to get done.

Only. On. Me.

Gulp.

Yeah, so now who do I get to blame when my next chapter isn’t written yet? Who do I get to blame when that second draft is still waiting to get done?

Oh, that would be me.

Even now as I seemingly crawl through the last bit of editing on my first novel, The Dark That Follows, it doesn’t really exist until it is done. Before that it is just another unfinished project hoping for me to put the time in and get it out the door. The serial I’m working on with J Edward Neill, Hollow Empire, has many chapters completed in various forms (some in needed of editing, some ready for a read through, etc.), but until Episode 6 is complete and edited and out the door it just is another thing “I’m working on”. The next issue of The Gilded Age or Tiger Style or whatever else is coming down the pipeline.

So I repeat my mantra and put my butt in the seat and start typing.

Dark Moon Daughter (An excerpt)

Greetings everyone. The following is an excerpt from the final draft of Dark Moon Daughter, Book II in the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy. The chapter this text appears in is named Dance with the Dead. It has long been of my favorites.

Please enjoy:

Three Skulls

Andelusia awoke when night was at its deepest. The air was cool, the breezes gliding like ghosts over her skin, and the trees still and soundless. The moon, though nearly full, spilled precious little light into the forest, its glow barely bright enough to glaze the topmost limbs with a sorrowful, sallow light. She expected to be blind in the dark, but when she blinked away the last vestiges of sleep she found she could see as though it were early twilight beneath an open, cloudless sky. She did not ask her eyes to do as much. They just do, she thought. They work the way they were always supposed to.

She took a moment to gather herself, brushing the dirt and bone gristle from the front of her pants. Her terror was gone. Her heartbeat was steady and strong. She did not know it yet, but her hair, once the color of rubies and red wine, had turned blacker than pitch during her sleep, while her eyes were the blighted hue of spent charcoal. She was altered beyond her own understanding. I am more alive than ever, she knew. Though not by any natural means.

Her new power pounded through her veins and into her skull, a thousand shadows whispering in her mind. The feeling was fresh to her, too fresh, and at first she felt dizzy with it. When she tried to take a step away from the tree she had slept beneath, she staggered. When she looked to the moon, its light was as blinding as the sun.

After she gathered her feet beneath her and shook the moonlight from her eyes, she stood beside the tree, flexing her fingers and staring into her palms. What can I do with this power? She wondered. So many things.

She shut her eyes and let the night take hold. The world became a murky place, half real and half dream. All sound drained away. After a few breaths under, she opened her eyes and swished the flat of her hand like a dagger through the air. It worked as she knew it would. She felt her skin fade into shadow, rendering her invisible, her body becoming more ghost than woman. I can do this anytime I desire, she knew. If only I had known…

With a flick of her wrist, she snapped her palm above her head. When she did, the moonlight blazing on the nearby limbs vanished. The thickets around her fell into impenetrable darkness, a black darker than any ink, though she could still see through it. I can create night. She smiled. No more broiling beneath the sun. No more light creeping into my bedchamber. The world shall be as black as I dare to ask for.  

And then she tried something else.

The idea slipped like a moonbeam into her mind. She cupped her hands as if to catch water from a fountain, and when she did a dark fume began to broil between her fingers. Hot enough to melt iron and burn bone into ash, the black flame smoldered and smoked, and yet she was unscathed. The ebon tongues of fire felt as mutable as clay in her grasp, and more dangerous than any substance in the world. It danced wildly on the tips of her fingers, threatening to leap into the trees until she closed her fist around it, snuffing it out.

When the black fire fled, she quaked and stared wide-eyed at her fingers. What was that? She felt stunned it had not slain her. The voices. I remember what they said. ‘The weapon,’ they whispered. One touch can kill a person. Much more can kill thousands.   

She had no more time for experimentation, she knew. She did not understand why her magicks had chosen this moment to awaken, but it does not matter. This night has been long in coming. I have what I need to defeat the Uylen. I must find the Pages.  

