A Few of the Million Things I Should Have Written

We all those moments where we see something or read something or hear something and the only response is to slap our foreheads and exclaim “How obvious! Why didn’t I think of that?”

I mean it could be as simple as the Pet Rock or the windshield wiper on the back of your car, but for me it tends to take form in the movies and TV I watch or the books and comics I read. So here are a few of the culprits that have me shaking my head at myself.

Ready Player One

Ready_Player_One_cover

A newcomer to this list, the book is the crazy quest set in a future where everyone effectively has checked out of the real world and lives the majority of their lives online. That’s what the book probably says on the back cover (I’m too lazy to double-check, but take my word for it).

That’s not what the book is about. It is about being a love letter to everything good and holy from the 1980s. Hey, did you like War Games (the movie with Matthew Broderick)? Random Japanese monster movies? Dungeons and Dragons? Joust!?!

Then this is the book for you.

And guess what… I loved all those things. Constantly as I read there would be some reference to something I not only recognized, but flat-out LOVED. In many ways it was like my subconcious wrote the book and then gave it to this guy so he could slap his name on the thing.

Damn my subconcious!

The Walking Dead

Walking-Dead-AMC

Hey, I liked zombies before they were cool. In that between time where they had become a joke. Long after Romero had become a name only a few people might have known. I was watching those terrible movies and the good ones and everything else inbetween.

But The Walking Dead… that could have been me. And it isn’t just the idea of printing money with the release of the tv show or the comics or the spinoff or whatever may be next. No, the problem is that now, no matter what you do in “zombie” comic fiction, you can’t be better that The Walking Dead.

The frustrating part is that it took one guy to realize we all liked the story of survivors. We like the idea of a world trying to destroy us. And we love a story that isn’t going to end anytime soon.

The zombie movie that continues after the credits begin to roll.

So obvious!

A Game of Thrones

A-Game-Of-Thrones-in-PDF-EPUB

Again, not because of the TV show, but because this is a book (series) which has finally managed to bring Fantasy back to the forefront. Sure the Lord of the Rings films helped put the spotlight on the genre, but it wasn’t until the better part of a decade later that the world stood up and noticed.

I mean, fantasy novels are mostly what I read in middle school and high school. But the main problem with much of those pulp/D&D novels were that they derived from the same original source… Tolkien. Everything was really just a riff on those core ideas. Elves are mysterious. Dwarves are grumpy. Hobbits are called Halflings because we don’t want to be sued. Goblins and Orcs and Dragons and…

You get the point.

Game said that you could choose a different path. Something more realistic, less magic based and still be lauded for it.

Sadly, it may have done its job too well. It might be the new standard, and a new stand-in for Tolkien… instead of breaking the old rules it merely created a whole new set of them.

Cabin in the Woods

CABINs-poster-indicates-its-complex-puzzle

The movie I certainly could have written. Especially in light of Scream being one of my all-time favorite movies (not just horror movies, but overall). The deconstruction of the genre by that movie is really taken to the next possible level here. In Scream you ask What are the Rules?

In Cabin you ask Why are their Rules?

It is an important difference, but one that I think I’ve been trying to find for a while. Something that might look at the horror movies of the 70s through today and anticipate what the next trend might be.

Cabin asks the questions better than I could have thought.

Damn it!

Let the Right One In

let the right one in

At a time when Vampires were not really the creatures of the night of our youths. Heck, they weren’t even the mysterious creatures from Anne Rice (they must have a decent publist). Let the Right One In gets back to both the idea of the unknown… this otherworldly THING who must be feared, and combines that with the idea that lonelyness is not just a human trait. That our need for connection with someone, with something will always triumph over everything else.

And that true friendship is one of the most important concepts in the world. So why not be friends with a vampire!

It’s like, how do you write a Monster horror novel with heart? Well, this is the way.

 

Well, that’s just a taste, but really, I need to go and try to write something so that my brain doesn’t forget to write the next one of these “obvious” ideas.

***

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 recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

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

Author Interview and New Book Release – Keith Rommel!

Welcome to the latest in our long-running series of creative interviews. We’ll be interviewing creative individuals in the realms of writing, illustration, comics and more. Today we have author Keith Rommel, Long Island native, Floridian transplant, and author of grim new thriller, The Devil Tree!

Let’s get right to it:

Hi Keith! Welcome to Tessera’s latest creative interview. Word on the street is that you’ve got a new book. Please tell us ALL about it.

The Devil Tree is based off of a Port Saint Lucie Florida legend that I like to call the dirty little secret of this otherwise quiet community. There was this serial killer that would kidnap hitchhikers and preferred them in groups of two. He would hold them at gunpoint and make them negotiate why they should live and why their friend, the person he kidnapped them with, should die first. The killer has been noted as saying “Why kill one when you can kill two?” You couldn’t imagine how lively the conversation would get while one pleads for their life and begs you to kill their friend first.”
Bodies were buried and discovered years later.
DT

Awesome cover. Just straight up grim, just the way we like it.

Now tell us about yourself. Give up the goods on where you’re from and how you got here.

I am from Port Saint Lucie Florida and have lived here for over ten years. I’m originally from Long Island and came here to escape the hustle and bustle of the speedy New York lifestyle. I’ve adjusted to Florida living just fine and like it here. I am the writer of eight novels and have penned the critically acclaimed dark suspense Thanatology series. The debut novel in that series, The Cursed Man has been filmed as a major motion picture and is coming out this October, premiering in California. I am the co-screenwriter of the film with producer James L. Perry.

Tell us about your creative process. Do you have a strict method or…?

When I get an idea I do my best to outline it. Once the story is outlined, the writing process begins. The first draft is usually a train wreck but I edit it over and over again, and start adding details and all the characters’ personalities. The rewrites are my favorite part because that is when the story and characters start to take on lives of their own. It is during this process that I either love, hate or sympathize with the major players in the novel.

What kind of stories are your favorite?

I like my imagination being challenged every step of the way. I don’t like knowing the answer to the story after only a few chapters into the book. It is imperative to me when I write my stories that I write a plot that is not only difficult to guess what’s really going on but deliver a surprise ending that is long lasting.

What do you find most challenging about being a writer in today’s world?

The most challenging aspect of being a writer for me is standing out in a very overcrowded market. With technology making it easy for most anyone to be a writer, I believe the only way to rise to the top and build your audience is by being patient, release solid, well-told stories, and put out a finished product that won’t turn readers off. Professional cover, edited inside and a professional layout of the internal text is key. At no point can I afford to appear amateurish. I need to breathe new life into a genre that is plagued with zombies and end of the world conflicts whether pandemic or war.

How can people reach you?

By visiting my website: www.keithrommel.com. I answer all fan mail and questions from aspiring writers myself. There is a tab to contact the author.

How can people get a copy of The Devil Tree or some of your previous novels?

The Devil Tree is available as a hardcover or on your Kindle. It is on Kindle Unlimited and the unique thing about this release is if you buy the hardcover, you get a free download of the Kindle version. They can visit my author page by going here.

And now, from the back cover of Keith’s latest book, The Devil Tree:

Based on the Port St. Lucie Legend
Back in the 1970’s, a series of bizarre incidents occurred at what has since been known as “The Devil Tree.” Beneath this ancient denizen, evil was wrought by a sick serial killer, calling upon forces most evil and dark. People were hung there … and bodies buried there … exhumed by the police. Overcome by superstition, some tried to cut down the tree, to no avail. Since then, it has stood in a remote section of a local park — left to its own devices — quiet in its eerie repose — until now!

