Upcoming Release – Hollow Empire

Something new lurks on the horizon…

In 2013, I teamed with John R McGuire for an ambitious new co-project. We called it the Dark Fantasy Project, an appropriately ominous moniker for the grim, grave-licious tale we’d begun to weave. Truthfully, the DFP was my first attempt at co-anything. I felt jittery about working with someone not named me. I worried that our vision might never meet in the middle.

My fears were unfounded.

We’ve crafted a tale rivaling anything we’ve written before.

Fast forward to 2014, and the DFP nears its release. Only it’s not the DFP any longer; it’s Hollow Empire, a six-part serial novel. We’re excited. If you like quick reads or full-length novels, you should be excited, too. In the coming weeks, we’ll release Hollow Empire in serial e-form (six episodes at only $0.99 each!) and in a complete softcover format available on Amazon and Createspace.

Get some.

Here’s a bone-licious teaser of the back cover art, crafted by Tessera’s own Amanda Makepeace. It sums up Hollow Empire’s tone. Just wait ’til you see the front cover.

HollowEmpireBackText1

What is Hollow Empire, you ask? Think post-apocalyptic, post-catastrophe world, but instead of zombies, nukes, vampires, or futuristic technological holocausts, think the other direction. What if the apocalypse happened during medieval times? What if, instead of scavenging for ammo, fuel, and the odd crossbow bolt, mankind were forced to scratch out their lives by the sword? And by the sword, we mean literally. What if surviving in this grave new world meant not reclaiming the life you lost, but simply trying to make it to the next hour without being carved to tatters by outlaws, captured and tortured by bloodthirsty aristocrats, or eaten alive by wild, flesh-craving animals? What if, what if, what if…?

Hollow Empire follows the lives of four unlucky people as they claw their way across the ruined nation of Vhur. We call them unlucky because it might’ve been better for their sakes if they’d already died. We’ve got Vadim, a highborn soldier with only a fragment of his former life to cling to. There’s Nadya, an outcast mother with nowhere to hide. We’ve got Cassidy, a Walker charged with doing God’s dirty work. And finally there’s Murgul, a broken, twisted, and heart-rendingly simply soul who craves only a few moments of peace in his sad little life.

Survivors, all of them. Each with only a thread of their former lives remaining.

Here’s our world. We call it Vhur.  See all those cities marked ‘Lichy Ruins’? Dead…all of ’em. Surrounded by graves. Haunted by handful of survivors and packs of vicious Iritul.

Vhur World Map

So keep your eyes peeled and yours breath held.

Hollow Empire – September 2014.

From the authors of Down the Dark Path and The Dark that Follows.

J Edward Neill & John R McGuire

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Until next week,

J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead dark fantasy trilogy

Author of The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera

Down the Dark Path

Roleplaying for fun and profit

It’s not a secret, not really. I wasn’t embarrassed… not exactly. Much in the way that many things I have done in my life which fall under the heading of “geeky” or “nerdy”. Before the days when telling people about comic books was shunned.

I mean, I keep hearing about how the nerds won. As if it was for the very soul of the world. That they’ve done what we all predicted would happen when that first “nerd” started messing around with the family computer. They have overthrown their jock-overlords and have claimed the top of the mountain.

Rise up in the cafeteria and stab them with your plastic forks!

Rise up in the cafeteria and stab them with your plastic forks!

Throughout middle school, through high school and college and for some time afterwards I role-played. And I think it has made me a better writer.

How’s that? Well, let’s see.

Character Creation – One of the biggest things in role-playing is that initial character creation. Maybe you are trying to balance out the team that already exists, or maybe you’ve had the nugget of an idea swimming in your head for the last few weeks and now you get to try it out. Sure there is the rolling of dice for your stats, and you would love to roll well to get them higher. But the character is something more than just numbers. There is a history there. A personality that you want to play with and figure out. Sometimes it is tropes, the disgraced knight, the reclusive wizard, the thief who walks the line between good and evil.

But the best characters are those ones who begin to mold themselves as you play them. As your Game Master puts you through the paces on an adventure. As the other players begin to speak with you character… a true personality emerges that you could have never expected… not 100%.

In writing, at least for me, I’ve found it is much the same. I may have the barest idea of how a character will react to something, but time and time again, when that moment comes something crazy happens.

The character surprises me. In the same way that those characters I role-played needed to act a certain way a month after I created them, so too does the written character need to be true to themselves. In fact, I sometimes learn more about them in that moment than I did in any of the moments previous to it (and then I have to go back and tweak a couple of things to help seed that “turn” or “moment”).

ddi_characterbuilder

World building – A lot of times this is the domain of the Game Master, but a good player can help develop the world in lots of different ways. Through their personal histories: maybe your uncle is a local lord (what is he the lord of? are you in line for his property? would someone want you dead to get their hands on it?), perhaps your best friend died in a conflict across the great sea (was it a conflict or a war? is this the first volley or the last? ), or maybe the village you came from was burned to the ground (who did it? why? are they still coming?).

I’ve heard that writing for comic books is a lot like playing with someone else’s toy box: you want to leave it with more toys than it started with. A good Game Master will take these toys from you and weave them into their world, creating more cohesion, and more stakes for the players.

Heroes – Most of the time I have played the hero (or one of the heroes) of the story. And in that I push the villains as hard as I can. I want to escape their death traps, foil their master plan, and save the maiden. But if I’m paying attention, I can see the obstacles that the Game Master is throwing in my way. You see, it is his job to not quite let me win… at least not for a while. Small victories will keep you going until that final big battle.

In my writing it is the same way. My job as the writer is to figure out what my character wants to achieve and then put as many obstacles in the way of them succeeding in their goals. In overcoming those setbacks, I learn more and more about how my characters think and feel and maybe even what it might take to completely break them.

Villains – I’ve played a couple of villains through the years. And it is fun. It  is fun to mess with the other players and sometimes even catch the Game Master off guard with a line of play. Mostly I’ve found that while sometimes the Game Master isn’t looking to flat-out kill your character, another player who is opposing you has no such qualms. That’s where fast thinking comes in handy. But it is also the point where you can fill a villain with more traits than just “he’s evil”.

Not that there is anything wrong with that!

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The End – I’ve played in epic novel length campaigns. They have that feel of a good book series where the heroes get a victory towards the end of the book, only to have something else happen which will propel the series forward for book 2 and 3 and 4. So I can identify where a good breaking point for a chapter, a section, and even the end of the book should be. It is a more subtle thing, but I believe it is there all the same.

Plus it never hurts to end something so that later you can get those heroes out of the mothballs and send them on their one final adventure. Everyone likes a last ride story, right?

Sadly, the closest I come to role-playing these days are playing Dragon’s Age (waiting for the next one!), but I take those old sessions to heart. What might have been cool and what moments might have caused groans. Either way I continue to sift through my memories to see if there is more buried treasure somewhere in there.

I’d like to think there is tons.

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

The Dark That Follows is now available in print here or on Amazon!

 

Casting for Down the Dark Path the movie

StormIn the beginning, I dreamed a story.

The dream began deep below the earth. In a mine at the world’s bottom, I saw slaves chiseling away at obsidian stone, unearthing an artifact destined to destroy the world. The image remains as clear as though I’d dreamt it only yestereve. If I close my eyes, I can still smell the slaves’ horror…and the storm brewing. What they’ve done has doomed millions to die, and they know it.

It’s a far different opening scene than the beginning chapter of Down the Dark Path the novel. It’s raw, unedited, and perhaps the way the story was meant to be told.

Someday, hopefully not long from today, I’ll sit down to write the screenplay for DDP. I’m thinking a pair of movies, rated R, the type of films for the anti-Twilight, more-mature-than-Harry-Potter crowd. There’re be no one-liners, no slow walks, no good-guys-get-off-scot-free battle scenes. DDP the movie will get back to our 13th Warrior, Willow, Conan the Barbarian roots, with a little LOTR epic-ness heaped on top. Yeah, I know. Hollywood will laugh in my face. That’s ok. Doesn’t matter.

In order to make this thing happen, I’ll need actors. Good ones. Gritty ones. Believable for  a story about a world-ending medieval war ones.

And so…here’s my dream cast.

AndeEmmy

Emmy Rossum – I’m not the type to ever have celebrity crushes, but if I were… Emmy is beautiful, talented, and in every way perfect to play the role of Andelusia Anderae. Hers would be a tough role. She’d have to pull off the lone feminine hero in a war stuffed chock full of horrific male villains. I’d like to think she could handle it.