She left the ancient tree behind. She became one with the shadows. Like a slip of winter wind, she glided effortlessly between the trees, who dozed like the dead, heedless of her passing. She made no sound where she floated, no crunch of dry leaves or snap of sharp twigs, for she was only a passing shade, a blot of ink, a shiver in the night. She might as well have been a spirit, for no living creature heard her, not the crow whose tree she flew beneath, not the bats, not even the Uylen, several of whom she floated treacherously near to.

The darkness was her playground. She roamed an hour deep into the forest, then two, until she came to another clearing riddled with Uylen totems. Ten skulls hung from a thick strand of human sinew, their empty gazes falling upon her like a morbid audience. She was not afraid. She emerged from the shadows and walked right up to them, clicking several with her finger. Everyone in Thillria will look like this, she imagined, if the Uylen have their way. 

And then she saw them, five Uylen dozing beside the blood-mottled trunk of a nearby tree. The creatures had a campsite, if it could be called as much. She glimpsed their filthy blankets spread across the wet the loam, a pile of dust-covered pillows, and three white jugs filled with a nameless liquid. The Uylen were skeletal, so emaciated that their flesh puckered between their ribs, which were countable even at a distance. Even as she tapped the last of the totem skulls, their eyes, as useless in their heads as river rocks, snapped open. They are aware of me. She froze. They can smell me.

The Uylen creaked and groaned and rose to their feet. The moonlight shined upon their faces, white on white, their skins livid as dead men. She knew she could escape any time she wanted, so she stayed right where she was. They sniffed the air and clicked their daggerlike nails. Watch this. A foolish thought came to her. Standing in the clearing’s heart, she teased them into coming closer with a snap of her fingers and a cluck of her tongue. Their knees popped and their jaws fell open. They came within ten paces, but then halted. They lost me, she laughed inside. They need me to make another noise.

She exhaled, and the Uylen moved three steps closer. My heart. They can hear it beating…

* * *

Dark Moon Daughter – Kindle and Paperback versions to arrive in early 2014 – Prologue and First Chapter currently available on the Tessera Guild Downloads page.

J Edward Neill

More ‘Man’, Less ‘Child’

 

batman-hoodie

Here are some things that I like lots: comic books, Star Wars, the Muppets, Chuck Taylors, video games, porn, Star Wars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, pop culture T-shirts, sports, technology, angsty music, white tube socks and Star Wars.

Here are some things that I actively dislike: neckties, hiking, auto repair, guns, mornings, cheap scotch, fine scotch, neckties, most sitcoms, plumbing, meetings, sushi, yard work, trying to understand my health insurance, keeping track of my finances, and neckties.

I am rapidly coming up on 40 years old.

I state these things up front so that if anything I say after this comes across as hostile, recriminating, or insulting, you know that I’m one of the injured parties. I am of two minds about all of this. So that when I say something like…

My generation needs to grow the fuck up…

…That I’m talking to myself.

There’s nothing shameful about being an adult (I can no longer dodge that title) who likes any of those things that I like. Except maybe the porn. And the last decade of popular entertainment has provided me with plenty of content to satisfy said list: a seemingly endless barrage of superhero films, a good many of them quality, featuring A-List talent, a new Muppet movie made by someone with genuine affection for those little felt pieces of happiness, games like Bioshock: Infinite and The Last of Us that take video games into realms I never would have dreamed while playing Yar’s Revenge and Tempest as a kid, the MLB Network, dark chocolate peanut butter cups, white chocolate peanut butter cups, Big Cup peanut butter cups, mini peanut butter cups, and, the asshole of them all, the Reester Bunny, a sword-and-sorcery adult fantasy television show with mainstream appeal that doesn’t betray its genre roots, and a man winning an Oscar for playing the Joker.

When I was younger, the things I like came in these forms:

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And now, they look like this:

now

It’s been great to be a ‘geek’.

But this recent slate of Summer films as culture in general have got me questioning whether all of this is a good thing. As I write this I’m still angry at Man of Steel, a film that feels like it’s made by a bunch of teenagers trying to be ‘dark’ and ‘edgy’ and ‘adult’. But that’s a rant for another day, another time, another blog post.

