Sadly, There Is No Easy Button For You

Spam has taken on a new meaning for me ever since I decided to publish The Dark That Follows and start writing a weekly blog. Then again, spam has probably morphed over time regardless to what I’ve done. It just seems I’m paying attention to some of it more than I might have been in the past.

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“Click here to sell more books today!”

“Learn how to drive more traffic to your blog!”

“The only way to write 10k words in a minute!”

“Make her excited-” erm… OK, maybe not that one. But you get the point.

According to when and where I actually come across these potential articles/blog posts/click-bait/random something else all determines as to if I’ll actually click on them. Yes, many times I stumble across them while I’m in the midst of some other internet rabbit hole, but most of the time I search these damn things out.

Why?

I mean, I’m not dumb. I get what they are doing. However, I also am in this weird place whereby I want to learn the secrets they supposedly have to share. I keep thinking that while I might not be Shakespeare or Twain or insert your favorite author here in talent level, there are literally hundreds of authors who have figured all of this out while not… well, they try, but…

OK, let’s face it. A lot of them aren’t very good at actually stringing two words together. Ask them to put more than four or five in a row with punctuation? Well, that’s the end of that idea.

But they have it figured out. Right?

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They’ve found the magical EASY BUTTON! So I click on their link and read and try to find that nugget of information which will blow my mind. That knowledge where just prior to it I was only a monkey and now afterwards I am able to use tools and make a fire. This is the type of stuff I’m looking for.

It eludes me.

I do everything wrong. Or in the wrong order. Or I’m impatient. Or I’m too patient. I don’t have enough time to write. I have too much time to write. I goof off. I don’t goof off. I should reach out to more people. How do you reach out to more people? Get involved with a group. I did that, nothing’s changed.

My mind becomes a barren wasteland full of left over billboards which say the above… dotting the horizon with their mocking attempts to “HELP” me.

***

A side story – When I applied to go to Georgia Tech there was a little spot on the form where you could put a Major or you could put Undecided. Now when I filled this out, I was in the midst of thinking I wanted to be a computer programmer. As such, during my senior year in high school I took a Computer Programming class. I’m pretty sure I was doing well in the class (well enough), and the last thing I wanted to do was put Undecided. That might make it seem like I didn’t have my shit together (I was 18… of course I didn’t have my shit together). So I put Computer Science down.

Fast forward to my first quarter at Tech. I’ve long since given up the idea of going into computers. By the end of the year I just didn’t feel like I “got it”. It was hard to explain, but I figured out I wanted to go into Civil Engineering.

And that’s when I found out that because Civil Engineering was “Full” I couldn’t transfer in. However, I could have done so if I had been Undecided.

<Slaps head.>

So I went and talked to the head of the department during the Fall. He told me to come back during Winter Quarter. So I went during Winter Quarter… still no openings. Come Spring I was beginning to wonder if I needed to escalate this foolishness. Maybe reach out to someone else (not sure who I was going to reach out to, but something needed to be done!).

I knew the classes I needed to take. Nothing prevented me from taking them. As long as there was an opening in them, you could enroll in pretty much any class. When I went to talk to the new head of the department he gave me more of the same song and dance.

<I wonder if this was the same game the insurance companies do when they immediately deny anything you apply for thinking that most will stop there?>

At that point I’d had enough of the run around. I remember shaking his hand, thanking him for his time, and letting him know that I would see him that Summer to have the same conversation. Furthermore, I knew the classes I needed to take to become a Civil Engineer, and that was the path I was going to head down. So whether he let me in then or in a year I was going to get in.

He blinked. Asked me if I was telling the truth about my classes that quarter (I was). There was a pause, and then he asked to see my form to transfer into the School of Civil Engineering.

***

wall-crack

I wrote the above to remind myself that this writing gig is just the same.

I’m stubborn.

This is my gift. This is my curse.

I will bang my head against that wall until the wall collapses.

***

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.

How to spot and ignore fake news stories

Can we talk?

Look…

I don’t know whether or not fake news influenced the election.

I don’t know…and I don’t care.