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GarrettHenry

Henry Cavill – In the role of Garrett Croft, I’m not looking for the shredded Man of Steel guy (though I’m sure the ladies are). I’m talking about the subtle, reserved guy from The Tudors. He’s tall, his acting chops are solid, and he’s dangerous-looking enough to pull off the role of deadliest swordsman in the world.

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RellenChrisPrattChris Pratt – If I were younger, handsomer, and infinitely more talented, I’d cast myself as the sarcastic, brooding, hopelessly head-over-heels for Andelusia Rellen Gryphon. But since I’m not, you get Chris Pratt. Honestly, this was the hardest role to fill.

 

ChakranDavies

John Rhys Davies – If I could go back in time and make this movie in the late 80’s, I’d pick Pat Roach (Willow’s General Kael, Temple of Doom’s huge Thugee.) But John Rhys is more than capable of growing a wild beard and playing the psychotic Emperor Chakran. No echoes of Gimli here. Just a Furyon with a sword capable of butchering millions.

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LeePaceArchmyr

Lee Pace – He played the wicked Thranduil in The Hobbit series, and even more recently, the diabolical Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy. In Down the Dark Path, he’ll be asked to step up the evil even more. Playing Archmyr Degiliac (aka: the Pale Knight) will call for a quiet, sublimely calculating performance. Plus we’ll need a black wig and plenty of training with dual swords.

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BrucedConan

Conan Stevens – You know him best as The Mountain from Game of Thrones and Azog from The Hobbit. But in the role of Bruced (Broo-sed) Conan’ll be asked to play a cheery good guy with a penchant for beating evil’s ass. He’s seven feet tall. I’m sure he can handle it.

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SaulDaniel

Daniel Southern – From The 13th Warrior, only one dude possesses the beardness and grumpy badassness required to play Saul of Elrain. Yep. This guy.

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DacinJason

Jason Momoa – Much to every woman’s dismay, we’re going to ask Jason to keep his shirt on and grow a crazy/ugly beard. It’s the only way to play the role of Dacin of Dageni. But when you see him dressed in black Furyon armor carving his way through dozens of Graehelm knights, you’ll love him even more. I promise.

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A few secondary roles:

Christopher Lee – As the voice of the warlock/ghost Revenen (who’ll need to be mostly CGI)

Joanne Whalley – She’s aged nicely, and will serve as an authentic and wise Sara Gryphon (Rellen’s mom)

 James McEvoy – Maybe…if we can get him to tone down the Scottish accent, we’ve got our diminutive warlock, Dank.

 Sure, there’re plenty more roles to fill. I’ll need the vicious traitor, Nentham Thure, the wise, conflicted Furyon, Arjobec of Dageni, and the blustering, plaintive Gryphon captain, Marlos Obas. But that’ll all come later. Hell, by the time New Line Studios finally approves my pitch, a whole new crop of actors will be up to bat. My only hope is to get this done while Emmy is still in the biz…

Until next week,

J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead dark fantasy trilogy

Author of The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera

Down the Dark Path

The official Tyrants of the Dead glossary

Three Books

Six Nations

Dozens of Characters

One Civilization bent on Mankind’s destruction 

 

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Welcome to the official Tyrants of the Dead glossary. Herein you’ll find descriptions and blurbs for every major character, place, historical event, and artifact appearing in the Tyrants’ trilogy. This appendix is for all the folks who’ve read the books and for those who are thinking about it. Fear no spoilers! No major event taking place in any of the three books will be revealed.

Scroll down to begin!

 

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CHARACTERS:

Andelusia Anderae – A young woman from the tiny Grae village of Cairn, Ande (as she’s known to her friends) dreams of a life that is not hers. She is the title character in Dark Moon Daughter.

Archmyr Degiliac – Also known as the The Thillrian, The Pale One, and the Pale Knight.  The son of a hated Thillrian lord, Archmyr murders so many of his father’s rivals as to be branded a butcher and forever exiled. He comes to prominence after being captured by the Furyon Empire and recognized for his ruthlessness.

Arjobec – A captain in Furyon’s legion, the aging Arjobec serves as a guide and oftimes moral compass for his master, Dacin of Dageni.

Bruced (Bru-sed) – Fiercest warrior of Gryphon, but soft-hearted and loyal. Bruced’s hatred of the Grae province of Mooreye is legendary.

Dacin of Dageni – The youngest of the Furyon warlords…and the most powerful. Dacin was raised in the brutal Furyon province of Dageni, largest of the slaver colonies. He defeated the hated Davin Kal in the span of three years, and is swiftly recognized by the Furyon Emperor as the warlord most capable of destroying Graehelm.

Daedelar – A swarthy Thillrian captain-for-hire, Daedelar boasts of having once sailed to Cornerstone and back.

Dank – Also known as Dancmyrcephalis or the Little Man, Dank is an advisor to House Gryphon, a well-traveled sage, and (as some believe) a sorcerer dabbling in black magicks. His oaths to himself far outweigh any promises he makes to Graehelm or its lords.  

Emperor Chakran – Furyon’s suzerain. To seize the Furyon throne, Chakran allies with Malog, rumored stronghold of the world’s last (and most wicked) sorcerers. Chakran desires the rebirth of Tyberia, a legendary nation he believes is his birthright to rule.

Emun Gryphon – Lord of Gryphon, and most popular of Graehelm’s Councilors.

Garrett Croft – Friend of Rellen, and most feared soldier of Mormist. To earn redemption for crimes against Graehelm, Garrett makes an oath to Emun Gryphon to forever protect the Gryphon household.

Ghurk Ghurlain – A captive in Thillria’s dreaded Sallow province, Ghurk is the son of a powerful Thillrian lord.  

Grimwain – A swordsman and fallen knight. After being exiled from Romaldar for making threats against the Romaldarian king, Grimwain travels east to the Mohrlahn, seeking the aid of the Anderae.

Jacob Nure – Nephew to the ailing Grae king and renowned for his martial prowess, Jacob is closest in line to the throne.

Jix – A diminutive Thillrian man in the service of King Orumna. Jix is tasked with fulfilling many of Orum’s strange requests.

King Orumna – The most corpulent and ineffective king Thillria has ever known. King Orum prefers to eat his way to prosperity than do anything to advance his kingdom.

Lord Ahnwyn – Lord of the Graehelm stronghold of Gallen Hold. Leader of the famed Triaxe Knights. Warden of the south.

Lord Lothe – Lord of Graehelm’s Barrok province, and the general of Graehelm’s northern army.  

Lord Tycus – An ambitious Thillrian lord. Tycus is often fair, but just as often harsh.

Marid of Muthem – A young soldier in the employ of Duke Ghurlain, Marid is woefully in love with Andelusia.

Marlos Obas – A cranky captain of the Gryphon guard, Marlos is appointed by Rellen to lead a cadre of soldiers to Mormist.

Myklokain – Rumored to be a member of Grimwain’s family, Myklokain is long-dead, but not.

Nentham Thure – Lord of the hated Grae province of Mooreye. Tall and crow-beaked. Councilor Nentham is universally disliked by his peers and rumored to have designs on Graehelm’s throne.

Nephenia of Yrul – Daughter to a high Yrul lord, Nephenia is married off to a Romaldarian noble in the hopes of gaining Yrul’s complicity during the war to come.

Ona – A mysterious and stunningly beautiful young woman from far southern Thillria.

Rellen Gryphon – The only child of Emun and Sara Gryphon, and the youngest of the high captains in Graehelm’s military.

Revenen – The Lord of Malog. Eldest of the Archithropian line.

Saul of Elrain – After Saul’s family is displaced by raids from the north, Saul bargains with Elrain’s king. In return for the promise of his family’s safety, he accepts the grueling task of delivering an important letter to the lords of Graehelm.

Sara Gryphon – Emun Gryphon’s wife, and the wisdom behind many of his policies.

Ser Arjobec – A Furyon captain, guide, and among the most trusted of Dacin’s advisors.

Ser Endross – Hardiest (and luckiest) of Ahnwyn’s knights, Endross is perhaps the noblest soul in all of Graehelm.

The Ur – An ancient civilization from beyond, beneath, and between the spirit realm, the Ur desire vengeance against mankind for removing them from power.

The Uylen – A race of cursed humans living in a haunted Thillrian forest. In recent years, it’s rumored the Uylen have wandered far from home seeking fresh prey.

The Warlock – The son of a powerful Archithropian decendant, the Warlock’s plans for Thillria are far-reaching.