Best-selling psychological-thriller author Keith Rommel has imagined the whole tale anew. He’s brought the tree to life and retold the tale with detail only possible in a fiction novel. Action-packed, with spine-tingling detail, this thriller is beyond parallel in the ground it uncovers … one author’s explanation of what may have really been said — what may have really happened — under Port St. Lucie’s “Devil Tree.”

Check out more of Keith’s work:

Author of The Cursed Man, The Lurking Man, The Sinful Man from the critically acclaimed psychological horror series. The Cursed Man is coming soon as a major motion picture. Also available from Keith Rommel: You Killed My Brother (crime) and Among the People (paranormal).

Author site: keithrommel.weebly.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Thanatology.Series

Amazon: amazon.com/author/keithrommel

 That’s all for this week.  

 Special thanks to Keith for appearing.

More is always to come.

J Edward Neill

 

The Ultimate ‘Build Your Own Bad’ Guy Quiz

MonsterForest

So.

Ever seen a movie and thought, ‘That monster was cool. But I can imagine cooler?’ Ever read a good book but wished the villain were more of a badass? Ever daydreamed up a monster more terrifying than any hero can handle?

Good. I think you’ll like this quiz.

Answer the following ten questions and tally up your points. A’s are worth 1 point each, B’s worth 3 points, and C’s worth 5 points. Once you’ve answered all the questions, scroll down to the bottom and see what kind of abomination you’ve created.

Here we go…

Which of the following is most terrifying to you?

A. Skeleton, ghouls, and zombies. Relentless, slow-walking horrors.

B. Psychotic criminal types. Leatherface, the Joker, Freddy from Friday the 13th.

C. Monstrous, skyscraper-toppling horrors. Godzilla, dragons, the alien ships from Independence Day.

Where does your monster live?

A. In a crypt, a dungeon, a basement, or a vast underworld labyrinth stuffed to its top with bones.

B. Right behind you. It’s watching you…right…now.

C. Far from mankind. Out in the wilderness where no one dares to go. Or perhaps even on another planet.

How does it prefer to kill?

A. Claws, teeth, swords made of bone, axes forged in Hades.

B. A projectile to the back of your head. You never saw it coming. Hey, at least it didn’t hurt.

C. By making you its dinner. In one bite.

How grotesque is this beast of yours?

A. Horrid, rotting, festering. I mean, this critter leaves pieces of itself on the ground as it crawls to get you.

B. Not grotesque at all. Maybe even beautiful or elegant. All the better to get closer to its prey.

C. Alien in nature. Chilling to behold. You’d be so petrified to see it, you might not even run.

Motivation, Motivation, Motivation

A. It destroys because it has to. It knows nothing but violence.

B. It’s cold and calculating, but hardly senseless. This monster gets a thrill out of ending people.

C. Because it’s hungry. And people are crunchy-good.

Look deep into its eyes. What do you see?

A. Death. Bottomless, frozen death.

B. Yourself staring back at you.

C. Hunger. Nom, nom, nom

When does it come to claim its victims?

A. Only in the dark of night. It haunts houses after the sun sets, stalks moonlit graveyards, and frolics in forests black and empty.

B. At any time. You’re never safe. Ever.

C. Once every 1,000 years. During which it destroys everything, and then sleeps in the core of a burned-out star.

How can it be stopped?

A. It can’t be. You can drive it off, banish it, or flee so far away it’ll take years for it to catch you. But kill it? Nah. You might as well let it kill you now, otherwise you’ll just die tired.

B. Guns, explosives, nuclear weapons. The bigger the boom, the better the chance it’s dead.

C. Go back in time. Destroy its home planet before it hatches. Or hope the luckiest shot ever hits this monstrosity’s one and only weak spot.

 If it could say one thing before claiming each victim…?

A. “Give me your soul…forever.”

B. “I could’ve ended you a thousand times before. But this time it’s for real.”

C. “You’re so small…so weak…so easily destroyed.”

Name your monster’s nemesis.

A. A monster hunter. Cold-blooded. As relentless as the terror he/she pursues. With arcane weapons, a low cowl, and no shortage of courage.

B. A lawman, a knight, or the poor sod whose wife your abomination slaughtered. It’s a little about justice, and more than a little about revenge.

C. A scientist, maybe even a wizard. Someone who knows when bullets and swords aren’t enough. Someone whose mind can engineer the perfect plan to topple the beast with brains, not brawn.

 ***

So…what abomination have you created?

0-15 points – A undead horror, but not a lowly zombie or skeletal swordsman. You’ve conjured up the lord of the undead, a lich, a monster with the might to summon whole armies of the dead. This baddie desires nothing more than to drag every living thing down into the underworld. Congrats, your nightmares must be epic. Collect bones much?

16-25 points – A demonic spirit. You probably enjoy movies like Evil Dead, Paranormal, and that awful Billy Zane flick with the Tales from the Crypt dude. Your monster has two forms: One is a fiery, twenty-horned demon lurking within a smoking hellpit. The other…a malevolent spirit content to haunt the minds of mankind. Forget taking over the world. Your monster likes causing mass pain. Just because it can.

26-34 points – Your monster is…a human. That’s right, apparently you think John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer are awesome guys. But seriously, you’ve made a demented, lighthouse-dwelling, prostitute-slaughtering freak. Living on society’s fringe, your messed up human might be a nutcase who dresses up as a clown and kills for thrills…or a sexy bombshell who lures men back to her apartment…and then icepicks them and strings them up for the crows to eat.  Good job. Seek help.

35-42 points – The aliens on TV and in the movies don’t hold a candle to what you’ve created. You’ve dreamt up a skin-peeling, flesh-wearing, human-liquefying extraterrestrial. Oh sure, they’ve got lava for blood, seven rows of teeth, and telepathic powers, but what really makes your alien beasts terrifying is their agenda. They won’t be content with subjugating a suburban city or a village in the boondocks. They want to enslave all of humanity, force us to build a doomsday machine, and then turn us into human oatmeal for a nutritious, delicious snack.

43-50 – Yep. You win. Your abomination laughs at all the others. Hope you’re happy. You probably high-five Cthulu whenever you get home or have a luxury condo in one of Smaug’s teeth. Your monster is big. Really f’ing big. Why mess around with killing a few dozen people when you can eat them all? In five minutes. If your tentacle-armed, ocean-drinking, city stomping monstrosity ever looked one of us in the eyes, we’d be helpless but to stand still and wait to be crushed, enslaved, or hurled twenty miles into the sky.

More absurd quizzes to come.

J Edward Neill

Author of this.

And this.

What if…? The Wizard of Oz were a dark fantasy movie

Witch

 

Welcome to the fourth installment of the What if…? series. Previous entries include dark remakes of The Lord of the Rings, Sleeping Beauty, and Star Wars. Like Mick Jagger, I see a red door and I want to paint it black.

Recently, I sat down with my son to watch The Wizard of Oz. I had plans to let him watch while I cooked, cleaned, and otherwise carved my way through the day. He’d watch a classic, and I’d get stuff done. It was a perfect plan. Etched in stone. Stronger than the foundations of the world. Right?

Wrong

Twenty seconds in, we were both hooked. I’ve never seen a kid so rapt and silent, and I’m not even talking about my son. Every cool memory of watching The Wizard of Oz as a boy flooded my wee black little heart. I never got to my chores. We sat there, my son and I, and soaked the movie up in all its glory. We loved it. There’s no other way to put it.

So what’s the deal? How could The Wiz get any better? How dare I dream of what it’d be like to change it? It’s already perfect in every way, right? Right??

Maybe…

What if I tweaked the movie? A lot. What if it was a dark fantasy epic, an adult, R-rated, midnight-hearted feast? What if, instead of an American classic families crowd on couches to watch every year, it was a movie that dropped your jaw open, terrified you, and made you geniunely fear for Dorothy and her friends? What if…indeed?

 Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up. First and foremost, and I know I’ll get killed for this, but the dark version of The Wiz can’t be a musical. It just can’t. Instead of songs about rainbows and yellow brick roads, dark Dorothy needs to dream these things. As in dream them between her nightmares. Because let’s face it, this poor little girl almost lost her dog, ran away from home, whirled through an imaginary (or real?) tornado, and fell under the constant threat of a wicked witch. If she has dreams, at least some of them will be bad. So instead of cheery songs, I want scenes of her dreaming of the good life sandwiched between scenes of her dreaming of the horrors (let’s face it, Oz is a pretty messed up place) surrounding her.

Now that the singing is gone (or at least changed) we move along to the Witch. The bad one. The bad one who doesn’t have a house on her. She’s pretty creepy in the original. She’s got the evil castle, an army of flying monkeys, another army of British-guard looking dudes, and some nasty ideas for using her magic. So yeah, the foundation is laid. What we need now is screen time. More of it. I want to know why everyone hates her. I want to know why she’s wicked. Moreoever, I want her to win once in a while. Instead of getting walked on by Glinda, mildly splashed by Dorothy, and dismissed by Oz, I think she needs to kick some ass first. Why do the Munchkins hate her? Is it her green face and hook nose, or did she enslave an entire Munchkin city to build her castle? Why does Oz want her gone? Because she’s un-dateable as a fellow practitioner of magic? Or because she’s threatened to use her spells to corrupt all he’s worked to build? Give us 700% more Witch. And let her F things up in ways that obnoxious Glinda can’t just dismiss with a wave of her wand. Please?

And while we’re on the subjects of Glinda and Oz…

I’m fine with Oz the way he is. A megalomaniac. A king by way of opportunity, but not birthright. A techno-genius in a otherwise medieval-ish land. A liar and a faker, but ultimately not too terrible a guy. But once again, I need more of him. The movie is named after this dude, so let’s give him his due. I want secret labs beneath Oz. I want technological devices meant to destroy the Witch (and her sister) but not yet ready for service. If she has evil spells and armies of nasty critters, perhaps he has equally formidable forces. Fewer critters, but better weapons. More power, but more reluctance to use it. C’mon Dark Oz. Step it up.

And Glinda… Oh Glinda. If you can undo anything the Witch does with a wave of your wand, maybe you should do more. As in lots more. As in use your magic to take the bad Witch down. Otherwise, I need a reason. Maybe Glinda is a coward at heart. Maybe she’s only allowed to (total cop out) use her magic for good. Or maybe she once was a bad witch, and now she’s having doubts about destroying someone she used to be. Or maybe, deep down, she knows the Wicked Witch would crush her in a duel. Yeah. That’s the reason I’m going with. Glinda’s good ain’t good enough. She’s nothing but a meddler, a poker in the fire, but ultimately unable to stop the bad girls.

OzDirtRoad

The brown-scale stays. Eeriest part of the movie, in some ways, the colorless plains of Kansas.

Who lives:

Since it’s all just a dream (I think) and Dorothy’s friends are manifestations of the people she knows in real-life, we can’t kill off as many good guys as I usually would in a dark fantasy movie. So…the Scarecrow, Lion, Tin Man, ToTo, and Oz are all spared, as is Dorothy herself.

Who dies:

 Enslaved Munchkins who build the Wicked Witch’s fortress. Glinda’s sister, in a flashback being cooked by the Wicked Witch. Some of the flying monkeys and Oh-E-Oh! soldiers, cut down by the newer, badder Tin Man.

  And last but hardly least: the scenery. To grit up The Wiz, we need sharper, more monolithic representations of the wholesome set pieces in the original. The Wicked Witch’s Fortress: Smoking, haunted, macabre, and surrounded by a poisonous lake. The Emerald City: Huge and bustling, stuffed to the nines with Oz’s devices, inventions, and gadgetry. The Munchkin Village: Cute and merry as ever, but lying in the shadow of the previous village, turned to ash by the Wicked Witch. The Yellow Brick Road: Clear and easy to follow in some places, shrouded in darkness at others.

Oh, and btw, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion are at heart magical beings. I mean…a metal man, a dude made out of horse food, and a talking lion…I figure all three were created either by Oz…or quite possibly even by the Witch herself. Dark Wiz of Oz will explain. Even if briefly.

Final disclaimer: the original movie kicks the shit out of my dark imagining. Don’t for second think I hope otherwise.

Catch you later,

Buy this.

J Edward Neill

 

 

Duane Jones: A Horror Film Pioneer

“Now get the hell down in the cellar! You can be the boss down there, but I’m boss up here!”-Duane Jones as Ben/“Night of the Living Dead”

Growing up in Chicago, we had one of those late night B-movie programs, where some obscure horror flick would get shown every once in a while. This is where my love of zombie flicks beganwith George Romero’s “Night of The Living Dead.”

NOLD1

This film was my introduction to one of the greatest horror films of all time, and a film that gave birth to a sub-genre that has influenced the creation of numerous films, television series, novels, comics, video games, and even music videos.

At the age of 28, Romero and writing partner John A. Russo crafted a solid script that followed a group of individuals who find themselves trapped in a remote farmhouse, as the dead rise around them.

The film featured some of the most suspenseful filmmaking of its time. It was a forerunner for the use of gore effects in horror films, and featured an omnipresent sense of despair that left viewers tense throughout the film. In light of all this, what sealed the deal for me with this film was one character: Ben.

BenPlayed by Duane Jones, Ben was the take charge survivor, who used his wits and resolve to get through the hellish night. One thing that was awesome about this guy, outside of being such a resourceful and intelligent badass, was the fact that he was Black.

We often find African American characters being the first to die in such films. It’s even become something of a joke. If they weren’t inspecting a dark corner where the killer obviously was, the character was often relegated to being the comic relief or sidekick. This got old pretty quick.

Imagine how it felt to finally see a strong Black male lead taking hold of the catastrophic situation, attempting to keep things from getting worse. Add to this, and I know it’s been pointed out numerous times before, that it’s amazing that a film like this was made during the late 1960s. This was during a time where the idea of a competent African American character as a leader was anathema to a large swath of America.

In the film’s script, Ben was described as a blue collar truck driver, where his race was not specified. The character wasn’t fully fleshed out until Duane Jones was cast in the film, causing Romero and Russo to perform rewrites for his character. Romero explained he simply cast the best actor for the role, highlighting the amount of acting skill that Jones brought to the role of Ben.

As Jones explains in an interview featured on Dimension Films 40th Anniversary release of “Night of The Living Dead,” “Ben didn’t really have a biography. Ben was just passing through.”

As Jones further explains in another interview, “It never occurred to me that I was hired because I was Black. But it did occur to me that because I was Black it would give a different historic element to the film.”

Ben never falters in his resolve to survive the night, even coming to verbal and physical blows with the other NOLD3survivors. Now I know in today’s world we have a wide variety of African American leaders in a host of industries, but once again, you have to place this in the context of the time in which the film was made.

Others might even argue why even focus on something like this? What’s the big deal when we’ve got countless examples of African Americans making it to the finish line of many of today’s slasher/horror films?

Whether it’s Naomie Harris in “28 Days Later” or Ving Rhames in the 2004 remake of Romero’s “Dawn of The Dead,” there are a number of individuals making it to the end of the major studio films. This doesn’t even include numerous examples that may abound in independent films.

I’ve just taken the time to just show some appreciation for the guy who set the standard (whether he meant to or not), for those who’ve come since.

If you’re looking for a great horror flick, with a standout performance courtesy of the film’s star actor, definitely check out “Night of the Living Dead.”