But what I do know is this: an incredible amount of otherwise intelligent-seeming people have started a trend on the internet: posting (and believing) news stories that are so obviously false, it injures everyone’s eyes to see. They’re doing it at a higher rate than ever. It’s gone from one fake story per week to several every day. It’s obnoxious. And more than that, it’s sad.

No, Conor McGregor didn’t retire due to some random scandal.

Will Smith didn’t assassinate Trump.

The President didn’t ban the Star Spangled Banner at all sporting events.

All the stay-at-home moms in Connecticut didn’t rake in $20,000 per week using some ‘weird trick.’

It’s getting exhausting. And embarrassing. And by embarrassing I don’t mean for the people and sites who post the fake drivel. Those people, classless as they are, are just trying to earn money. No, by embarrassing I’m talking about the people who believe in clickbait and fake news stories. The people who click on it. The people who share it and try to spread it as though it were gospel.

It feels like some of us are able to spot fake news at a glance, but others have no idea that they’re getting worked up by stories that aren’t even close to being true. People are gobbling this stuff up. And while it’s not as if lies and propaganda are new things, the existence of the internet changes the game. It means everyone is exposed. Always.

More importantly…

Facebook and other sites aren’t going to meaningfully crack down on fake stuff. See, Facebook gets paid to run these ads, and the content doesn’t appear to matter. For example, I sponsor business ads on Facebook and Twitter to promote my books, art, and other materials. But when I flip over to my personal page and glimpse the kinds of ads that appear, it isn’t cool, creative stuff I see. It isn’t interesting at all. It’s spam. It’s how some douchey guy made millions because of his non-existent genius. It’s how some celebrity died tragically (they didn’t) or some congressman murdered his dog (his dog is fine.) It’s fake news, usually some politically polarizing junk or straight up scammy garbage designed to get a click, spread a lie, and earn the offending website cash.

It kills me that people believe this stuff. It hurts my human sensibilities. How are we this dumb, this unable to see through super transparent BS? How is it people aren’t able to distinguish between satirical articles and maliciously fake trash?  I think I secretly know the answer (some of us want the fake news articles to be true, particularly the political stuff) but I’m willing to reserve judgment.

No. Actually I’m not. I’m totally judging.

Here’s just a splash of recent fake news headlines people actually believed: (These are the actual headlines, some of which have 10,000 or more Facebook ‘shares.’)

BREAKING: Hillary Clinton files for divorce.”

Remember the voting days: Republicans vote on Tuesday, 11/8 and Democrats vote on Wednesday, 11/9!”

Tens of Thousands of Scientists Declare Climate Change a HOAX!”

“President Obama Signs Executive Order Banning the Sale of Assault Weapons!”

“IT BEGINS: Watch Cops Drag Girl out of NC Bathroom for not Looking Like a Woman.”

* * *

Presently, there’s an article out there listing 130 sites that either promote fake news or use misleading, clickbait-ish headlines. Whether or not every single site listed is actually fake or not isn’t important. What’s important is that from several of these sites, dozens or even hundreds of articles are poured into the internet every day. Misleading articles. Biased articles. Editorials masquerading as journalistic truth. Fake stuff that people you know have read and consumed as if it’s 100% factual.

Here’s what’s up:

You can’t rely on the internet to week out fake news.

It’s not going to stop. It’ll probably get worse before it gets better.

It’s on you to stop it, not Mark Zuckerberg.

There are several articles out there (here’s one) discussing methods of outsmarting fake news. They’re good articles in spirit, but ultimately they’re not simple enough. The kind of people who need to learn how to spot fake news aren’t going to read an ad-riddled, image-filled epic novel about the topic.

It’s really not that complicated.

It’s actually pretty easy.

To eliminate fake news from your consciousness, what you need to do is:

Stop getting your news from Facebook and Twitter. Just stop. Right now

Be automatically skeptical of anything (not just news) you read anywhere on the internet

If something is obviously inflammatory toward a public figure, assume it’s BS until proven otherwise

Especially when using social media, assume anything other than cat pictures and cute photos of your friends’ kids is fake

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Being an honest, conscientious citizen in the modern world involves more than just basic knowledge of how to click through the internet.  You need to step up your game and double down on your critical thinking skills. It isn’t being pessimistic or paranoid. It’s not cynicism. The skills you need to defeat fake news are skills you probably already possess.