Thresher – A masked iron knight in the service of Romaldar, the terrifying Thresher accompanies Unctulu and relentlessly hunts Romaldar’s enemies.

Unctulu – A loathsome servant of Romaldarian lords, Unctulu is entrusted with the care of the Needle, an ancient Ur artifact.

Vom – A powerful pupil in Revenen’s care, Vom trails Emperor Chakran throughout the war to ensure the Emperor follows Malog’s plans.

Wkhzl – A weary old shopkeeper in the Triaxe fortress city of Kilnhome. The strange relics contained in his store are like no other in the world.

Wrail – A wicked man from the nation of Romaldar, Wrail claims to possess powers of the Archithropian line.

 

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PLACES:

Archaeus – Capital city of Romaldar. Filled with white marble towers and elegant stone dwellings. Archaeus is also home to the dreaded Wolfwolde.

Cairn – A small village in northwestern Graehelm. Andelusia’s home. Cairn is a peaceful place, but harbors more than a few dark secrets.

Dageni – A smoking, pitted, volcanic province of Furyon, Dageni is home to tens of thousands of slaves who toil to extract precious Dageni ore.

Darken – A stinking, swampy forest in southwestern Furyon. Darken was once the site of an Archithropian burial ground, and is avoided by all wise folk.

Denawir – Capital city of Thillria. Denawir’s gardens are legendary, but less so its king, Orumna.

Elrain – Far north of Graehelm, Elrain’s colonies surround a massive lake. Scholars postulate Elrian was the site of the earliest battles between Archithrope and Niviliath.

Furyon – Not quite the foul, reeking realm Graehelm’s lords predict, Furyon is a land of beauty and deep culture. Until, that is, Emperor Chakran remakes it to serve the war against Graehelm.

Graehelm – The largest of the modern nations, Graehelm is ruled by both a king and an oligarchy of councilors. The Grae lands are largely inhabited by the decendants of Niviliath, the losers of an ancient war against the Ur-worshipping Archithrope.

Grandwood – The vast forest in Graehelm’s heart. Home to the hugest trees in all the world. Grandwood itself is larger than most smaller nations can claim.

Gryphon – The home of Eumn, Sara, and Rellen Gryphon. The old-world city is placed strategically between the Graehelm capital and the troublesome Mooreye province.

Illyoc – The largest city in Furyon. During the Emperor’s rule, Illyoc is transformed from a peaceful trade hub into a stronghold of war, complete with vaulting black towers and cathedrals to house Furyon’s nobles.

Malog – The black citadel of Furyon. Home to the direct decendants of Archithrope. Not built by mankind.

Midnon – A black fortress hidden somewhere in Thillria, Midnon is the Warlock’s stronghold.

Mooreye City – With seven gates and mighty walls, Mooreye City, citadel of Nentham Thure, has long been a source of worry for the rest of Graehelm.

Morellellus – Furyon’s prime trade port, and the harbor for its armada of warships. Morellellus was once a simple trade port, but has been completely remade by Chakran into a fearsome city.

Mormist – The mountain and forest realm of eastern Graehelm. Mormist is the buffer land between Graehelm and the sea (and Furyon).

Romaldar – A realm of vineyards, rolling hills, and silver lakes. Romaldar’s people have always envied Graehelm, but have long lacked the power to make a meaningful challenge to their northern neighbor.

Sallow – In Thillria, no place is more feared than Sallow. Its twisted trees and slate-capped mounds have long sheltered the dark, dismal Undergrave.

Shivershore – Southernmost province of Thillria. Hard to reach, harder to endure. Lying next to the Selhaunt Sea, Shivershore lives up to its name.

The Cornerstone – An island created by the Ur. A twisted, magical place where nothing ages. The site of the bottomless pit built by the Ur to ensure the doom of mankind.

The Nether Chamber – A dungeon far below Romaldar’s capital city, Archaeus. Thought to be a breeding cavern for the spirits of the Ur.

The Undergrave – A network of caverns below Thillria. The caves run too deep to be man-made, and yet…

Thillria – Weakest of the world’s nations, Thillria’s sometimes brutal climate and lack of resources render it uninvolved in the affairs of more powerful lands.

Triaxe – Mountainous home of the sturdy Triaxe knights. Southernmost vassal of Graehelm. Triaxe is also home to Erewain, largest mountain in the known world, and the legendary site of mankind’s final battle against the Ur.

Verod – A crumbling castle in westernmost Mormist, Verod was once home to a huge Graehelm garrison, but no longer.

Yrul – A great valley surrounded by sharp, jagged peaks, Yrul is home to a proud, strong people who are hated by most civilized lands.

 

Grae Map Public View File

 

EVENTS OF HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE:

Archithropian War – The two thousand year-long war between rival nations, ended only after millions of deaths, countless cities turned to ash, and entire swaths of landscape brought low.

Destruction of Davin Kal – The precursor to Graehelm’s invasion. Emperor Chakran ordered the death of the Davin Kal as training for his protege, Dacin of Dageni. 

The Rebuilding of the Five – Legend tells that during the Archithropian war, the lords of the east, having failed to subdue Niviliath after a thousand years, chose to unearth and remake five artifacts of the Ur and use them to destroy their enemy. In truth, only one was remade. The others were simply found…and used

The End of Tyberia – Little is known about the supposed realm that once stretched from Elrain to Thillria. Scholars say it was a powerful kingdom fractured and divided by Graehelm lords of old. This claim alone is enough for Emperor Chakran to propel Furyon into war against the Grae.

 

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ARTIFACTS AND RELICS:

The Ur Blade – Though never called by its true name in the books, the Ur Blade was fashioned to be the destroyer of all other swords. When used in battle,  the Ur Blade can summon Ur fire and draw upon its wielder’s passion in such a way as to make them nearly invincible.

The Eye – Some believe The Eye was one of the five artifacts left behind by the Ur. This is untrue. The Eye was fashioned by men, and is merely inhabited by the Ur.

The Greyblade – Fashioned from a fallen meteorite by a master Romaldarian weaponsmith, the Greyblade is given to a powerful knight during his search for Grimwain.

The Moonblades – Grimwain’s twin swords. Pale as milk. Almost translucent. Utterly unbreakable.

The Needle – Several Needles have been found since the fall of the Ur, each with a different power. One in particular, the largest and most deadly, is unearthed by a Romaldarian knight in a graveyard under the moonlight.

The Orb – Rebuilt twice since the fall of the Ur, the Orb of Souls was the prime weapon of Archithrope and of Malog. The giant black sphere, lined with pale tines at its base, feeds upon death in order to enslave the living and ultimately ensure the Ur will be resurrected.

The Pages Black – A book of ten pages, each containing a different and increasingly more horrific power. The Ur despise the Pages, for the powers therein belong to them, and yet they adore whenever a mortal uses one of the spells.

The Tower – A common misconception is that Malog is also the Tower. Untrue. The Tower lies in Thillria, existing as a conduit for the Ur to influence mankind, among other things.

Wkhzl’s Dagger – A knife given freely away by the shopkeeper Wkhzl. It’s not meant to harm the living, but has a different purpose entirely.  

 

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Copyright 2014 – All rights reserved

J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead dark fantasy trilogy

Author of The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera

Down the Dark Path

 

A Little Luck

I want to try something for the blog. I’m not 100% on how it is going to work, but… I like the idea of demystifying things. So how do you come up with the stories you write? Just like this:

Royal Flush Poker cards & Chips

My wife and I play poker at one of the local restaurants nearly every Sunday evening. It works out well because it is something we are decent at and enjoy together. But I had a lot of time to think about Luck when a hand didn’t go my way (“Bad” Luck) and suddenly I was out of this week’s tournament. In my mind the fact that my opponent ended up winning the hand when (once we got all the chips in the middle) he only had about a 25 % chance to win tells me I had some bad luck in that hand.

Sometimes I wonder if I don’t just have bad luck in many other hands. But as many poker players (and more than one mathematician) would tell you, sometimes you are just in a bad stretch, but eventually things will regress back to the mean. Or to put it simply, things will average out.

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But let’s face facts, we remember the bad beats in cards and in life more than we remember the times when we got “lucky”. It is very easy to bemoan our fates when those negative thoughts keep coming up. When we know that the other shoe is bound to drop. We’re the types of people who when you say bad things happen in 3s, we are quick to point out items 4,5,& 6.

We compete to figure out who has it worse. We’ve all been in those conversations:

Me – “I blew a tire today so I was late to work.”