I am most familiar with film; it is my first love and the medium in which I am most well versed. So I will use it most heavily to illustrate my point.

Oh, and I’m just talking American film here. To travel to foreign soil would make this already too-long piece way too-fucking-long.

In the 1960’s, the Hollywood studio system collapsed. The result was, in the 1970’s, the greatest decade of film so far in the history of the medium. Not knowing what to do, they threw their doors open and let the first batch of film school graduates and their peers, the ‘film brats’, take over Hollywood. It is commonly said that in the 70’s, they let the lunatics (and they were indeed lunatics. Brilliant, ballsy, genius, visionary lunatics) take over the asylum. This time is known as The Hollywood Renaissance.

The lunatics in question? Scorsese, Coppola, Ashby, Altman, Kubrick, Allen, Malick, Friedkin, Frankenheimer, Lumet, Spielberg, Lucas, Bogdonavich, Cinimo, Pollack, Polanski, De Palma, Penn. Not to mention the numerous producers, cinematographers, and writers behind the scenes. The actors of that generation are among film’s finest: DeNiro, Pacino, Hackman, Keaton, Gould, Hopper, Hoffman, Keitel, Nicholson, Streep, Foster, Burstyn, Sheen, Walken, Duvall, Rowlands, Spacek, and two personal favorites and underappreciated icons: John Cazale and Warren Oates.

taxi-driver-taxi-driver-06-1976-08-02-1976-8-gThese folks found inspiration in every film made before them, from the silents to John Ford westerns to John Cassavetes to, most prominently in some cases, the amazing work being done in France, Italy, and Japan in the post WWII era, and they created a New Hollywood that transcended the starry-eyed golden age of movies and turned the form into a true art. They (for the most part) made serious films about serious things. Uncompromising looks at life the way it really was, not how they wanted it to be. They were the perfect people to come along and create film for the Vietnam generation.

And the fact that they appeared together makes the me the most impressive collection of American revolutionaries since America’s actual revolutionaries.

Their reign lasted 13 years.

pulp_fiction_uma_thurman_jack_rabbit_slimsIn the 1990’s we got a new wave of fascinating moviemakers, inspired by the work of the New Hollywood movement. It seemed a new Renassiance was upon us. Tarantino, Smith, two men named Anderson, Fincher, Linklater, Payne, Rodriquez, Jackson (okay, not American but English language), Russell, Soderbergh, Egoyan (yeah, also not American). The Coen Brothers came into their own. A lot of these men were associated with the independent boom of the 90’s. I would call them the Miramax Generation. They breathed new life into film, pushing past the entertaining but someone stale cinema of the 80’s. They wore their influences on their sleeves. They pushed limits when it came to violence, language, and just what constituted a ‘film’. Some of them reveled in the profane and immature, but they had something to say, most of them, and made great films that stand the test of time. Several are still making great, relevant films, twenty years later. This is the generation that inspired me to become a filmmaker.

Their reign lasted, by my estimation, about 8 years.

Who are the hot-shot, super-star filmmakers of today? The ones that get the most attention, the ones the studio hands the biggest budgets, the most coveted properties?

Zach Snyder. Chris Nolan. Guillermo Del Toro. Marc Webb. Rian Johnson. Duncan Jones. Joss Whedon. Edgar Wright. Peter Berg. Jon Favreau. James Gunn.

Many talented men in there. (Yes, men. I lament that there is only one major American female film director right now. I do. But it is a fact. One I’d love to see altered. But you want to see a boys’ club? Look no further than Hollywood.) I am a fan of many of them in one way or another. Some, like Whedon and Wright and Jones, I adore.

But this is a filmmaking generation of man-children.

I’m not a person who laments the current state of film often, but looking at the Summer we just came out of, I am forced to. I’m not going to go film by film but I will use one particular film to make my point:

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Pacific Rim.