Do your homework.

Trust your gut.

Seeing is believing.

*

I don’t know what else to say. While I’m aware there are plenty of people who either don’t care about fake news or actually think it’s cool to spread lies, I want to believe in my heart most of us want it to end. If that’s true, if that’s really true, people need to stop looking to others to solve the problem. Crushing this problem isn’t the internet’s problem. It’s not Facebook’s fault, nor Twitter’s.

It’s on YOU. 100% on YOU. Always has been. Always will be.

Now…

Go forth and click less. I’m counting on you, yes YOU, to never share another fake news headline again.

🙂

* * *

I usually never write about this ^^^ kind of stuff. I write about this kind of stuff.

And stuff like this, too.

J Edward Neill

 

 

A Thought for Every Thanksgiving!

 

It’s holiday season here in the USA. Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, and blah, blah, blah…

For various reasons, families are gathering, football is being watched, and liquor is being poured.

Suppose you had a little more control over this whole thing.

Imagine you’ve been put in charge of creating a new national holiday. You can call it whatever you want. You can use it to celebrate anything you like. It’ll be a national paid holiday, observed by the government and appearing on every calendar.

So…

Name your new holiday, tell us what it’s all about, and assign one day of the year you want it to be observed.

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* * *

Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

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

It’s obvious. Get my book. Available now

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

It’s…

The Ultimate Get to Know Someone Quiz

The most entertainment you can squeeze into 101 pages.

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

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

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

gtksq-front-cover

With cover art by Garrett Alexander Neill.

And questions by me…

J Edward Neill

Ten Courses Every College Should Offer

I’ve been thinking.

Dangerous, I know.

In universities across the globe, professors teach math, science, language, and philosophy. Trade schools give students the gift of mastering a specific skill. Liberal arts universities offer so-called ‘well-rounded’ class structure. Schools teach many things, most of which are probably forgotten the moment a student walks out the door.

Let’s be honest. In most cases, college isn’t really about learning stuff. It’s about socializing and introducing students to a way of life they’ll never actually live outside of school. Unless a student learns a very specific skill-set, college seems to be mostly not worth the money we pour into it.

And so…

I propose a different kind of schooling altogether. One that teaches real-life skills. One that prepares students for the catastrophic transition from ‘living with Mom and Dad’ to ‘living in a one-bedroom flat with an obnoxious roommate who refuses to wash their dishes.’

I give you:

Ten Courses Every College Should Offer

* * *

breaking-up

Breaking Up with Someone 101

We ALL have to do it at least 30 times a few times in our lives, so why not teach it in school? Ok, so there’s no super-easy way of dumping someone’s heart in the trash. But there are definitely ways not to do it, up to and including: stalking the other person, publicizing every detail on Facebook, or dumping them only to come crawling back for a second chance. This class is more about what to avoid doing during a breakup, which ex-lovers worldwide could probably stand to learn.

If just one little university would sponsor this class, I volunteer to teach it. For free.

*

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The Art of Floating Checks

Ah, newly-grads. No marketable skills. No direction in life. No money. When bills are due, but payday is still a week away, what’s a kid to do?

The answer: float that check. And do it well. This course will teach the ins and outs of researching which companies cash checks quickly, and which ones you have a little wiggle room to work with. With any luck, you’ll become an expert at just barely remaining financially alive.

For extra credit, students can also take the Paying Your Mortgage Late, But Not Getting Penalized elective.

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middle

 

#Winning at Social Media

These days, this class should probably be offered in early grade school. In it, students will learn when to post memes (never) when to use hashtags (almost never) and the best time of day to post relationship status changes on Facebook (never!)

For students who want to do something online other than annoy people and leave their friends scratching their heads, #WinningAtSocialMedia is the class to take!