You – “Yeah, my car wouldn’t start today, so I ended up having to call in sick. And after repairs and everything I’m out $1000.”

Me – “O.K. You win!”

Though, let’s be honest. I’m going to talk about some other instance of something bad happening to me today while I was at work, because I cannot concede defeat that easily, right?

It’s the same in stories. One of the ideas I’ve heard is when you are writing figure out what your character wants and then put an obstacle in front of them. So maybe they have to get across the state for some meeting of the minds which will solve all their problems… oops! your tire blew, and because you didn’t have a spare you missed the meeting and now the aliens are going to invade (or something). In a lot of ways it seems like Bad Luck is almost the thing that can keep your hero from winning their story.

But I think the other side maybe works too well. Sometimes it is too much good Luck running amuck. It’s gotta be believable. It’s gotta be something where you don’t scratch your head because the solution was not just impossible, but beyond lucky.

Star Wars – If you were a character who didn’t understand the Force, but knew the events that led to the destruction of the first Death Star, wouldn’t you think that Luke was literally the luckiest man alive? I mean he closed his eyes and took the shot. “One in a million, kid!” What a stroke of luck.

Of course, we the viewer, know the truth of the situation.

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One Lucky S.O.B.

The Hobbit – Bard ends up hitting Smaug in the one spot where he is vulnerable. Yes, maybe he is just “that good”, but I know  when I read the Hobbit, that was my biggest problem with it. So one arrow fired by someone not in the main group was going to be the thing to end the evil of this dragon? How lucky!

So there is a fine line to walk. You must make it so that your character has to struggle a bit, perhaps they bemoan their fate (their Luck), but most of the time they are going to triumph in the end. Overcoming the odds.

Overcoming the odds… sounds like they got lucky to me.

Something else that puzzles me about luck… Is it possible that there is an amount of luck that each person has? Can it be measured? Is it like matter in that it cannot be created or destroy, but merely transformed?

There’s an 80s movie with Richard Dryfuss called Let it Ride (a personal guilty pleasure movie). In the film, he’s a compulsive gambler (horse racing in this instance). There’s a line in that movie that’s always stuck with me:

“You could be walking around lucky and not even know it.”

That’s a profound thought. What if we have some amount of luck which ebbs and flows on a daily basis? What if we could predict when those cycles were so that we only played poker or craps or blackjack on the days when our own personal luck meter (for lack of a better term) was in the positive rather than in the negative? Maybe that’s why there is something to be said for the idea behind “beginner’s luck.” Those are people who have not burned through their luck for a particular luck based game. So that first time they play… well, it’s like they can’t lose because they really can’t.

I have a friend who I have joked with over the years about his luck. I’ve seen it in action before to the point that it is now a matter of fact that it will happen. It’s like he has a super-power where he can manipulate the odds into something a bit more in his favor. And obviously it doesn’t work every time, but it works enough for me to notice. It works enough for me to wonder if there might not be something to it.

Here’s the key thing, he doesn’t waste it. When we play games of chance, he isn’t always winning. In fact, he probably wins at an average rate. What you might expect any person to win who plays Settlers every once in a while. Does he know what he’s doing? Does the Luck?

I think there is something to all of that. Could I steal someone else’s luck? What would that look like? How might you go about taking something like that? Is there such a thing as taking too much? I mean, if you reduce all their Good Luck and only leave the bad… well, they’d probably get hit by a random object from the sky (oh, and if you are going to do that, make sure that you are nowhere near them afterwards).

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And this is how ideas begin to form. A bad beat in poker becomes something more… but where to go? This feels like there is something there. Buried underneath, waiting for a story to be told. The only question now is whether I can exhume it anytime soon. Or perhaps it is destined to be filed away for a while.

 

 

***

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.

The Dark That Follows is now available in print here or on Amazon!

A New Chapter (sticks and bones)

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I’ve missed ye, old bones.

I’ve been so busy of late, I’ve neglected you.

Never again. I promise.

Now that my whirlwind of new releases is over, and now that this and this are darkening the internets, life is somewhat back to normal.

Check that. Life is completely not normal at all.

For so many reasons: personal, professional, diabolical, the corners I’ve turned have led me to a new realm of space and time. My old comfort zone of sit back and write is lost…and a new zone being born. I have less than half the amount of time to write as I used to. My hours of peace and quiet have turned to minutes. Life tugs at me from all directions, popping my arms and legs from their sockets, stretching my creativity to its limit. I have marketing to do…endless marketing. I have a kid to raise, a home to inhabit, and little wars everywhere to win.

My response to this challenge? Do better. Write more. Logic be damned, I will become the machine my inner artist wants me to be. I’ll scrape off life’s barnacles and sail faster than ever. I will, I will, I will.

So then, my two weeks of self-imposed writing vacation are over. Books one and two of Tyrants of the Dead are published. It’s time now for my penultimate project, my coup de fantasy gras. I’ve decided that once I’m finished with book three, I’ll never again write an epic fantasy series. I’ll stick to traditional length fantasy, and I’ll continue branching off into sci-fi and horror…and maybe even *gasp* erotica (though I still need a model to shoot the cover art for that whole idea) but my days of writing 400k word-count epics need to end. For sanity’s sake.

Which leads me to book three: Nether Kingdom. With Nether Kingdom, I expect to knock all my previous efforts off of their darkest novel of all time pedestals. I’m aiming high (and not just word-count wise). I don’t want a nice, clean wrap-up to the series. I don’t plan to mail it in. Just because NK is my last planned epic doesn’t mean I’m not gearing up for it to be my best work ever. I’m trying to redefine the genre, punch every expectation in the mouth, and give Tolkien himself a run for his money. I want my villains to make my readers sick to their stomachs, my heroine to scrape rock bottom, and every character in-between to love and hate as hard as any real-life human could ever dream of. I want to plunk fantasy, sci-fi, literary fiction, and horror into a blender and spin out a liquor so frosty and delicious the patrons at chateau d’ J Edward will never want to return to their dreary days of Twilight, 50 Shades, and the 700,000 varieties of sexy gay vampire steampunk currently drowning the market.

Ur Shadow Black and White

Eileen Herron’s Ur sketch. Aka; a glimpse of the world’s end.

Thus it begins. As of tonight, I’m sitting down to carve up NK‘s 300k words into something less…paper weight-ish. I’ll cast some long shadows, sprinkle some grave-ash, and light some violet Ur fires. I’ll do the same every night for the next six months or until all that’s left of me are bones. I’ll still write for Tessera and over here, and maybe I’ll fire off a short story sequel to this, but otherwise I’ll not be side-tracked. No booze, no sex, no fist fights with hobos or long, slow trips to the beach. I’ll be a machine. I’ll date my characters. I’ll get drunk off the words.

Because…in the end…this is what makes me happy.

Love,

J Edward Neill

Update {March 3rd, 2017} – Nether Kingdom, the final book in the Tyrants of the Dead series, is complete. Read it here.

New release: Dark Moon Daughter

Dark Andelusia Soaring

        Tonight I’m reminded of one of my favorite literary quotes:

“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.”

“See what?”

“White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

I leave it to you to find the source of this gem.

No, I’m not dead. Not just yet.

I’ve been working on this one for so long, it hurts in a very real, physical sense. I was a young man in my twenties when I wrote Dark Moon Daughter‘s first chapter. I was fresh, full of hope, bright-eyed, sun-shiny, and so forth. And now I’m a bitter, black-hearted old man. Ok. That’s probably overkill. But it’s true; seeing both sides of the coin is enlightening. It’s hard to write about darkness, shadows, and bone-crushing defeat until you’ve experienced a bit firsthand…and stood up stronger afterward.

And so, without further ado, I present:

DMDCoverCS3

Click me. Buy me. Read me. Love me.

I loved and sometimes hated every moment of writing Dark Moon Daughter. Yes, seriously. An adventure, it was, and not always easy. I climbed mountains tall and snowy…and wandered caverns dark and deep. Writing and editing this one felt like a relationship with an onery, passionate woman, and now I’m happy to let her soar free as a falcon. As of today, the Kindle version is on sale for a mere $6.99.  In a few days, the softcover version will be out on Amazon (and for those who live near enough, via me directly). Also, for the first five people willing to post an Amazon review (any amount of stars) I will hand over a signed softcover edition. I’ll even pay shipping if needed. You know where to reach me.