I like Guillermo Del Toro. As a person. He’s ‘one of us’. A real geek. As a filmmaker, for me, he’s hit and miss. I think the less money he has, the better. His projects with considerable budgets, namely the two Hellboy films, have been lifeless, poorly told stories with good effects, even if the Hellboy II creatures seemed to be cast-offs from the overrated Pan’s Labyrinth. He is one of those filmmakers, like Tim Burton before him, who is much better at the visual and the concept than the story and the characters. Which would be fine, if he wasn’t making narrative films. But he is. He is telling stories. And if he isn’t bad at it, he is at the very least lazy.

Pacific Rim is no exception.

I know I’m supposed to love Pacific Rim. I love Gorjira and Robotech, why shouldn’t I love this? Like my beloved peanut butter cups. Two great tastes that blah blah blah.

But I didn’t. Because it felt like it was made by a twelve year old. Watching it all I could think of was a little fat kid in Mexico, sitting in his sandbox, bashing his Godzilla toy into his Optimus Prime toy and imagining the epic battles they would have.

Every generation of filmmakers is influenced by (read: steals from) the generations before, but his is different. These guys aren’t ingesting what came before, gestating it in their minds, then making something completely new and original. They’re regurgitating. Pacific Rim, if you ignore the monsters and robots (a conceit, while cool on the surface, doesn’t hold up to one moment of critical thinking; more later), is just one tired ass action movie trope after another tired ass action movie trope that, when strung together, Del Toro thinks constitutes a story.

It is Top Gun. It is Independence Day. It is Gojira. It is “Voltron” and Gundam. Thrown into a blender and called a Summer blockbuster.

It is not a work by a man with any original thoughts or anything to say.

Sorry.

(I also know why it failed. Geeks may have had super-duper hard-ons for it, but I asked a few guys, guys who go to the movies on a regular basis, who had seen Iron Man 3 and Star Trek and Fast 6, about Pacific Rim and they said “it looks dumb and loud”. That is why it didn’t connect with the mainstream audience. It looked dumb and loud.)

I walked out of Pacific Rim slightly entertained but unsatisfied, then, two days later, after the smidge of enjoyment it gave me wore off, I realized that it’s a bad movie. Just another case of something that has plagued not only film of the last decade, but art in general.

The 70’s were the New Hollywood Generation. The 90’s, the Miramax Generation.

This is the Karaoke Generation.

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Some people mistake Tarantino for a mimic, but I disagree wholeheartedly. Pulp Fiction is, behind the surface, about three killers who find themselves saving a life. It is about redemption: that’s what’s in the briefcase for me.

That may not be super deep, but what is Looper about? Other than Johnson showing us a bunch of shit that he likes. 12 Monkeys. The Omen. Back to the Future. Blade Runner. I have no problem with wearing your influences on your sleeve, but, for God’s sake, try to come up with something of your own. Stop singing the words scrolling by on the monitor and write your own song.

Two of the bigger films of the year made two mind-boggling choices that I am still trying to figure out.

JJ Abrams’s first Star Trek was, for me, great. Fresh, entertaining. It told its own story and, while respecting the decades of Trek behind it, started its own timeline. That encouraged me. Opened up the idea of brand new Trek stories not beholden to all that canon. So, what did they do for their next tale, Into Darkness?

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They brought back Khan.

Man of Steel was a disaster in almost every aspect, but again. Starting over. Fresh slate. Retelling the origin. Redefining the relationships. Trying to paint a new Clark (one who is a borderline sociopath, but whatever). New look. New feel. New everything. And who was the villain in this re-imagining of one of America’s most enduring fictional characters?

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They brought back Zod.

In both cases the filmmakers, in acts of inane laziness, pilfered the most famous and effective parts of previous films and “reimagined” them into their own. This is especially egregious in Star Trek, which not only recycled Khan, but the entire last act of the film. With, you know, a “twist”.

All the money in the world they can spend. Any writer in Hollywood they can employ. With effects the way they are now, anything you want to show, you can show. Any world you want to build, creature you want to birth. The possibilities are literally endless.

Nope. Khan and Zod. Cool, right?

HPIM5002No. Not cool. Nostalgia isn’t storytelling. Just sit down, have a beer, and wait for the MC to call you up so you can emote your way through “Don’t Stop Believin'” one more time.