 

Ben 3

And a Child Shall Lead Them…

October is more than half over and yet I don’t feel like I’ve gotten much of my horror business done for the month. And I was doing so well a couple of weeks ago. I had watched a couple of movies with the horror bend to them, but since catching about 1/2 of the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, I’ve seen nothing that would disturb my soul. Nothing which would freeze the blood in my veins.

But a movie did come on the other day which set my mind spiraling back to a simpler time… to a time when I was much younger. The first time I remember being truly afraid.

ChildrenoftheCornPoster

The TV glowed from its perch atop my dresser.  My room was wrapped in complete darkness other than that solitary light (and perhaps what little could trickle under the door from the hallway). At the elderly age of 10, Saturday night meant that my bedtime could be extended to at least midnight, and if I was careful about the volume, I could push it past if need be.

This night, though, was a little different. I had become fascinated with horror movies earlier in the year. Somehow, perhaps with the help of HBO streaming into our household, I’d managed to watch Nightmare on Elm Street. The sight of those knives on the end of Freddy’s fingers shook me up, in a way I had never understood before. I didn’t know that a movie could do such things.

It was a gift.

So now, there I was, alone in my room, preparing to watch another horror movie. Something called Children of the Corn. Whether it was the soundtrack of the movie, the basic premise of an entire town’s worth of adults missing – leaving only the kids in charge… a thought which certainly seemed interesting to this 10 year old.

Or it could have been that the villains turned out to be the kids. Whatever it was, I was entranced. Completely enthralled. I glanced at the clock, seeing that it was well past ten o’clock and the sounds from outside my room had died down at some point during my seclusion. That was ok by me. I loved the idea of being there and letting the fear wash over me.

Being only a one story house, my room sat facing the subdivision road which ran in front of our house.

Somehow, between the movie and the soundtrack and the sound of my own breathing, another sound filled my ears… from outside the house.

My heart slammed faster in my chest, but I did what every 10-year old would naturally do: I pulled the covers up to just below my eyes. That age old idea that the monsters in the dark can’t possibly get you if you are protected by an inch of comforter. I closed my eyes and blocked out everything else. Surely it was just something from the movie that I’d heard.

Under the Bed copy

And then it came again.

There was no doubt in my mind that time. It had come from outside. I needed to figure out what it was. The idea of being afraid of something on a television screen suddenly became a distant memory. I slid from my place in the bed, slinking down to the floor beside it. Keeping low, I crept towards the window. Even while every synapsis in my brain fired to tell me to run out of the room, to go pound on my parent’s bedroom, and to let them deal with it… I continued until I was at the window. Slowly, I raised myself up, peering just over the window sill.

Outside he darkness chose not to reveal any potential secrets. Growing a little bolder, I managed to get my whole face up to be able to look.

And a light flashed directly in my eyes.

Flashlight

Somewhere I heard a scream, and my own fight or flight instincts kicked in. Had I been stronger, my door might have come off the hinges with the force I ran out of the room. Then I heard the scream again, only this time I understood that I was the one making the noise. Turning the corner, I found my mom in the living room and I proceeded to tell her everything I could through gasps and wheezing. I needed her to understand that there was something outside my window… that this wasn’t just the overactive imagination of a 10 year old who was watching scary movies.

I need not have worried. She hugged me, smiled, and said, “Your step-father is outside. He probably did it.”

The next sound I heard was one of laughter as my step-father rentered the house. His whole body shook as he relayed what he had seen. In light of this knowledge, I crept back to my bedroom, shut the door (but left a crack open), turned off the tv, and hid under the covers once more.

***

It’s that same fear that sometimes still gets me when it is very late and I am all alone in my house. A stray sound at 3 in the morning on a Friday night… I still find that I am comforted by ducking under the covers.

Perhaps there is some magic in that thought after all.

 

***

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 currently in week six of its 6-part release. Each episode is only $0.99. But you can go ahead and purchase the full novel (all 6 episodes) right now for $4.99 with the above link!

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

Alien Isolation

Alien Isolation Xenomorph

You had to know this was coming…. This is the video game I’ve been waiting for, for a long, long time. I pre-ordered Alien: Isolation sometime over the summer–months ago. I’ve never pre-ordered a game. The only thing I wish I had now was a bigger flat screen TV!

 And yes, I recorded this opening of the game myself! I was grinning like a 10 year old at Christmas.

Xenomorph by Amanda MakepeaceIf you don’t already know, I am obsessed with H.R. Giger’s Xenomorph. I’ve been enamored with the monster ever since I saw Alien on TV when I was around 11 years old. The film terrified me but the creature was such an amazing work of art I found even at that age I couldn’t look away. By the time I was 13, I was also reading the comics and drawing Xenomorphs straight from the pages. There are many things I’ve drawn and thrown away as a young artist, but these were not one.

So yeah. I’ve been waiting for this game. I’ve been waiting for video game graphics to reach the level needed for a quality game, made by people who know what an Alien game should be. And let’s face it, you could almost say this game was made for me. The main character, Ellen Ripley’s daughter, is named Amanda.

Amanda Ripley

Alien Isolation - 2 DiscsBecause of some turmoil going on his my house at the moment, I didn’t pick up the game the day it released in stores. I picked it up over the weekend but still didn’t have a chance to play till yesterday. I didn’t mind waiting. My family comes first and the game wasn’t going anywhere, though I should have at least installed it over the weekend!

Alien Isolation is two discs and took longer to install than I imagined it would. If you own an Xbox 360 you can probably guess what happened next… There was an update to install too.

Ugh…

Once that finished I had to download my add-on content. One, Crew Expendable, comes with the game. The second, Last Survivor, was a bonus I received from GameStop for pre-ordering the game.

The game was worth the wait. It doesn’t take long to live up to its name. You begin the game as part of a team to investigate the discovery of the Nostromo’s flight recorder. Before Amanda and the others even board the trading station Sevastopol, she is separated from them. Alone. Isolated.

I haven’t even seen an alien yet and it’s had my heart pumping.

Alien Isolation

That’s all I’ll say for now. I don’t want to ruin the game for anyone who plans to buy/play. But if you’re interested in reading a more detailed review, that includes insane GIFs of the various ways the alien will kill you, take a look at this Alien Isolation review from Kotaku.

This is Amanda, geek obsessed artist, signing off.

My Top Ten Horror Movies

Ah, October (I’m a week early, forgive me.). This month is one of the best of the year. Football season is a go and we’re beginning to see where our favorite teams stack up. Baseball playoffs are in full bloom (or for some we are looking forward to Spring as there is always next year). And yes the leaves are falling, but I am called to focus on something else:

Fear.

I’ve talked about Fear before… mostly as it relates to writing and my own personal goals. But in October I like to focus on that external Fear. Those movies and books and video games which scare me in a way that I not only don’t always understand, but that I actively search out.

These are my horror movies of choice. Some because they were the first movies to scare me, others because I was so blown away by what I saw it disturbed me for days, and then a few that I just love even when they no longer offer the scares they once did. Some I’ve seen only once and others I’ve seen dozens of times (one I might have seen over 100 by this point).

scream_xlg

Scream

I don’t think Scream ever “scared” me. From those opening minutes I wasn’t scared. Through the twists and turns of the movie I wasn’t frightened. So why is it on this list?

Because I think Scream did something for Horror movies that had never been done before. It deconstructed the late 70s and 80s slasher movies in a way that poked fun but still allowed it to cap off that era. The idea we all sat around and discussed (why are they running back into the house? why do they wander off alone? etc.) – Williamson and Craven made that movie. They made “our” movie.