Dark Andelusia Landing        A little background on Dark Moon Daughter:

 – At only about half as long as Down the Dark Path, she’s more in the realm of traditional fantasy novels. For those terrified of my first epic’s staggering word-count, fear not. DMD is shorter and focuses primarily on three characters instead of six

 – The front cover is a painting hanging on my living room wall. Eileen Herron, a supremely talented sculptor and painter, braved an unedited copy of the book to prepare for the painting. Eileen also drew up the sketches in this post, each a dead ringer for the image of Andelusia…and the Ur

 – I began writing Dark Moon Daughter in 2003. I was miserable after the Chicago Cubs blew a 3-1 series lead over the Florida Marlins, and thus decided the only way to recover was to write a supremely dark, gut-wrenching novel. Weird, eh?

–  While a spiritual sequel to Down the Dark Path, ‘Daughter does not require the reader to know DDP through and through. But without a doubt, the third and final book in the series, Nether Kingdom, will demand a reading of Dark Moon Daughter. It’s almost like a mini two-part series rather than a trilogy, but ‘trilogy’ sounds better, so that’s what I’m calling the three books combined

– Dark Moon Daughter is definitely the least dark entry in the series. I like to think of her as a gateway drug. Inject a little Andelusia, Grimwain, and Ur into your veins, and you’ll be unable to resist coming back for more

Ur Shadow Sketch

A simple Eileen Herron sketch and an accidental preview of the Ur, who will haunt the pages of Nether Kingdom aplenty…

Supporters of fantasy, lovers of the night, eaters of words, I hope you’ll snag Dark Moon Daughter soon and give her a spin. She’s quite a catch.

Love,

J Edward Neill

 

 

Triple Bill: A new release, an upcoming release, AND a blog tour

It was a dark and stormy night…
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No really. It’s dark and storming outside. I’ve got the extended version of Return of the King thrumming in the background, a three year-old slumbering beside me, and an eerily chilling mid-May gale rattling the windows of my tiny apartment. It’s quite perfect, really.
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Sleepers
So let’s get this started. I’ve got a fresh new release simmering on Kindles and e-readers. The Sleepers, my latest quick-hit short story sci-fi horror, is out now. Originally, The Sleepers was meant to be a full-length novel. 160k words, I dreamed, an epic sci-fi saga if ever there was. But in a rare fit of realism, I decided committing another year to an already loaded schedule would’ve been foolish. So I trimmed out about 154k words, carved away all the clouds, and cut to the quick and brutal chase. The result is another tale in the vein of Old Man of Tessera.
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Shrine

A shrine for DMD. Yes, the blades are real. Yes, they’re sharp. Yes, they’re but a tiny fraction of the armory hanging from my walls…

 Next up, the imminent release of Dark Moon Daughter – Book II in the Tyrants of the Dead series. I’d hoped to release it about a month ago, but difficulties with the cover art resolution slowed the process a bit. Being hand-painted, photographed at a dozen different angles, and touched up via every graphics program known to man, the cover and I have waged a mini war for several weeks now. But now it’s done with. By May’s end, the sequel to the darkest, epic(est) fantasy novel ever will hit stores in softcover and Kindle formats. Next week’s blog will be fully dedicated to the story behind Dark Moon Daughter…and the upcoming final book in the trilogy, the chilling, world-ending Nether Kingdom.
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Last but hardly least, I’m trying my hand at a blog tour. A few weeks back, the talented and sharp-witted Michael Munz gut-shotted me on the web. While I’m still sharpening my teeth on the necks of Twitter, Facebook, Tessera Guild, and Down the Dark Path dot com, it seems other forces lurk in the shadows, plucking a few lucky souls out of the void.
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A little bit about Michael:
An award-winning writer of speculative fiction, Michael G. Munz was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Washington State in 1977 at the age of three. He studied writing at the University of Washington, and currently dwells in Seattle where he continues his quest to write the most entertaining novel known to humankind and find a really fantastic clam linguine. Check out his slick website here. Gauging from the titles of his books, Michael appears to be not so different from me, a lover of grim themes.
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Now, the essence of the blog tour:
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What I’m Working On:
Now that I’m finished with The Sleepers and Dark Moon Daughter, I plan on taking two weeks off to vegetate, after which I’ll crawl to the very bottom of my mind’s dungeon. Nether Kingdom, Book III in the series, awaits me in the darkness. It’s already in final draft phase, but I’ve cover art to commission, trimming to do, and extra shadows to stuff between each page. I’m more excited about this book than anything else I’ve written. It’s a culmination for me, the pinnacle of the blackest mountain.
I…can’t…wait…
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How Does My Work Differ From Others of its Genre:
Obviously I choose some pretty dark themes. I like writing about antagonists, about the reasons they turned wicked, and how easy it is for good people to wander into evil behaviors. It happens in real life all the time, only we tend to gloss over the why and how, instead focusing on the cut-and-dried, you’re either good or you’re bad point-of-view. I’m willing to say most fantasy novels drill into the plot more than the characters. I prefer character pieces, little dots of light against dark backgrounds.
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Why Do I Write What I Do:
Most of my characaters and plots are dreamed. As in literally. I dream them. The concept for the Tyrants of the Dead series: dreamed up in one night. (The character names and personalities came later). The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera: also dreamed up in single nights. What typically happens after I have an involved dream (or nightmare,) is that it sticks with me until I write it out. Everything I put to paper, I do it to expel it from my overcrowded head. I love my dreams, but I fear what might happen should I stop writing them away. ‘Stay ahead of the train,‘ I tell myself. ‘Or it’ll run me over.’
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How Does My Writing Process Work:
I’ve read a lot about other writers’ processes. Some of it is fascinating stuff. Others not so much. Truth be told, my process is boring. I dream it. I write it. I edit the crap out of it. I release it. It’s slow, but satisfying. I prefer to write at night, surrounded by candles, wine, and eerie soundtrack music, but none of these things are required. I don’t ever suffer from writer’s block. I don’t typically agonize over outlines or character sketches. I just let the words fall out. I love the intricacies of language, conversation, and conflict, and so, like the ocean, the waves of ideas never really stop crashing against me, the shore.
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Artist Highlights:
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John R McGuire
A fellow guildmember and North GA dweller, John is a novelist and a heavy hitter in the local comic book scene. His latest release, The Dark That Follows, is all over Amazon. I like to compare John to Atlas. He bears the weight of many worlds on his shoulders, but still keeps holding it up.
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River Fairchild
River’s book, Diamonds and Dust, sits in the on-deck circle of my books to read. River is quite a character, zinging pretty much everyone and everything (deservingly so) via Facebook and Twitter. Check out her website here, and show her some love.
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Amanda Makepeace
Another fellow guildmember, Amanda is an artistic machine. Aside from the great marketing and cover work she’s done for yours truly, she paints and sketches her way across the natural world with an eye toward the fantastical. Check out Amanda’s ever-growing portfolio here.
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It’s late. I mean late, late. Time to fire up a small glass of Scotch,  turn RotK off, and head off to bed. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll dream up a new book…or three.
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Until next time,
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Writing about SEX without being creepy

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 So here we are. Tessera Guild is more than six months old, and yet there’s not a droplet of pornographic material on our site. Borderline impossible, that feat. I’m not saying this week’s post is gonna snap the streak. I’m just sayin’. Seems every other site is drowning in sexual imagery and conversation. Hell, even CNN posts the occasional nipple, don’t they?

I guess what I’m saying is; sex sells. Well duh. Why shouldn’t it? Even if plenty of folks are more than a little stuck-in-the-50’s about gettin’ busy, deep down everyone wants it, needs it, craves it. It’s like the prize behind every curtain. Mention any topic, seriously any, and I bet we can tie it (no pun intended) back to sex. It’s in the movies, in every Dos Equis commercial, in Halloween stores, Wal-Mart lingerie departments, and off every other exit on Hwy 75 from Atlanta to Miami. Lion’s Den, I’m looking at you.

And of course, it’s in books.

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“Hmmmm… Missionary or surprise flaming dragon? I’m just not sure.”

Disclaimer: I’m not really here to talk about romance or erotica genres. I like to think everyone knows what to expect when they search the aisles for Fifty Shades of whatever. I’m here to talk about every other piece of literature, every fantasy, mystery, horror, sci-fi, etc written with a central story revolving around something besides sex. Because, you know, people do actually f**k outside of Penthouse forums and Christian Grey’s bedroom. Who knew?