*

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Advanced Emotional Distancing- Class 502

This class will almost surely be a mandatory addition to every college program. In it, students will learn advanced techniques to help them be happier via having nearly no emotions. Because honestly, the universe doesn’t care about feelings, especially those of young people.

The techniques studied will include:

Shrugging

Caring less

Caring less while not talking about caring less

Never complaining

Histrionics avoidance

Ego removal

How not to cry while everyone else around you falls to pieces

Students who hope to pass this class will intern for a minimum of three months in an emotionally unstable relationship while maintaining the facial expression shown above.

*

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Understanding Satire 101

Think you know what satire is? If you’re asked to take this class, odds are you have no idea. Class US101 is designed to help clueless students gain a full grasp of reality. Ideal candidates for this class include students who believe everything they read on the internet, graduates who habitually share clickbait on Facebook, and students who have never heard of Snopes. While primarily for college enrollees, this class is also available as a vocational study group for angry, aging white men.

The final exam in US101 will involve a complete study of the website TheOnion.

*

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Honors Reading Between the Lines

While available to all students, Honors RBTL is geared for the student who has no idea what a woman means when she says, “Oh nothing’s the matter.” All males are encouraged to attend during their very first semester, while  females are encouraged to attend the similar class, Manipulating Men’s Feelings 101.

Both classes will instruct students in the eye-roll/disdain ratio, the true meaning of ‘nothing,’ and the length of time you should sleep on the couch. Male classes will focus on avoidance, while female classes will primarily teach advanced techniques to counter everything the men learn.

Good luck!

*

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Remedial Sarcasm

Due to the large influx of students who either don’t understand the true depth of sarcasm or are easily offended by it, universities across Americas have been asked to include a remedial class as a mandatory elective.

Because…honestly…we all know someone who can’t handle the ‘casm.

This class promises to eliminate all the negative aspects of not understanding sarcasm, including: crying, standing with your mouth wide-open, getting angry, getting butthurt, and not knowing what butthurt even means.

Remedial Sarcasm professors get paid at double the rate of other teachers. Sign up now!

*

Metaphors and How to Use Them

Honestly, if students haven’t figured out what a metaphor is and how to use one, they probably shouldn’t go to college.

This class has been cancelled. It’s dust in the wind. It’s bones in a grave. Oh never mind.

*

ud

Urban Dictionary Study Hall

This class isn’t what you think it is.

Students will not be taught the meanings of various modern slang, insults, and acronyms. (It’s assumed students with any value already know these terms.) Rather, class attendees will be instructed in the prized technique of being able to distinguish which terms are funny or appropriate from terms that are…ahem…stupid.

Examples include:

How and when to use ‘bae’ – only when making fun of someone else using ‘bae.’

How a kitten dies anytime anyone uses the terms ‘LOL’ or ‘YOLO.’

The subtle difference between ‘WTF’ and ‘WTF?’ – I’m kidding; there is no difference.

For extra credit, students may also take the sub-course: Sounding Ignorant on Purpose to Appear Cool 101

*

scammerIntroduction to Online Dating

If college life has one similarity to real life, it’s that people don’t actually talk face-to-face anymore. Cell phones are god and texting is all-powerful.

To help students face the nearly insurmountable task of finding easy hook-ups a long-term mate, Intro to Online Dating is now offered as an elective. Students will learn the finest methods of making themselves appear slimmer, taller, and less out-of-shape than they actually are. Male students will learn why it’s best to wait at least ten minutes before sending unsolicited d**k pics, while females will be instructed in the subtle techniques of ‘ghosting,’ ‘catfishing,’ and not starting every single conversation with, “Hey.”

Seriously though. This should actually be a class.

*

*

Other classes soon to be added:

How NOT to use Tinder

Snapchat Filters and the End of the World

Why The Walking Dead Sucks

* * *

*I’m thinking this book should be a standard college text.

This one, too.

Seriously.

J Edward Neill

 

 

 

A Thought for Every Thursday – The Omega Project

Welcome to the latest installment of my new weekly series, A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday I’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it myself, I’ll look to you for the resolution.