I saw this twice in the theaters. The first time was an advanced screening at Georgia Tech by myself. As soon as it was over I made sure to get a couple of friends to go to its release. And after that first scene ended my buddy Lee leaned over and said “If nothing else happens for the rest of the movie, that one scene was worth the price of admission.”

jaws

Jaws

I joke and say that Jaws prevented me from becoming an Oceanographer or marine biologist, but really it is just that terror of the unknown which truly does it for me. Again, what I want to be able to see and hear – all of that disappears under the water’s surface. Every moment of control you have is an illusion, and really it is only luck that a large predator doesn’t have its way with you.

I don’t randomly go into the jungle and hope to avoid large predators, but for some reason I do it at the beach every year. And yes, I know the odds are slim… but…

That’s why, even after maybe 100 views, this movie sticks with me.

the strangers

The Strangers

“Because you were home.”

That’s why that movie frightens me on a level I cannot even fathom. Why do bad things happen? Is it luck? Is it just a matter of doing sketchy things that eventually catch up with us? Horror movies like to pose that question. And they give us the answers.

Don’t stay in the haunted house.

Don’t have underage sex.

Don’t drink and do drugs.

Don’t have your car break down in the middle of no where.

Don’t mess with things that you hear dark rumors about.

And if you follow all of those rules… guess what? The Strangers let you know that it might not be enough.

“Because you were home.” chills me like no other line could.

The-Conjuring-2013-BluRay

The Conjuring

I was surprised by this one last year. I expected another run of the mill haunted house movie. I figured it would be ok at best, and at worst we’d get a good laugh in our annual horror movie night.

The Conjuring was legitimately good and scary.

Color me shocked.

All the tricks of other movies seem to be used to better effect in this one. All the things we’re accustomed to in “these types of horror movies” still gave me the creeps when I watched this one. They hit all the notes. Definitely one of the best in the last few years.

600full-the-ring-poster

The Ring

The image of the woman after she’s watched the video. That’s the one.

This movie sought to disturb me. And it did an excellent job of exactly that. And yes, I’m only referring to the American version, and that may be blasphemy, but I have to go with what I watched.

The image of the woman crawling out of the tv.

Yes, this one ushered in the J-Horror movies for better and worse, but still… something about the Ring.

The images presented in the video itself.

Maybe that’s just it. It is disturbing. And sometimes that’s enough.

28-days-later

Dawn of the Dead (Remake) & 28 Days Later

The speed zombie movies. The beginning of the current zombie craze in films. The end of the world.

Post-apocalyptic movies like these show me the best and worst of humanity. They show how quickly all our work and dreams and desires could be ripped away. And while I don’t believe that zombies are going to do us in, I think ever since we discovered the ability to destroy on the level of a nuclear bomb, ever since we’ve found diseases with no cures, and space rocks that could create another extinction event… these are things outside of our control. And that’s what this is – if there is no control, no rules left, then what does it mean to be a person? What does it mean to be human?

In the mouth of madness

In the Mouth of Madness

I’ve written about this one before. Check it out.

invasion of the body snatchers

The Thing (John Carpenter’s version) & Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The idea of something not being who or what they say they are hits me in a way that I’m still not 100% sure of. It is one of the oldest fears available to us, because we want to trust those very people who we know and love. And when that gets taken away from us. When we are no longer sure who we can or cannot trust. When our hearts and minds cannot rationalize a way out… then we are truly screwed.

The thing about both of these movies is that even though they take place in two very different environments, the story is still one about isolation. Sure it is more blatant in The Thing, but Invasion pushes it to the point where surrounded by a street-full of people, you still are not sure who to trust.

These are ideas that will always be there, regardless of the current climate of life.

***

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 currently in week two of its 6-part release. Each episode is only $0.99.

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

CO-OP Gaming: The Best Way To Game, Part Deux

So wow, that week turned into a month…..

🙂

And what an eventful month it’s been.

But back to my top two co-op vidya’ games.

3. Halo: Combat Evolved/ XBOX/ Release Date: November 15th, 2001

I’m going to spoil something for you: my last two spots are going to be FPS’s.

Sorry to all the FPS naysayers. I’m by no means a hardcore Call of Duty, or Battlefield aficionado.

So you can breathe a collective sigh of relief that this list isn’t going to head in either of those directions.

Storming the digital beaches of Normandy, or running through the streets of a war torn urban metropolis just doesn’t do it for me.  Never had much fun playing those types of games.

But give me a horde of religious fanatic aliens, and oh yeah, fun times all around.

Not saying that the Space Marine trope hasn’t been done to death, but that’s another discussion for another day.

Halo: Combat Evolved

 

Let me take you back. Back to a somewhat simpler time. The year was 2001. I’d just started college, and my weekends were sometimes spent hanging with my best pal, Phillip.

Phillip was (and I think still is) a straight up, hardcore gamer. Not just a dude who loved playing games hour, upon hour’s on end. This was a guy who truly appreciated video games. He loved gaming. All aspects of the art form.

Some of my most fun times talking video games, and just playing them were spent with the ‘ole Phil-meister.

Dude if you read this: HIT ME UP!!!!!

But I digress. Phillip had gotten the new fangled XBOX, and this little game,  that was soon to become a decade spanning monster of a franchise, Halo: Combat Evolved.

So, in my little world, the FPS genre only included the classic N64 Golden Eye 007 and Wolfenstein.

 

Hang Time (And I'm Not Talking About the mid- 90's Teen Comedy)

Hang Time (And I’m Not Talking About the mid- 90’s Teen Comedy)

My mind was blown open to high h^%* with the galaxy spanning adventure of Master Chief and company.

This was the first time that I saw the XBOX pushed to its impressive limits. Of course we now live in an age where PS4 and XBOX One would blow such a system out of the water, but for its time the XBOX was the shiznit.

With the aide of Phillip, I found myself running across impressive snow draped alien  vistas, battling hulking behemoth’s known as Hunters in frantic close quarter combat, and driving like a bat out of hell on a Warthog as the world went to crap around us.

As with most of the titles on this list, late nights were constantly spent trying to beat this game, and fun times were always had. Even now there are parts from this game that I can still remember, and for a guy whose played a lot of video games in his 32 years on this world, that’s saying a lot.

14 ammo rounds until certain death......

14 ammo rounds until certain death……

But what sticks with me the most is teaming up, and kicking some alien butt, via split screen shenanigan’s. Sure, we’d flip the Warthog over a cliff, or accidentally lob a grenade or two at each other mistakenly.

But after laughing our butts off, and respawning, Phillip and I were ready to push back the tides of the Covenant and the Flood.

Fun times indeed.

Honorable Mentions: Halo: Reach, Halo: ODST, Halo: 2-4

 

 

1. Left 4 Dead/ Left 4 Dead 2/ XBOX/ L4D: October 17, 2008, L4D2: November 17, 2009

Gotta get this out of the way first: I love zombies.

World War Z, the novel, is a must read. The original Night of The Living Dead is a classic piece of barrier breaking genre film making. When people talk about the Holy Trilogy of films, I lean more towards the Romero side of flicks, rather than the Lucas camp.

The Walking Dead (comic series). Return of The Living Dead. Ash. Dead Alive. House of The Dead (as crappy as the flick was). 28 Days Later (and I know they’re not “traditional zombies”, but that movie is a great addition to the zombie movie genre). Capcom’s “Resident Evil”.

And the Left 4 Dead series.

Numero Uno

Numero Uno

 

Numero Dos

Numero Dos

 

I can wax on all day and night about how much I love these two games. About how they rank up there with some of the greatest video games I’ve ever played.

My ride.....

My ride…..

But I know I’ve only got so much space on this blog, so I’ll try to keep it succinct.

Basic premise of the L4D franchise: you’re grouped with three other survivors of a zombie outbreak, and are placed in various scenarios where you have to fight your way through endless hordes of zombies, and other infected creatures.