Children, playing with the toys of their youth, with no original ideas of their own.

Like I said above, I love science fiction and comic books and nearly all things geek. Hell, I finally crossed over my final nerd threshold, the thing I said I would never do, which was Doctor Who, and it turns out I love it. But come on, guys. Isn’t it time to grow up, just a little?

That may be why I liked The World’s End so much. Despite its robot/alien subplot (which was really the least interesting part of the film), there was an adult story there. About addiction, about the disappointments of life, about the bonds of friendship, and, yes, about growing the fuck up.

Maybe I’m just an old man, but I do miss the filmmaking of the 90’s. Much like “The Love Boat”, it felt exciting and new (which, oddly, was a show that never felt exciting or new). But now, the only films I get excited for are the ones made by people from previous generations: Scorsese, the Andersons, Fincher, The Coens, Ridley Scott, Tarantino, Payne, Russell.

They are the only ones making films for adults. I think we have embraced the man-child, but have done no service to the ‘man’ half of that hyphenate.

G.I. Joe. Transformers. Batman. Superman. Spiderman. The A-Team. The always-rumored Thundercats and He-Man films. New Star Wars films directed by a Star Wars geek. The Muppets. There is no mistaking the age range of today’s most popular filmmakers. They’re my age. But, unlike them it seems, I didn’t stop watching film and television after I turned twelve.

battleship-movie-image-02I mean, come on. Battleship? FUCKING BATTLESHIP?!? Bad enough to make a movie based on a children’s board game (again with the nostalgia), but to make it a Transformers rip-off in the process? This is what studios think people want. FUCKING BATTLESHIP.

What I’m trying to say here is, while the ‘geek revolution’ has pleased me greatly, I’m starting to turn on it. I’m tired of films made by grown men who think they’re teenage boys. And I’m one of those men. But I have another side to me, the side that has accepted the fact that I am also an adult that yearns for mature entertainment and art. These guys live in a perpetual state of adolescence and get paid millions of dollars to do so.

This doesn’t just apply to film. The only books anyone seems to read nowadays are Young Adult fiction. Potter. Twilight. Hunger Games. Mortal Instruments. These are adults reading these books. I have read a few myself (Potter and Hunger Games) but that is all some people read. Do you know more people that have read Harry Potter or The Sound and the Fury? Twilight or The Count of Monte Cristo? Hunger Games or Naked Lunch?

Don’t get me started on music. Have you heard that new Katy Perry song, ‘Roar’? The most asinine and hacky lyrics I have heard in a long time, no matter how catchy the track may be. Plus, she rips off Survivor of all things. You can’t drop an ‘eye of the tiger’ into a song. That phrase is taken, lady. It is only acceptable during a corny 80’s training montage. Lady Gaga literally karaoke’d Madonna’s “Express Yourself” for her “Born this Way.” (Or maybe she Weird Al’ed it).

I’m just tired. Tired of being disappointed by artists who I think should know better. Tired of seeing the same things over and over and over again. Much of the hype about Pacific Rim was that it was a ‘new property’ (that’s what we call our films now: properties), but when I saw it, was just a bunch of things I’d seen before strung together with some big, loud, CG things hitting each other.

voltron-775596(About that: why do they hit each other? they have missiles and plasma cannons. there is no reason not to start a fight with those things instead of charging headfirst into a fistfight. any military strategist will tell you: ranged attacks first. has been that way since the bow and arrow. and the sword? we get 75% of the way through the movie and we reveal that the things have swords that can cleave the monsters in half with one slash? either Del Toro watched too much or too little “Voltron” to understand how little sense this makes. form the blazing sword right away, you morons. it works every time. sigh.)

I worry about the state of film going forward, and film is something I hold very dear. It is a great art form that is still in its infancy. We have yet to see a Beethoven or Van Gogh come along. I don’t know what those guys, their films, will look like, but I hope to see them in my life. But as of the moment, the art of filmmaking is in a state of arrested development.

Much like the men making them.

Did I say ‘men’?

I meant ‘boys’.