Writing sex scenes in fiction is hard. Yeah. Pun intended. Unless you’re gifted with the ability to  spill your hottest fantasies out and come across as less than creepy, you’ve got a challenge on your hands. You’ve got to appeal to guys and gals. You’ve got to set the right mood (just like in real life) work the reader up a bit, rub ’em down where it counts, and then get the F outta there before you distract everyone from the main story. There’re so many things you can do wrong. You can creep the reader out. You can ruin an otherwise realistic flow with a ridiculous, out-of-place, fairy-tale romp. You can be too dry, too clinical, or you can risk being too graphic (I had no idea our heroine was that flexible!) Unless you’re rocking an amazing knowledge of sex and realism, and maybe you are, you risk boredom or creepiness with every groan, sign, and lip-bite.

Now, I’m not gonna sit in my couch, wine in hand, candles blazing on my table, laptop scalding the tops of my thighs, and tell the world how to write about sex. I’ve written my fair share of scenes, but that hardly qualifies me. Rather than preach, I’ll offer up what I like when I’m reading about the deed, and you can decide whether you agree or not.

My top 6 got-to-have-it conditions for a lovely, mid-book bump:

1. Keep it short. (No, not that.) I mean keep the scene short. A huge chapter about crumpled sheets, six-packs, ripped panties, and sweat-beaded boobs belongs in a different kind of book. Give us just a taste. Our imagination will do the rest. Trust me.

2. Unless it’s part of the story, keep the kink to a minimum. If Boffer the Elf has a spanking obsession, no one really cares. Well…maybe a little. (Announcing Boffer and other Spanktastic Tales – Due to hit Kindles in Fall 2015).  Just kidding. Probably.

3. Make it count. Make it relevant. We don’t want sex between a bored housewife and her distracted-by-football husband. Give us a moment worth remembering. Make us tingle. Make us say, “Whew!” If you’re only gonna have one or two sex scenes in the book, you might as well give us something to think about.

4. Realism. If you’re not sure about how to pull a scene off, read up on it. Find some decent erotica and shave the fluff down by 88%. Or even better, go shag someone. Your wife, your husband, your neighbor. Tell ’em you’re doing research. Seriously. Most writing homework tends to be tedious. Not this kind.

5. Have a woman (preferably several) read through it. Odds are, if they’re not creeped out, the guys won’t be either. But if the ladies are all like, “Ick!” maybe it’s time to rethink the robot gang-bang scene. Actually, I just had an idea…

6. Have a cigarette afterwards. What I mean is; don’t forget about what just happened. If two characters got it on for the first time, things will change. It’s just like in real life. Nothing is the same after the moment. If it’s meaningless to the characters, odds are it’ll be meaningless to the reader.

You can probably tell. I’ve leapt back into reading lately. A lot. Most of the novels I’m shredding through contain their share of oh baby, and most of them do it well. I won’t name names (GOT) but a few otherwise excellent works have contained creep-tastic rape fantasy sex or dry-as-bones got-nothing-better-to-write-about sex. Meh. We can do better. As readers, I think we all reserve the right to demand a little more out of our sex scenes. Give us a little more bang for our buck. And yes, I meant that exactly how you wanted me to mean it.

There’s my two cents. What’re you still doing here? Go get some!

Lovingly,

J Edward Neill

So…now that you’re in the mood for sex, go here.

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?

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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.

 

It F***ing Sucks Bein’ Green

The-Avengers-Climax-Hulk-the-avengers-34726224-1920-1080

signal_ver2_xlgIt was announced last week that David Bruckner, a long-time acquaintance, friend of a dear friend, and fellow Atlanta-ite, is going to direct the next Friday the 13th movie. Dave directed one third of the Atlanta-based horror film The Signal as well as the first (and in a lot of people’s opinions, the best) segment of the anthology V/H/S. It will be his debut feature as a solo director.

I congratulate David and wish him nothing but the best. I’m very excited for what he’s going to do.

Oh, and also, fuck him.

My friend Jake Goldberger‘s second film, Life of a King is available on DVD now.

His first film, Don McKay, was an off-beat dark comedy that was so off-beat that most people didn’t get how funny it was. It starred two Oscar nominees and a future Oscar winner. It wasn’t treated very well by critics and not very many people saw it. I liked it, but I also read the script about a decade before and was elated to see it make its way to the screen.

life-of-a-king-posterLife of a King is a much more high-profile film. Starring another Academy Award winner, Cuba Gooding Jr, it is a moving tale about an ex-con that teaches a group of inner-city kids the value and beauty of the game of chess. It’s kind of Stand and Deliver with a Karate Kid finale (with a Rocky twist). It may not sound like your type of film. It’s honestly not mine. But I found myself enjoying it quite a bit. More than anything, I was impressed by the performance by Gooding and by how much Jake has grown as a director. He told me the other day that it was shot in just 15 days, which astounded me for how good it looks. Dakota Skye had more time to shoot and it felt like we had no time at all.

I have known Jake for over a decade. I’m proud of him and congratulate him on his success and hope his next film is even bigger and better and I can’t wait to see it.

Oh, and also, fuck him.

Lake-Effect-Brochure-Small-728x1024I don’t know Tara Miele very well. But I do know her husband, Dakota Skye cinematographer Brett Juskalian. Right after Dakota Skye Tara made a lovely little film called The Lake Effect and has since then made a couple other films (I’ve lost track) for the Lifetime Channel.

Tara is a talented writer and I’m happy her career as a filmmaker is taking off.

Oh, and also, fuck her.

 

An old collaborator of mine, Charlie Ebersol, with whom I worked on many projects that never quite got off the ground (see my tale about pitching a show at the Sci-Fi Channel), has been hired to write a sequel to Space Jam. Charlie is more of a producer than writer, and it’s not a project I would necessarily kill to be a part of, but still. It’s a big opportunity.

I wish him and his brother all the luck with the film.

And, yes, fuck him.

One of the first friends I made upon moving to Los Angeles was a funny kid from Tulsa named Bill Hader. I don’t need to explain to you who he is. If you don’t know, just Google him. I’ve heard Mel Brooks praise him. Mel. Brooks.

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He also does a pretty good impression of me.

Fuck him.

Even within this very guild, on this site, my friends are bugging the shit out of me. J. Edward Neill, having released Down the Dark Path last year, has just finished the follow-up. This would be less impressive if his books weren’t approximately seven million pages long. Likewise, John McGuire just put his first book, The Dark That Follows (we like the word “dark” in our titles, don’t we?) up on Amazon but I also happen to know that he’s currently revising his second novel, having already finished the first draft. Plus, John has some comic books out in the world, with more to come, and that’s awesome.

Fuck both of them.

I, of course, don’t mean any of the profanity I have hurled at my friends and peers above. Good people, all of them. Some of them amongst my favorite people.

Wait. No. I do mean it.

Fuck all of them.

Envy is a hell of a thing.

I’m not a religious dude but if Morgan Freeman has taught me anything (other than how hard it is to be a penguin, how to smuggle a rock hammer into the slammer, how to be the quartermaster for a vigilante, how love is worth dying for, how not to storm a Civil War fort, and how to embrace my inner Master Builder), it’s that Envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Brad-Pitt-and-Morgan-Freeman-in-Seven

You remember those. I think they go: Being Fat, Being a Child Molester, Being a Lawyer, Being Pretty, Being a Hooker, Envy, and shooting Keyser Söze.

Envy. That big green monster that sometimes beats me senseless worse than…

i3r38XmIrCPRY

“Puny Self-Worth”

I like my life. This is not about that. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone not named Clooney or Timberlake and only then if I can take a few people with me.

This is professional envy. Comparing where you are at in your career to that of your peers. I know better than to give into it, but I’m a human being and not a very good one at that.

Of course, envy leads to doubt.

At 25, I hadn’t done X. At 30, I wasn’t even close to accomplishing Y. At 35, I had pretty much given up on Z.

40 is coming on really fast and I’m out of fucking letters.

And what do people tell you when you’re feeling green? Not with seasickness. Not with lovable singing felt frog-ness. But with the feeling of wanting what someone else has…

They say “Keep your head down and do your work.”

And I say—

I’ve been swearing a lot this post, huh? Well, you fill in the blank.

giphyI have gotten so much better over the years in dealing with this. A while back I wrote a piece on here about Livin’ Small, based on the mentally of my friend Jonah Matranga. It’s about being happy with what you have and embracing what you have accomplished, not what you haven’t. It’s a perspective I cherish. And try to hold to.

But I can’t always. Sometimes it stings. Badly. Sometimes it sears a hole in my heart.

Sometimes in makes me hate my friends.

Because they’re not as smart as me. Not as talented. I’ve read his stuff and I’m such a better writer than him. I could absolutely do a better job behind the camera. What’s so special about her? What’s so important about him?