It’s all in good fun.

Here we go…

* * *

The Omega Project

Imagine you’ve been elected to lead all of humanity.

Your goal: bring every living human together for the purpose of completing a singular, grand project.

The project can be anything imaginable, so long as it’s scientifically plausible.

What will you lead humanity to do?

p011gyw7

More pyramids?

*

* * *

Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Thunderbolts from Above

Welcome to the latest installment of my new weekly series, A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday I’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it myself, I’ll look to you for the resolution.

It’s all in good fun.

Here we go…

* * *

I call this little series of questions The Adversary.

In most major religions across the world, the primary god or goddess is typically a benevolent or sometimes even an actively good figure of power.

They care. They want the best for their creations. They have positive feelings toward humanity.

But…

What if that assumption is completely off-base? What if humanity, in its infinite fallibility, has mistaken the intentions of its creator(s)?

With that in mind:

If there is a god or gods responsible for the creation and guidance of the human race, do you suppose:

…it’s possible this being is less than the benevolent deity described in several major religions?

…it’s possible this being might not have humanity’s best interests in mind?

…it’s possible this being might one day reject its creations?

…it’s possible this being has a dark purpose in store for us?

*

Well? What are your thoughts?

divine_vengence

Squish!

* * *

Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

My Beef with all the Quotes on the Internet

Quotes, quotes…everywhere.

We see them on our Facebook feeds, on people’s T-shirts, on bumper stickers, and on the walls of houses and offices across the land.

Some are funny. Some are dull. Some have a grain of truth, while others are contradictory. And many quotes are credited to people who never said the quoted phrase to begin with. But no one really cares. If it sounds cool, it becomes cool. And that’s all people really want. Right?

I get it. I get the allure. People like mottos. They enjoy direct, easy-to-understand life-messages they feel are attainable. People want goals. They crave wisdom for themselves and their families. And maybe more than anything, they want something simple. The more bite-sized a quote, the better. Fewer words implies fewer opportunities for the meaning of something to be mistaken. Also, having a short and nifty quote really helps when you want to hang a framed version of it on your living room wall. Or stick an inspirational magnet on your fridge. Or stamp your Facebook feed with something awesome someone might have said.

But I’m here to tell you something:

Internet quotes suck.

*

Actually, let me rephrase:

Almost all quotes suck.

Is that crude? Yeah, probably. Maybe, “Internet quotes suck,” is my internet quote. Whatever. I’m pretty sure no one will frame it and slap it above their fireplace, so it’s ok. Where was I? Oh, right. I was just about to explain why quotes suck and you shouldn’t try to live your life using words someone else said.

Let’s go over a few examples:

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Since no one really knows what the future will hold, it’s pretty much impossible to truly prepare for it. Yes, it’s possible to get ready for tomorrow’s day at work or to plan for a specific event a few weeks or months down the road. But sometimes, a lot of times, even the best-laid plans change drastically or fail miserably. And then what have all our preparations wrought? The answer: nothing. It’s a cool sounding quote, but until we perfect time-travel, the future will devour us all.

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Suppose someone is trying to become a man of value, whatever that is. If they achieve it, isn’t that success for them? Meaning, they tried to become a man of success after all?

famous-quotes-by-famous-people-07-2

Thanks, Eminem. But what if you stood up for something awful? What if your enemies are people you’ve betrayed? What if the only reason you have these alleged enemies is because you’re an A-hole, not because you stood up for some greater cause?

*

*

Maybe you see what I’m talking about. Maybe not. While some of these quotes might have virtue in specific situations for specific people, they’re hardly wisdom for the masses. Besides, how many people actually follow the quotes they slap on the internet, on their cars  and on their walls? Not many. People who get stuff done in life spend more time doing than talking. Right?

thomas-edison-famous-quotesYeah right. Tell that to slaves. To people who work three jobs for paltry pay. To the guy who cleans the toilets. To the teacher who busts her butt only to get cursed out by her students’ parents. Or just read the evil sign posted outside Auschwitz that once boasted Arbeit Macht Frei…aka ‘Work sets you free.’ I think I know what good old Edison meant (if he actually said this.) But then again, some people believe Edison stole several ideas from Tesla rather than work on them himself.

ansel-adams-famous-photographers-quotes-860x688

While I’m not definitely hating on photographers (because it’s a beautiful art form) let’s be clear about something:

The camera made the photo. Nature made the photo. The universe made the photo.