The game is a FPS which, at least for me, only intensifies the feeling of dread and anxiety which permeates both these games. There will always be countless instances where a swarm of zombies will run at you at top speed (sorry for all you Boyle zombie haters, these ain’t the shuffling ghouls), unless you can dispatch them in enough time with dwindling ammo.

The environments in this game also set a creepy mood, ranging from an nighttime abandoned hospital, to the sunlit French Quarter avenues of New Orleans fame.

Teamwork is essential to this game. Teamwork. Teamwork. Teamwork.

.....or die crew.

…..or die crew.

Now, of course you can just blow your way through each level, with no strategy, just picking off zombies, Tanks, Hunters, Smokers, and Witches.

::Shivers:: Don’t even get me started on the Witches.

But in my opinion, to truly appreciate this game, it should be played with three other folks, with some sort of a plan in mind. Definitely, don’t become one of those ultra tight butt folks who treat the game as if it’s a real life or death mission.

 

Run.

Run.

Have fun with it, but just try to have something of a plan.

Case in point: on the last level of the aforementioned hospital stage, your final fight for survival takes place on the roof of the building. You head here to await rescue from a helicopter, but in the interim, you have to fight the living dead. Final showdown and whatnot.

 

Before the zombies began attacking us, we wound up stocking up on ammo, setting up gas cans as booby traps, and placing ourselves in such a fashion that we could deal out the most damage to the monsters.

Fun times. 🙂

The calvary's on its way.....

The calvary’s on its way…..

Overall this is a must have for any fan of zombies. Even if you don’t play video games, this is the game that should force you to learn how to play.

Imagine having an opportunity to recreate some of your most favorite tense filled, survival moments from any of the Romero flicks, and you have the Left 4 Dead franchise.

There were times in this game where I literally jumped in my seat, while either playing online, or playing on a LAN gaming session with three other friends.

Rumors abound about a third game being worked on by Valve. Here’s hoping it kicks as much butt as the first two installments.

Both games (along with a crapton of DLC/ downloadable content) can be found pretty much in any brick and mortar gaming store, and on Steam.

Honorable Mentions: Game of The Year Editions/ L4D & L4D2

So that’s it for me. If ya can, please drop a line or two in the comments section about your own favorite co-op games. And if you’re ever on XBOX Live and want to run some rounds, hit me up.

 

TV Shows that Ended Too Soon

I was thinking about cancelled tv shows the other day, and it occurred to me that there are a handful of them that I loved when they came on, but just didn’t grab the audience they needed to survive. All of these either had 1 or 2 seasons, and while there are plenty of shows that maybe only got 3 seasons (Veronica Mars – I’m looking at you!), at least they got 3 seasons.

Also, I’m not going to put Firefly on this list, but only because it is a no brainer, and probably the biggest tragedy when it comes to cancelled shows. That said, so many other people have written that article/blog, that I’m just not sure what I could really say. Yes ,it was awesome. Yes, I thought so from the very first episode. And yes, I wish they’d do more episodes at some point down the road (why not an animated show? Then the cast only needs to show up for the voice work!).

So here are 3 shows that were ended too soon:

Nowhere_man_promo

Nowhere Man (1995-1996) UPN – I wasn’t actually watching a lot of tv during this phase of life. I was entering my second year at Georgia Tech, but somehow I saw an ad for this show about a man who has his entire life erased (because of a photo he took years earlier). That woman who was his wife no longer recognizes him, none of his accounts work, and there seems to be someone trying to kill/get him. Each episode followed him as he tried to figure out who was behind ruining his life and why. He’d travel from town to town, mailing the negatives to himself over and over (so he wouldn’t have them on him if he got captured). And each episode he’d learn a little more about the organization behind ruining his life.

Paranoia was the largest piece of this show. Our hero trying to figure out who it was that was ruining him, while at the same time trying to stay a few steps ahead of them when he could. But more than anything, I love the idea that everything we have could be stripped away from us at a moment’s notice. That if we aren’t careful about creating and maintaining real relationships out in the world… well, who will be there to vouch for us when it all goes sideways.

In the days before DVRs, I made sure to either record it or probably watched it live most of the time. And when it got cancelled I was scouring the fledgling internet for any news I could find on it from fan sites and the few interviews the creator (Lawrence Hertzog, RIP)Sadly, I actually never got the see the series finale (and it only just now occurs to me that I might be able to watch it out in the internet jungle… hold on… yep. Well, I know what I’m going to be watching sometime this weekend!).

brimstone-show

Brimstone (1998-1999) Fox – It is a deal with the Devil story!

I don’t think you heard me. It is a Deal with the Devil STORY!

The basic gist is that this cop’s wife is raped and the rapist manages to get away with it. So, our hero (Zeke), ends up tracking the guy down and murders him. Sadly, it is not that long afterwards that his own life expires and without additional time to get his good/evil scale back on the side of angels he ends up in Hell.

Flash forward about 18 years and there is a prison breakout of Hell. 113 souls have escaped back to earth. So the Devil makes Zeke an offer: track down these errant souls and at the end he’ll get a second chance at life.

All that would be enough, but then add John Glover as the Devil and you have a masterpiece. No, seriously. His portrayal of the master of darkness was such that whenever he came on the screen he took total control of the scene. Whether it was simply “annoying” Zeke with cryptic words or tying a sleeping bum’s shoelaces together for a laugh, he nailed the role.

This show had the misfortune to come onto Fox during a time when they were blind to anything that didn’t do X-Files type ratings on Friday night. Of course, they forgot that X-Files wasn’t a juggernaut immediately and was allowed to become the top-notch show.

Do I think that Brimstone was ever going to be the end all be all for Fox? No, I think, at best, it would have maybe gotten 2-3 seasons and the fans would have been happy with it. As it is we got 13 episodes that, to these eyes, only got better and better as time went on.

Oh, and Peter Horton (Zeke) always gets extra point from me by appearing in the greatest Volleyball film of all time: Side Out (look it up, you won’t be disappointed… well, you might be disappointed, but not this guy).

werewolf

Werewolf the Series (1987-1988) Fox – A show that owes as much to the Incredible Hulk as it does American Werewolf in London, Werewolf was one of those shows that I remember being excited about seeing, even if I never knew exactly when it was coming on. The thing is, I’m not sure it does much reinventing of the genre or anything. At its core it was a very standard werewolf story. Guy gets bit, guy tries to fight the urge to change, and then guy doesn’t know whether he’ll be able to live with this curse.

Except this had special effects that rivaled the Howling and American Werewolf in London. And they did give Eric Cord a goal with one twist on the legend: if you kill the head of your bloodline then you will be human once more. So much like the Fugitive, he’s tracking down his maker while avoiding his own pursuer, a bounty hunter named Alamo Joe (much cooler than it sounds).

I must confess that I’m not 100% on how well this one might hold up to today’s standards… I haven’t really sat down with it in a long while. But I remember watching as a 12-13 year old and thinking that it might be the coolest show I’d ever seen. It probably (most likely) is the reason I love werewolf fiction.

Honorable Mentions: Roar, Sports Night, Journeyman, Friday the 13th the Series. Rome, Deadwood, Awake, and many, many others.

 

***

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!