Oh, and just to show that I’m not just making fun of the guy up top in the Batman hoodie, here is me in my Boba Fett hoodie. I’m part of this, too.

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Because I Had To

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For our first posts, we’re supposed to introduce ourselves. So here goes nothing.

My name is Chad and I write stuff. As of this very moment in time, I have written one (produced) feature film and one (self-) published novel. That would qualify me as a writer, for sure, but, at my age, not an especially successful or prolific one. (Although, to be fair, I only decided to try writing novels last year.)

Do I wish I had more movies under my belt? I believe that I will, even if it takes a while longer. And I know there will be more novels coming, because that’s 100% up to me, not producers and executives and financiers.

So has everything gone the way I’ve wanted in my writing career? Not even close. So many rejections, disappointments. So much time wasted on my part, waiting for something to happen as opposed to making it happen, hoping my talent could take care of things while ignoring the hard work it really takes. A ton of close calls. Films that almost had the money, then didn’t. Pitch meetings at major cable networks that went well, but not well enough. A movie that went to several film festivals, but not the right film festivals to get any kind of traction.

I’ve beat my head against the wall. I’ve cried. I’ve distracted myself with things like video games and politics and alcohol. I’ve fallen into several all-encompassing, crippling depressions, each of which threatened to cost me everything.

I’ve also quit. Flat-out quit. “Fuck this. I’m done. Kaput. Blowing this popsicle stand. This is a fool’s errand and I am not a fool.”

And then I would get up the next morning and continue on my errand.

Writing_Quote_20Like a fool.

Why?

Because I had to.

Third grade. (MUMBLE) years ago.

I missed a day of school. Sick. The first time I remember that happening. Don’t know what it was. Sore throat. 24 hour bug. Whatever. I missed a day of school.

I remember the odd feeling of coming back the next day and realizing the harsh truth that my teacher and classmates had had the nerve, the nerve, to go about the school day while I was gone. I know, right? They had gone to recess, done math problems, eaten sloppy joes, ALL WITHOUT ME!!!

Everyone has this feeling, right? This bizarre moment where you realize that life goes on without you? Just like before you were born. Just like after you die. Doesn’t matter who you are or what you do or how much money you make or how many children you sire, wars you wage, diseases you cure, or eternally beloved works of art you create, people will still play kickball when you’re gone.

Everyone, right? Or was this just an early warning sign of my adult onset egomania?

Anyway.

One thing that I should have been glad to miss while home sick was homework. But not that day. Because one of the assignments, I found out, was this:

Write a story about a monster coming to the classroom.

“But don’t worry about it, Chad,” my teacher, Mrs. Harrison, said. “It was just for fun. No one’s being graded on it. You can just sit and listen as I read all of the other kids’ stories.”

Mrs. Harrison then proceeded to read through my fellow students’ tales. I cannot testify as to the quality of their prose (although I’m sure it was lacking) because it was (MUMBLE) years ago, yes, but also because I wasn’t listening.

I was too busy furiously scribbling my own story, trying to get it done before the teacher finished reading the others.

Why?

Because I had to.

faulknerWhen Mrs. Harrison put down the last (I’m assuming) terrible attempt at fiction, I raised my hand, nearly pulling it out of the socket, two pieces of wide-ruled paper in my hand.

Instead of being angry at me for not listening to the other stories, she took mine and read it.

I won’t claim to recall the details of it. But I do know it involved some sort of bipedal beast that breathed fire and that he burned a hole in the ceiling of our classroom, through which fell the desk and body of the fifth grade teacher right above us, a woman who would, in two years, become my mortal enemy. That’s all I remember. Hole in ceiling. Teacher crashing down. I’m sure there was other stuff in there, too.

All I know is that it killed.

It got laughs. Genuine laughs. I had used names of other kids in the class. Killed my teacher, the teacher above, and the principal, I think, who came in to save us. It went over so well that my teacher had the fifth grade class above us, the one I had partially destroyed in my story, come down to our room so she could read the story to them.

And, that day, at an age far too young to decide on a career path, I did just that. I had never written for fun before but now I knew I would be doing it for the rest of my life.