The photographer may have captured it, but he didn’t create it.

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Nelson Mandela was an awesome dude who suffered immeasurably in life.

But this quote (if it was really his) really just bolsters the idea that humanity is innately powerful.

Here’s a hint: we’re not. We’re floating on a tiny blue dot in an ocean of darkness. Our fear is definitely that we’re inadequate. Because in so many ways, we are.

*

*

Ok. So maybe I’m a little cynical. Or maybe I’m just having fun tearing down a few quotes. Or mayyyybe I’m just exhausted of seeing humanity speak a few eloquent words only to completely ignore the message in the end. Fine. Whatever. Since we’re already here, let’s do a few more.

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I know quite a few dedicated religious folks. And while I love and respect many of them, the terms unsinkable, undefeatable, and unshakeable are not the words I’d choose to describe them.

Plus, did anyone ever hear of the Crusades?

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Love ya, Harry. But that’s not what those two words mean. At all.

famous-quotes-and-sayings

What if you died? What if you’re flat broke and there’s no one to help you back on your feet? What if you honestly gave it your all, but were defeated utterly in the end?

It sounds poetic to say failure only happens when you quit. But sometimes people just fail because…life. And sometimes there’s no poetry to it.

famous-abraham-lincoln-quotes-on-slavery-leadership-life-civil-war

It’d be nice if the world worked this way. And sometimes it might.

But as long as such things as politics, war, and religion exist, there are just too many enemies who have no interest in ever becoming friends.

I mean, just consider this year’s election. Nuff said.

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*

Quotes, quotes…everywhere. But the fact is: life’s wisdom isn’t earned by a photo and a few clever words on the internet. It’s measured in terms of experience, knowledge, and a willingness to endure heartache, triumph, and change. It’s earned throughout the long, slow decades. It isn’t clicked on, retweeted, or posted on walls.

Our wisdom is inside us. And words, no matter how smart they sound, will never quite capture it.

* * *

 

Want to coin your own quotes instead of using someone else’s? Try this.

Prefer to think before you speak? Go here.

J Edward Neill

 

 

A Thought for Every Thursday – Gotta Love It

Welcome to the latest installment of my new weekly series, A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday I’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it myself, I’ll look to you for the resolution.

It’s all in good fun.

Here we go…

* * *

This week, I’ve got two relationship questions for you. Both involve the complicated matter of people being hesitant when getting into new romances.

swipe

Hey you! Slow down with the swipe-rights!

The first question:

You’ve met someone. You like them. A lot. So much so that you’re afraid of getting your heart broken.

The catch is; you’re not quite sure whether or not your feelings are mutual.

Which of the following are you most likely to do?

End the relationship now before they break your heart

Stay with them and take the risk

Try really hard to make them fall in love with you

Or _______________

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And the second question, which involves skeletons:

 We all have them in our closet. Maybe they’re childhood traumas, bad exes, fetishes, phobias, or *gasp* maybe even cats.

At what point during a relationship should someone let their skeletons out?

Immediately

After the 3rd date

Before things get serious

The very moment things get serious

Lock the closet door and throw away the key

*

Well? What are your thoughts?

* * *

Past ATFET’s are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

 

10 Questions for When You’re Tipsy

jd-girl

It’s late. You’ve had a few adult beverages. You’re with a few friends. Or maybe you’re alone.

It’s time to break out ten questions you might not ask if you were sober.

* * *

Let’s Get Physical

 Assuming one-on-one combat, what percentage of the world’s population could you handle in a fight?

*

Unshackle the Chains 

Consider the laws in whichever country you call home.

Choose three things you want to no longer be illegal.

*

Buying Love

 You have $10 with which to build your ideal romantic companion.