WHY DOESN’T ANYONE REALIZE THAT I’M THE BEST PERSON IN THE WORLD AT WHAT I DO?!?!?!?!?!?

That is what envy can do to. Take all my insecurities and turn my brain into a hornets’ nest. The awful thoughts I keep just beneath the surface, born of doubt and fear and narcissism and frustration, they seep out of my pores and turn me into something I don’t like very much.

That’s my secret, Cap…

83366-bruce-banner-transforms-into-h-BhDR

…I’m always an asshole.

It’s not an original tale, a writer struggling with egotism and doubt. Hell, they’re job requirements. They can fuel you. Only someone with an enormous ego thinks their thoughts are worth people paying money for; only someone full of doubt needs the love of millions of strangers to validate them as people.

Like I said, though, this has gotten a lot better over the years. I can actually now feel genuine joy at my friends’ successes. Sure, it’s joy laced with a little vitriol, but it’s joy all the same. I want everyone I know and love to do well at whatever they do. But it is hard when what they do is also what I do. Because I can’t help but measure myself up to them. And, rightly or wrongly, every step they take forward feels like a step back for me.

I also know that there are people that envy me. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a produced feature film in the world, no matter how small and indie. Not everyone has the time, endurance, or will to write a novel. Some people are better writers than me, but many are not.

What has been the point of this? I don’t know. Do I get off on exposing this jealous and angry part of myself? Maybe. Am I using this as an outlet to vent my frustrations? Certainly. If you take anything from this, other than a deep dislike of me, I hope you check out the work of my friends that I listed above. They’re all talented and hard-working people. And they’re good people.

Boy, I’m in a bad fucking mood.

I promise next week I’ll be a better person. Because, luckily, this feeling will fade and I’ll go back to this:

Snapz-Pro-XScreenSnapz0023-1024x572

No, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go keep my head down and do my work.

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.

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

 

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!

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

 

Death and Cranberry Sauce

It’s Thanksgiving week. For some of us that means roasted fauna, houses packed with kids, and huge dinners with family. For others it’s a chance to raid retail America at 4AM to wage jihad against our rival shoppers. And perhaps, for a few, it’s a chance to reflect upon our good fortunes and spend a few hours or days among those we cherish most.

Let me level with you. For me, it’s mostly a chance to write even later into the night than usual.

turk

Turkey: “So I’m safe?”
Me: “Only until I finish one more chapter!”

As I sit here in the dark, my laptop humming away, I try to think of appropriate topics to fill the holiday void. Maybe, I think, I’ll write a nice piece about turkeys. Nah. Too ridiculous. Everyone already knows how amazing turkeys taste. Well…what about a nice anecdotal essay of all the glorious Thanksgiving feasts I’ve devoured? Nope. Too hunger-inducing. Ok. Maybe a nutty short story about zombie pilgrims, seven-barreled blunderbusses, and cranberry sauce gone evil? Meh. Maybe next year.

As it turns out, aside from Halloween, the holidays just aren’t that inspiring word-wise to me. With all the reindeer, jingling bells, and Stove Top stuffing, everything merry is pretty much covered. Seems I’d rather write about castles crumbling, warlocks trying to end the world, and maidens not-so-fair. Yep. Fantasy tropes galore. Santa was never very good at swordplay anyhow.

And so, lacking anything holiday-appropriate, I’ve decided to tackle a much darker subject this week. Death. Yes, death. Specifically the killing off of fictional characters. More specifically the way I like to do it when I write.

Why, you ask? “It’s the holidays, J Edward. You’re supposed to be cheerful.” Well…perhaps it’s the weather (grey and sunless) or maybe it’s the chill in the air. Or more likely it’s because I’m neck deep in putting the finishing touches on Dark Moon Daughter and completing the final episode of Hollow Empire. A glimpse at the names of these two titles should be enough to let you know. These are dark fantasy works. And that means lots of characters need killing.

I suppose some writers agonize over ending the careers of their favorite characters. After all, these fictional folks become a part of us. We are them, and they are us. The longer we spend with them, the more we come to know and love them. The same goes for readers of fiction. I’ve been there. I know. When Gandalf the Grey plummeted off the bridge with the Balrog, I suffered some heart stoppage. When Javert threw himself in the river in Les Miserables, I felt all, “WTF?” Heck, when Sauron got spanked in Return of the King, I was a little sniffly.

Writing a character’s death, however…that’s a whole other matter for me. I crave it. I love it. Having marched so many miles in their mud-encrusted boots, having survived with them through war and darkness, I’ve lived inside them and experienced things I never could in my ordinary life. But when the curtain falls and the lights go out, it’s time for them to meet their makers. Not all of them, mind you. Just enough to keep the reader wondering.

Ending a character’s life, no matter how beloved, has become a way for me to move on to the next hero, the next villain, the next part of the writing experience. When most readers close a book they’re reading, the characters live on in their hearts. It’s the same for me. But when I slam shut the cover of my own works, I want to remember the way my characters left the world. I like a story finished, all the loose ends tied up, all doubts ended. And for some characters, that means a sharp shovel and some cold earth. Those of you who’ve read Down the Dark Path might snicker at that last part and say, “I call BS, J Eds. There’s this part at the end in which...” Yeah, I know. To you I say, “Just wait for Nether Kingdom.”

So let’s talk about technique. How’s it done? How do you reach out and snatch the reader’s heart out of their chest? How do you become a killer? For starters, let’s talk about how not to do it. In a popular novel I recently finished (not to be named for fear of retribution) two clutch characters are murdered in the same chapter. One, fittingly so, gets a few final words, a vivid description of his end, and even a zinger of a quip mocking the man and his life. The other…well… she gets none of these. In fact, we’re not even sure she’s dead. We’re left wondering, not for mystery’s sake, but solely due to poor description, whether this woman has been murdered or not. The result is that I cared about the one death, but felt totally ambiguous about the other. Not good. Made me mad. You cheated me, Mr. Author. You promised two, but only gave me one.

brave

Yeah I know it’s a movie, not a book. Maybe I just enjoy seeing Mel Gibson suffer.

How then do you do it? I won’t claim to be the expert on character death. Far from it. But I’ve some practice in the realm, and here’s my process. Foremost, unless the plan is to resurrect ’em or purposefully trick the reader into thinking their favorite huggy little elf or blundering hero has died when they haven’t, then make sure you kill ’em dead. The first time. Leave no questions. Let the Grim Reaper walk right up and snatch the character’s soul away with his cold, bony claws. Be absolute. Second, and here’s the key, make it vivid. I’m not talking about fountains of blood (although sometimes…) or pages upon pages of last words and, “…tell my wife I love her.” I mean give us the skinny. Was the character sick before he died? Well…tell us about his shivers, his eyes gone cold, his wide-eyed stare at the heavens once he’s gone. Did the princess burn alive in her ivory tower? Ok…give us her pain, her dress turning to ash, her arms curling across her chest. What about battle? Did Ser Bigsword meet Lord Darknuts and bite off more than he could chew? Good. I want to read about the bad guy carving his armor to ribbons. I want to know his terror. Admit it; so do you.

Because ultimately, that’s why you’re so invested in the characters’ lives. Because maybe, just maybe, your favorite knight, scullery maid, or kindly, soft-spoken wizard could suddenly meet their end. And if the author insists on doing that to you, you’ve every right to insist he does it right. I’ll do it for you. That’s a promise.

So…Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your feasts, your shopping, and your families. I’ll still be here in my dungeon, awaiting your return. If you’ve a favorite character in Down the Dark Path, I’d worry for their health…

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?

The Biggest Fish: Smallville

At some point the following tale has become my own Big Fish story. Or perhaps it just has that sort of potential. I can only relay the events as they are currently in my mind… somewhat dulled by the time and distance from the original events. What you do with this information is completely up to you.

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I cast my mind back to sometime in 2002 where I had joined up with a group of like-minded aspiring writers in the back of the Dragon’s Horde comic shop in Stone Mountain, Georgia. I like to think of this time as the beginning of Phase 1 of my writing career (Phase 2 came in 2010). The beginning of working with others on various projects, and the beginning of having someone read something I had put to paper (up to this point writing was this distant thing in the back of my mind, but I either lacked the willpower or the knowledge to even know where to begin).

Anyway, one of the group members (we called ourselves WriteClub… possibly not the most clever of names, but it got the point across) told us he had a connection through his sister that could walk a potential script into the Smallville offices. We just needed a script.