My Top Six Darkest Movie Moments Ever…

Recently I watched and reviewed The Revenant. Which got me to thinking; what are the gravest moments in cinema? During what scenes does it appear all hope is lost and the bad guys about to win? What’re the deepest, darkest places movies have dragged me? Hmmmm…

Yeah. You guessed it. Here comes a list. I’m gonna wander some pretty random places with this. If you hate spoilers, you may want to move along. If not, let’s roll:

Gluttony

 

 #6. Gluttony – Se7en

Honestly I could’ve mentioned almost any of the rainy, dark, grisly scenes in Se7en. The Sloth scene especially comes to mind, but I didn’t want to post the ick-tastic image of the dude dying in his bed, lest I gross everyone out. The Gluttony scene does just fine. It sets the tone for the entire movie. It’s scary and disgusting. It’s everything most of us never want to be: alone, corpulent, filthy, and dead. Yikes. If this scene doesn’t put you in a grim mood, nothing will.

 

 

KillLucy

#5. Killing Lucy – Bram Stoker’s Dracula

When I say killing Lucy, I more or less refer to the entire 45 minutes during which Lucy descends from being Mina’s pretty BFF into a depraved, child-eating, blood-barfing vampire. Cary Elwes lopping off her head is only gravy on the grimness. Lucy begins the movie as a cheerful soul swimming in an ocean of dour, unhappy Brits. And by the end, she’s ruined. Every part of this movie is enough to put me in the mood to write horror, but Lucy’s fall from grace is just plain…delicious.

 

 

PrestigeUse

#4. Hugh Jackman killing his clone (repeatedly) – The Prestige

It’s no secret. The Prestige’s atmosphere always puts me in the mood. It’s my personal fluffer girl. It’s the ‘uh’ to my ‘huh’. The slow sense of despair that builds throughout the movie sets a tone like no other. That said, the darkness really starts when the Great Danton starts murdering all his doubles. He shoots himself. He drowns himself. He leaves his clones in huge vats of grey water. And then, at the end, as he breaths his last few breaths in an alley of clone-corpses, we wonder which Danton really died during all his magic tricks. The clones? Or the real Danton? Are you watching closely?

 

 

No Country for old men

#3. Anton Chigurh ‘visits’ Llewelyn’s wife – No Country for Old Men

The first time I watched this movie, I never saw this scene coming. I figured we’d already broke every rule, every expectation. What was left to do, right? Chigurh had already killed the good guy (and pretty much everyone else). So what else can I say about this scene? It’s chilling on so many levels.

After Llewelyn’s wife (Carla Jean) says, “You don’t have to do this.” Chigurh smiles and says, “People always say the same thing.”

Does he kill her? Does he let her live? I mean…damn…

 

the counselor

 #2. The Counselor gets a DVD in the mail – The Counselor

 Most people I know haven’t seen this movie, so I won’t spoil it here. Let’s just say that there are no good guys, only grey, fuzzy shades of morality all too prevalent in the real world. As the Counselor sits in a grungy hotel room, praying for good news, we get a payoff that’s much darker than we expect. The theater I watched this movie in emptied in stunned silence at the end. Meanwhile my brain buzzed with all sorts of new ideas for messing with readers’ minds.

PerfumeUse

 #1. Grenouille accidentally kills the apple girl – Perfume, Story of a Murderer

 I’m convinced I’m the only person ever to watch this movie. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. I had no idea what I was in for when I sat down to swallow this little gem. When Grenouille, the creepiest, crawliest, skinniest villain ever, snuffs the apple girl early on, I only just began to grasp where Perfume was taking me. The scene wasn’t particularly graphic or gut-twisting, but sometimes a glimpse of darkness is all a mind needs before the gears start turning. I think perhaps after my kid falls asleep tonight, I’ll pop this one in, watch a little bit, and then get to work.

It’s probably worth mentioning I write some pretty dark scenes of my own.

Until next week

J Edward Neill

Making Monsters

Sarcophage

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Some of my favorite baddies in literature/film:

White Walker

 

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

 

 

Alien

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

 

 

 

Nazgul

 

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

 

 

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

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

J Edward Neill

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost Story: The Farmer’s Wife

The Farmer’s Wife

GravestoneMy grandfather, Cecil Owen Walter, was an adventurous boy growing up in The Plains, Virginia. The small rural town sat squarely in the middle of nothing and nowhere. As you can imagine, a young boy in the early 1920’s created his own entertainment. When he wasn’t dreaming of running away with the gypsies, he and his younger brother Allie explored the Virginia countryside.

One evening in late winter the boys, sitting by the fire, listened to tale told by their Aunt. A tale meant to chill the boys to the bone. Just the sort of story a boy’s overactive imagination devoured.

The farmer and his wife lived not far down the road. They were long dead now, but on certain nights it was said a light could be seen traveling from the old house to the barn. The hovering light would go back and forth, again and again, before vanishing. This was her routine. On cold winter nights the wife checked the cows, a duty which followed her to the grave.

Determined to prove whether or not the tale was true, Cecil and Allie stayed up late into the night. They crept from their beds, careful not to wake the snoring Aunt, and dashed into the frigid winter night.

The snow had fallen all day, but now all was still and silent.

The boys trudged through the deep snow toward the abandoned farm house. Despite shivering from head to toe they hunkered down in a ditch, to hide and watch. Hours passed by and nothing out of the ordinary happened. They were about to leave when they saw a light. A glowing orb hung suspended in the air just outside the front door. Without warning, it began to float from the house to the barn and back again.

Cecil and Allie sat frozen with fear. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Had this been some trick?

The boys forced their legs to move in the direction of the house. When they reached the spot the moon’s light revealed no footprints!

The boys ran the entire way home, the strength having returned to their legs. They sat up all night. Huddled in fear and convinced the farmer’s wife would come for them.

**This is a true story, as told by my grandfather to my mother. I’ve retold it here with a bit of my own dramatization.

I should have paid more attention to C. Thomas Howell

In honor of tomorrow being Halloween (and my brother’s birthday – Happy Birthday Mark!), I present the stupidest thing I have ever done.

dunce-cap

The year was either 1997 or 1998. Now a Junior in college, I had driven up to the Georgia Tech Student Center to pick up my mail and was on my way back to my car (and then my dorm room) when I heard a woman’s voice call out to me from the dark Atlanta summer night.

“Excuse me, sir? I was wondering if I could ask a favor of you?”

I turned around and saw an older woman, maybe late forties, but most likely in her early fifties. Regardless of her actual age, she was someone who had that look where life had never really cut her a true break. Through cigarettes and alcohol she might be able to numb the pain of existence, but she was destined to be one who, from cradle to grave, would work until her fingers became little more than nubs. Stick thin, her leathery flesh hung off her bones.

I felt sad for her immediately.

“Can I help you with something?”

She moved a little closer to me and nodded, fully emerging into the parking lot’s light. “I hope so. You see, I’m supposed to go and get my younger son from the baby sitter. And my older son was supposed to give me a ride, but he’s not in his dorm room. I can’t seem to get a hold of him.” She glanced down at the watch on her wrist. “And the sitter is done at nine and it’s already eight-thirty.”

I didn’t immediately respond, even though I could tell where this was going. When you live in downtown Atlanta, you get used to people coming up and asking you for spare change or various other favors. In my first year living downtown, I probably (read: definitely) ended up giving too much money to the random homeless who crossed my path. But that bit of humanity had been stamped out by the bank account of a college student living a few years on his own.

I braced myself for the question.

“She’s only a couple of miles down the road. If you could give me a lift,  I’d be forever grateful.”

Now my mind and mouth normally do things in agreement. Mostly the mouth waits until the brain has finished its various calculations or what-have-you and then when it gets the proper instructions it spits out the correct sequence of words.

Not this time.

“Uh, yea, I guess I could do that.”

Immediately my brain rebelled. Why had I said that? I don’t want to give her a ride. What the hell am I thinking?

Her face lit up, and I was suddenly glad that I had said yes. This would be my good deed for the year. Heck, for the century possibly.

“I’m right over here.”