Because I had to.

Throughout school, I kept writing. Proxy isn’t actually my first book. In elementary school, on another ‘writing for fun’ assignment, I got out my mom’s typewriter and wrote ten chapters (one page per chapter…barely), drew a cover (poorly), stapled it all together, and handed it to my teacher to read. It was about an alien invasion, I think.

But it is lost to the ages, like Sulla’s memoirs, Love’s Labour’s Won, Hemmingway’s suitcase, and Orson Welles’s cut of The Magnificent Ambersons.

I think it was called “Zap!”.

Through high school I wrote fantasy short stories, bad poetry (including a Gilgamesh by way of Poe epic), and even some Star Wars fan fiction before I knew there was such a thing as fan fiction. Some of that I still have and no one will ever read it.

In college I decided I wanted to write movies. So my attention shifted away from prose to screenwriting, although I did take some creative writing classes. But mostly I was trying to master (like anyone actually does that) the art of writing for the movies.

Then I moved to L.A.

I did all of this, never looking back, never getting a ‘fall-back’ degree, never considering failure to be an option, because, well…

Because I had to.

And why do I ‘have to’?

tumblr_mi884kaOEf1s07stbo1_400Because my mind is a chaotic slurry of words and ideas and philosophies and characters and voices and chemical imbalances and insecurities and useful knowledge and even more useless knowledge and writing is the only way to keep it at all under control. The only way to keep me sane. I can’t sleep at night if I don’t feel like I expelled enough words that day. The depressions I mentioned before? Guess what I wasn’t doing when those happened. Sometimes I’m not super-pleasant to be around when I’m writing, like most writers, but you should see me when I’m not. When I’m not writing I don’t feel whole and my brain, the loud, non-stop, schizophrenic motherfucker that he is, takes over. And that’s never pretty.

I write because I want to tell stories. To communicate with others. To say things. To make people laugh. To make them cry. And think. To reach for some sort of renown and success. To try to live forever.

Mostly, though, I have to write so that I can sleep at night.

So here I am, introducing myself to you on this new website, this new project I have embarked upon with some friends I have known for over 20 years, some of the only people who have read those high school stories that shall remain locked in the vault that is my hard drive. And every week I’ll be writing a blog post. Some will be short, some long. Some will be interesting, some maybe not so much. Some will be about writing. Some will be about sports, cinema, or television. I have many Hollywood stories, some of which I may share. I’ll be recommending double-bills of films that you may not have heard of, or at least have never seen the connection between. And a whole bunch of other stuff, I’m sure.

I will not be writing about politics or religion. I may do that on my own blog, at some point, or on Twitter, but we’ve decided to avoid that here at Téssera. Which is a good call.

Next week I’ll talk about something, although I’m not sure what. Quite possibly an old man’s rant about the state of Hollywood. I’ll also hopefully be putting up some short stories, screenplays, and other goodies in the weeks and months and years to come.

Writing_Quote_298My relationship with writing has evolved over the years. Vince Gilligan, genius creator of the dearly departed “Breaking Bad”, has often said, when asked if he enjoys writing, “No, but I enjoy having written.” I get that. I really do. Most of the time writing feels like work, because it is. But there are moments in it, when magic strikes, when you hit a zone and hours have passed and thousands of words have been belched out and you don’t even remember typing half of them, when it is still a lot of fun.

I still love it. I just love it in a different way these days. And I’m okay with that.

So in between raising my daughter, taking care of my dogs, maintaining my relationships with my friends and family, tearing my hair out over the Cincinnati Reds, trying to stay healthy, buying records, watching movies, reading history, and everything else that makes up my life, I will also be writing. Novels. Screenplays. Stories. Comics. Blog posts.

Writing. One way or another. For the rest of my life.

Because I–

Well, you know.

Chad J. Shonk
October 2013

PS – I’m also a stubborn, opinionated, and sometimes pretentious prick when it comes to film and writing and art in general. That will be apparent with next week’s blog post. I would apologize in advance, but I stand by every word, so… No apologies.