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Of course the first question after “How exactly is this going to work?” and “Really? No BS?” was how were we going to do this? There were 6 of us in our little group and this could be something we all focused on. A true collaboration. So we sat around one Sunday and talked about the show, and if we were going to do a script what plot points should we hit? I want to say after that one afternoon we had a rough outline and plot points, but it may have been a couple of meetings before that happened. And I don’t remember all the specifics of those meetings, but I do recall the FUN of it all. This was our chance, no matter how small, and we were all ready to give it a shot. No idea was off limits at first, and then we slowly began to circle around the true idea… the one that would serve as our story for this script.

That story was roughly as follows:

Green Arrow would make his first appearance on the show. (What nerve we had to even think this way. I mean not only were we going to immediately get this script sold, but we’d also be the first to really bring in a non-Superman hero. Like no one in their writer’s room had thought of that.)

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He would meet/come into contact with Chloe (she was the sorta Lois character before Lois showed up on the TV Show) and there would be some definite sparks that would fly between the two of them. (While I think this is a fairly obvious thing to do, I actually still like the idea of trying to introduce another person into the Lana/Clark/Chloe triangle. And there would be someone else for Chloe to add to the Wall of Weird.)

He would need something from Lex. And to get that something would require breaking into Lex’s home. (I believe this was one of those things that would initially bring our heroes into conflict as suddenly Clark is really stuck between possibly covering up a misdeed of Lex or letting a thief get away with something that could hurt his friend… a pseudo gray area for the Man of Steel).

And at the end, Green Arrow would get the heck out of town with some aspect of the information he was after (courtesy of Chloe), but with the feel as if he could be back.

Again there was more to it than that, but this was the basics as we settled on them. Now the only question was: Who wanted to bang out this script?

And the table went silent. I’m not sure if it was because none of us really had a clue what we were doing and didn’t want to be called out on it or what, but for whatever reason I found myself saying the words: “I’ll do it.”

Looking back, this was a huge step for me. What in the world was I thinking? What if they hated it? What if I was exposed as a fraud? Hell, I barely understood the way a script was supposed to be formatted at this point. And still I raised my hand and volunteered. I rushed home with Final Draft ready to be installed on my computer and began to type, my fingers a blur as the ideas and the dialogue flowed from me. I did my best to develop scenes and made sure to hit all the high points. By the end of the night (probably more likely very early in the morning), I had the roughest of rough drafts finished. A masterpiece of American Television waiting to be unleashed upon Hollywood.

It was 29 pages.

Now, what I did not know at the time was that in script terms for movies and TV 1 page equals (roughly) 1 minute of filming. Smallville had a running time without commercials of around 42 minutes. Which meant I should have something around 42 pages.

And I had 29.

No problem, though. I was excited to have that much written up. And when I found out about the discrepancy, well that was why I was a part of the group. We tossed more ideas around and I believe we got the script up towards 40 pages (I might be wrong on this, but as I said above, this is my Big Fish and it weighs…). But we weren’t done. We did a table read. We brought in a couple of females to read the women’s lines to help make sure nothing was too out of whack. And at the end of that follow-up meeting I took the notes and compiled that final version.

We sent it off to the sister.

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And waited.

And waited.

And then heard back from her that she read it and really liked it! It was on its way as she’d pass it along to her contacts over at Warner Bros.

And then nothing. Nothing came of it. In my mind, I constructed an elaborate Twilight Zone style scenario where the script was on the desk of the man (or woman) who was the final arbiter and somehow it had fallen behind the desk, just out of sight. Because that was the only reason our phones had not been ringing off the hook (back when phones did that and didn’t just vibrate in your pant’s pocket).

Months passed and the script became almost an urban legend in the group. We’d mention it in passing like someone who had taken a grainy picture of Bigfoot or Loch Ness. The thought was occasionally passed around that we might be able to resubmit via another connection (we may or may not have done that, I can’t remember). I took the last printed copy and stored it away for safe-keeping. Eventually, like most legends it slipped completely from our consciousness.

Fast forward to October 20, 2004. I settled in to watch Smallville for the evening as the episode “Run” appeared. It was to feature a non-Superman hero: The Flash.

For those of you that don’t know my two favorite superheroes are Spiderman and The Flash… but I’ll talk about that in another post. So to say I was glued to my seat would be an accurate statement.

This version of the Flash flirts with Chloe, steals something from Lex, which causes him to come into conflict with Clark.

Watching the episode was a bit surreal. Little things here and there seemed familiar, big things seemed close…

And when I was done I felt a warmness spread throughout me. We were on the right track with our script.  This episode felt so much like ours that it only reinforced that thought in my mind. The next day I talked to one of the group. His first words were:

“I liked the episode of Smallville you wrote, John.”

Now do I know if anyone in the Warner Bros’ offices actually ever saw our script? No. Heck, I’m 100% (well more like 99.999 – with a lot more 9s, but we’ll round up) that they did not. I’m not accusing anyone of anything unsorted.

I just think we tapped into that common Idea Space that is out there, that so many creative people seem to be able to harness. That same reason that multiple movies come out about the same subject (of course the other reason for that is because the studio sees an opportunity to beat an opponent at the same game, but I digress).

This was an example of that. That’s how close it was/felt to what we had done. That’s how close we were to getting a shot at the big leagues.

But above everything else, that project gave me some measure of confidence in my abilities. Writing that script in the first place and then watching as the others read it I felt like a team with others, but more than anything I felt like I could be one of the heavy hitters for that team. My future in writing was going to be big and bright.

I mean, I’d written an episode of Smallville after all.

My Curious Case of Fiction Fatigue

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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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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:

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

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.

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 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?

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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.

Why Can’t I Be Rod Tidwell?

In the movie Jerry Maguire, Rod Tidwell is an athlete who has confidence in himself (some might say too much), in his abilities, and in his skill. But he’s hit the wall. No one seems to know about him and no one seems to care about him (in the football world at least).

Until… finally, at the end of the movie he shows up and on a national stage does something to capture everyone’s attention.

That’s what I want.

No, not the money, I certainly don’t write to make tons of money. I just want the opportunity to show that I have some talent. To tell a story and to have others see it.

To have others enjoy it.

The most maddening thing about being a writer who is on the outside looking in is that moment when you read something “professional” and know, 1000%, that you could do it better. That your ability to string words together in a sentence was better than that particular writer. If only you had the chance.

If only someone with power knew you existed.

I’ve been at this writing thing for almost a decade now. I say a decade because the stuff before it doesn’t count for me. It was playtime in a notebook. I cringe to think about those stories I wrote back in school. The terrible poetry (maybe it is good – with that certain teenage angst running through it, but I cannot bring myself to look) sitting on my hard drive. The one problem with being a pack rat is that old stuff is still around. Everything is kept because to not keep it would be disastrous.

So, ten years ago I became involved in a writing group. We met in the back of a comic book shop. Artists flowed in and out of the place and someone had the idea “let’s make a comic book”. That first day I saw a page of something I’d written drawn was a moment akin to magic.

That was the first step.

But with every little step forward it was followed by at least two steps backward. A cliche, to be sure, but beyond true. Flaky people who promised one thing and then never delivered. They all seemed to fall right off the face of the Earth. And yet, stubbornly, I continued on. The first anthology comic came out. A year and some later another one came out. Then the first color book about a year after that.

When Do I Get To See The Sailboat?

When Do I Get To See The Sailboat?

And still the frustrations grew. Projects thought up and then abandoned for all sorts of reasons. And still I wondered what it was going to take.

“I should be further along…

If only the artists would stop being so slack and finish something…

If I had more free time…

If…”

Almost three years ago I got laid off from my day job.  For the first time since college, I was out of work for almost four months. That time might have been eaten up before I knew it, if not for my wife. She was the one who suggested that I just write a book.

“You have these stories, and you never have the time normally, but now…”

So I went home that night and started to write what would become The Dark That Follows. Every night after my wife went to bed I stayed up into the early hours writing on that draft. Stumbling over words, but doing the deed.  Butt in chair every night.

I finished the first draft the night before I started my new job.

Since then I’ve written another novel, worked on a bunch of comic projects (both of which I’ll be talking about as time goes on), and slowly feel like the tide is turning. The old 10-year success… maybe. I’m certainly hoping that someone notices.

That someone enjoys it.Rod Tidwell Touchdown

I’ve got my celebration dance ready for that day.

John McGuire

PS – You can find that very first comic here: http://www.terminusmedia.com/new-retro-the-god-that-failed/#more-1063