As I moved over towards my 1990 red Pontiac Sunbird, I didn’t notice her wave to another person. Another beaten down by life person, but male. Same tanned leathery skin… in his late forties, early fifties as well. He wasn’t rail thin like his wife, but there was only the slightest beginning of a beer belly hiding under his shirt.

“This young man is  going to take us to the sitter’s.”

Now this is the point I should have said something like “no” or even “hey I’ve got something else I need to get to that I just remembered”, because now the numbers were not in my favor. With just her in the car she’d be in the passenger seat beside me. I’m 6’5″ 275 lbs and all of 21-22 years old. I could take on the world with the side benefit that being that size, no one typically bothered me in the first place.

Yet, with him along for the ride that meant someone would be in the back seat.

Behind me.

Where I couldn’t see what he was doing. Not a good idea.

I think my brain was on strike that night because it only barely fazed me. My southern hospitality was going to get me killed. And there is even a saying for a situation like this. Don’t pick up hitchhikers. I mean that is the number one thing right up there with “Don’t take candy from strangers.”

What is wrong with me? My parents taught me better than this!

Sure enough she moved into the front passenger seat, and he sat in the back, straddling the middle so that I could see him in the rear view. But not really see what he was doing back there. I turned out onto North Avenue going West. My eyes darted from her to my rear view mirror to see him and then back to her. I barely remember the road, driving on instinct.

urban-legend-killer-backseat

“So, where is it I’m taking you?”

The woman answered quickly. “It’s only a couple of miles up the road.”

“Actually, we don’t need to go to the sitter’s. She’s taking the baby back to the house.” The smoker voice from the back jarred  me to the core. What the hell? Now I’m taking them home?

“Oh, then just continue on North.”

Again, I should have found a way to get them out of the car. But I was stuck taking them home. Somewhere my screams wouldn’t be heard by anyone.

I’ve been in three fights in my entire life. Two of them were won pretty quickly. The other was a losing battle, one of the few times where the other kid had been a little older and a little stronger. Mostly I observed what my grandfather had always told me: I better not ever start a fight, but I damn well better finish one that someone else started.

Those thoughts drifted into my mind while I tried to determine my best course of action. If they had a knife or something similar I might be able to put a hurt on one or both of them… if she had the blade. If he had the weapon, then I was going to need something of my own. But what else was there? A passing car’s lights illuminated the interior of the car and my eyes flashed to the keys dangling from the ignition. Rough edges of a weapon. It wasn’t much, but it might be better than naked fists.

Still I tried to think things through. I figured as long as I don’t do anything to set them off, or show that I know I am in trouble, it has to be in their best interest to wait until I get them to wherever their true destination was. Otherwise they might risk the chance that I drive the car off the road and try something now.

They made idle chat with me. A decade later, I couldn’t tell you what we talked about. I’m pretty sure that the most that escaped my lips was Yes, No, or I don’t know. I was too busy putting that math side of my brain to work trying to analyze the angles of this situation I’d gotten myself into. Plus it was hard to hear what either of them were saying due to my heart echoing throughout my body.

We drove and drove and drove, more and more minutes piling up on the odometer. Now I’ve taken North Avenue east many times on my journeys to hang out with friends, but I had never gone this far west on the road. Everything had long since become unfamiliar and I kept waiting for them to say something, to have me turn off, but more time passed and nothing. I had no idea how far we needed to go before I got them “home”, but I kept on, sure that terrible things awaited me.

Finally at some point we turned off North and then worked our way onto some of the more back roads.

For those unfamiliar with the layout of Atlanta, if you are in downtown and you drive more than about 20 minutes in any direction you will run into an interstate. Worst case you’ll hit the perimeter I-285. This is a road that loops around the city, encircling it.

Base Map 285

Yet, we had driven far enough and still I didn’t see a sign for the highway, nothing. Somehow I was in the backwoods of Georgia while still being in the city. It was as if they had managed to take me to a part of town where street lights were only a suggestion and not required. Long stretches went by with only my Sunbird’s headlights to show that the world outside the car even still existed. And I was driving these two random people up these roads I didn’t know existed.  And these roads were the type where I don’t even know how there was nothing on them. Very few houses. No restaurants or gas stations. It was like I’d crossed over into the Twilight Zone. Nothing made sense in my head. My heart pounded in my chest, threatening to explode.

dark road

What was I supposed to do? Call their bluff? Point out, ever so nicely, that I had only agreed to take one of them “a couple of miles” to their younger son?

I spotted a small cluster of lights in the distance. As we got closer I could see it was a convenience store, and then the night took a turn.

“Do you think we could stop up here? I need to get some cigarettes.” The way the man said the words and the paranoia in my brain combined to make me wonder whether it was a question or an order. So I pulled over.

“Would you like anything? A drink or something?”

Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do, let you get me a drink and somehow put a drug into it and then I’m missing a kidney or I’m dead or something.

I locked eyes with him in the rear view mirror. “No, thank you.”

The man exited the car, and I held my breath that the woman would follow. I slid my hand very casually so that it was resting on the gear shift.

They both get out of the car and I’m gunning it.

She didn’t budge. “Hey honey, get me a pack of smokes too while you’re in there.”

They were just playing with me now. I know it.

He returned a few minutes later and I wondered if the old guy had gone in and robbed the store (sometimes I still wonder this). They might already be ready to kill and eat me, but there was no telling how far they might go.

Hmm.

We journeyed for a bit longer. Again, I would say the exact amount, but I lost track. I think I’d been gone from Georgia Tech about 40 minutes by this point.

They both pointed out a side road to turn down… it was dirt. “Ours is the one on the end.”

Of course it is. Where else would you live but off a dirt road within the Atlanta city limits.

I stared out into the darkness, but couldn’t really find the beginnings of a structure to know where I might be going or for how far. My car’s shocks protested the pot holes and each bump caused my two passengers to shift in their seats. We began to climb a fairly steep hill, and when we finally came over the crest I caught site of their double-wide home.

This thing might have been nice looking once upon a time, but now, through either the elements, or lack of caring about what the shit-hole looked like, it could only remind me of something that should be condemned. Various bits of junk littered the yard and every redneck stereotype crept into my thoughts.

“Home.” My voice may have cracked with the hope that this was the end of our voyage. My own fight or flight on high alert.

The old man shifted in the backseat. “I just feel awful about making you drive all this way. I have some money in the house. If you could wait a minute I’ll run in and grab it for you.”

I shook my head. “That’s OK. I’m just glad I could get the two of you home.”

Liar! Just get the hell out of the car and let me go!

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Have a good night.”

They seemed to pause at that. And to this day I’m not sure about what they were thinking. Maybe this whole thing was just them trying to get home without needing to take the bus. Maybe they really had a son at Tech who they’d come to see. Maybe they had a younger son who they needed to get to, but then the sitter decided to bring him home instead of waiting for them to arrive.

Or maybe they had been planning on killing me the whole damn time.

Until I told them to have a good night. And that was the point they had a change of heart.

The two of them got out of the car, but before the wife could shut the door the man held it open and stuck his head back into the car.

Just gun it!

“You know how to get back?”

I nodded in the darkness even if he couldn’t see my action. “I’ll figure it out.”

“Alright. Take care.”

And with that he shut the door and I turned my car around and headed back to the paved streets. It was only then that I saw a sign for I-285. I may have taken it to just get my bearings (I honestly don’t remember). My body began shaking, the adrenaline pumping through my system for the better portion of an hour finally began to wear off. In a daze, I somehow managed to guide my car back to more familiar streets and then back to the dorm.

Somehow still alive.

I may not have slept well that night… or the next few.

So there you have it, The Stupidest thing I have ever done. My last good deed, ever.

John McGuire