Spend wisely:

$5 – Fantastic in Bed                       $5 – A Great Parent

$3 -An Amazing Body           $3 – A Great Sense of Humor

$3 – Highly Intelligent         $2 – A Specific Skill ($2 per Skill)

$1 – Has ________ in Common With You ($1 Each)

$3 – Morally Solid             $5- Wealthy

$7 – Will Always Love You

*

Silver Tongues

 What is the worst lie you’ve ever told? 

If you’re reluctant to answer, then…

…what is the worst lie someone has ever told you?

And why?

*

The Heist 

If you could steal any one thing in the world and make it yours forever, what would it be?

It can be an object, a person, a life situation, a place.

You won’t get in any trouble for taking it.

No one will ever know.

Well?

*

On a Scale of 0-10…

…in which 0 is ‘not at all’, 5 is average, and 10 means ‘highly’:

How intelligent are you?

How physically attractive are you?

How charming?

How artistic?

How generous?

 And how narcissistic?

*

Three Drinks Too Many

 People in relationships can answer this one, too. (just make sure their significant other is cool…or not present.)

 So…

It’s Friday night.

You’re out with your friends, no date.

You’ve had a few drinks too many.

If you were to text or call any one person from your past, who would it be.

And why?

*

Let’s Just Hope They Shave  

 Think about romance during previous generations.

The Roaring 20’s

The Sexual Revolution

The Renaissance

Suppose you got a chance to sample a bit of romantic life in one of these time periods.

Which one would you pick?

And why?

*

Fight Club Time Machine

 Suppose you’re given the chance to travel back in time to fight any one historical figure to the death.

If you defeat them, the course of history will be changed in accordance with their absence.

The fight will be hand-to-hand. Your foe will be in their prime.

Whom will you fight?

*

The Ultimate ‘What if?’

 If you could be a member of the opposite sex for one single day, would you?

Assume no one but you will ever know.

If yes, what would you like to experience?

What age would you want to be?

What situation would you want to be in?

If you’re not interested, why not?

* * *

These ten questions were pried from the pages of my Coffee Table Philosophy series.

In these books, I pose more than 1,000 questions to people.

Some of which are here.

And sexier ones are here.

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – How or Why?

Welcome to the latest installment of my new weekly series, A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday at Tessera Guild I’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it myself, I’ll look to you for the resolution.

It’s all in good fun.

Here we go…

* * *

Finally, a Simple Question

In past ATFET’s, we’ve been pretty wordy.

This week we’re keeping it quick and easy.

So…

 Given the choice, would you rather know HOW the universe works, meaning you’d understand all the hard science behind each and every interaction taking place in our existence?

or

Would you prefer to know WHY our universe and all the individual objects within it exist, meaning you’d grasp the purpose behind everything?

Explain your reasons.

* * *

Past ATFET’s are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

 

Nine Weird Things About the Internet Today

One-hundred years from now, I’m convinced most of the modern world will have almost no reason to walk outside their front door. Ever.

Just think about it.

The internet (if it isn’t already) will be all-powerful. Every consumer good will be deliverable instantly. Anyone will be able to contact anyone FTL (faster than light.) All services will be available always. If we think communication is fast today, imagine where it’ll be a century from now.

Pretty crazy, right?

But for now we’re still kind of in the internet’s adolescence. The net survived its www.infancy and it’s gotten just big and smart enough to be dangerous.

Consider, if you will, these nine observations about the strange state of the modern internet.

* * *

Observation 1Each social media hub has its own personality

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I’m not sure anything can illustrate the differences better than this graphic. But what I’m really not sure of is just when it was each site evolved into its own little solar system.

Examples: Twitter and Facebook, though wildly different in interface, are for funny stuff, news bytes, porn, and marketing (some of which I’ve been guilty of.) Instagram seems to appeal to younger crowds, artists, and photographers. The Pinterest fan base is mostly female, while pretty much no one uses Google+. Obviously I’m generalizing a bit, but it’s undeniable how the quirks of each social media site have attracted user bases that are so very different from each other.

I think it’s pretty cool. Except for LinkedIn, which pretty much sucks. 🙂

Observation 2 – People still argue about politics online

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If you added up every occurrence of a political debate in the history of the world, you’d probably have a hard time finding ten instances in which someone’s mind was actually changed for the better. In polite society, political debates in conversation are verboten, but no so much on the internet. A quick scan and breakdown of my own personal Facebook feed reveals that 60% (not kidding) of the posts are political in tone. And no, it’s not open-ended, objective stuff taking place. It’s hostile, “I’m right! You’re wrong!” incendiary warfare. Personally, I find it obnoxious. But perhaps more relevant is that everyone on the net is happy to say lots of stuff, but rarely does anyone actually do anything about it.

Why is that?

Whatever.

Observation 3 – The ascension of spam and clickbait

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I despise clickbait with such passion I wrote a big piece on it. But let’s be serious for a moment. Spam and clickbait are existential threats to our beloved net. They crowd out marketing for actual, quality goods. They take up space that might otherwise be inhabited by cool, interesting content. Despite these facts, most people struggle to spot spam or clickbait at first sight. And the real trouble is that since the internet has no singular governing body, there’s no one-stop elimination strategy to get rid of this junk. It just keeps spreading.

What does it mean? Well…we’d better prepare ourselves for sneakier, smarter, and more diabolical clickbait. Because while we’re busy going nuts on Amazon Prime, the spammers are out there designing better ways to siphon money and time from the rest of us.

And I think it sucks.

Observation 4 – Free porn for everyone

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More than anything, I just really, really want to know how pay-for-porn websites stay in business. I mean, with literally thousands of free porn sites out there, it feels like the entire triple-x pay-per-view industry should collapse. Right? Imagine if a bunch of companies started giving away free, high-quality cars, TV’s, and houses. Wouldn’t all the legitimate industries dry up within weeks? But no…not with porn. Making it free seems only to inspire more and more videos to be created.

I guess even when sex doesn’t sell, it sells.

Observation 5 – All the @#$%*&! memes

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In my web series Anti-Meme Fridays, I surmised that one day in the future everyone on Earth will communicate solely via memes, thus eliminating the need for actual spoken language.

Ok, maybe that’s a little heavy handed. But in all truth, memes are everywhere. They’re not stopping anytime soon, even though 90% of them are misspelled, unfunny, cheesy, or annoyingly motivational in tone. What I can’t figure out, and what I need your help in solving, is how it is we arrived at this point. I can’t imagine anyone on this planet who actually likes a bunch of boring pictures and quotes crowding out everything else on their social media feed.

And yet….here we are.

Observation 6 – The prevalence of perverts

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Based on the tales pretty much all my female friends and family have told, nearly 100% of the adult male population has sent unsolicited photos of their anatomy to a woman at least once in their life. But seriously, there are way more creepers among us than we ever could’ve guessed. They’re everywhere, and the internet makes it easy for them. I’m willing to bet we all know several dudes who are like this, but we have no idea what they’re up to. And it’s not just the rapey dudes spamming junk pics to every woman they can, but also other creeper types, not limited to but including: guys who threaten violence, guys who get irrationally angry when rejected, and guys who get extremely insulting in everyday social media forums.

Gentlemen, we’re better than this, right?

Guess not.

Observation 7 – Everything is based on opinion

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The headline tags for several major news websites are as follows:

CNN – ‘Breaking News, Latest News and Videos’

Fox – ‘Breaking News Updates, Latest News Headlines’

Huffington Post – (Their description is too long to type, but it’s pretty much similar to CNN and Fox, while admitting a sprinkle of ‘entertainment.’)

And so and so forth…

As a kid, I remember learning about this little thing called Journalism. I was taught such terms as “unbiased” “objective” and “factual.” I remember the days when news reporters were calm, serious, and almost indifferent in most scenarios.

Those days are dead. Scour the blogs, articles, and links of every major news outlet on the internet these days, and what do you mostly see?  Editorials.  Not that the articles in question typically identify themselves as opinion-based, but that’s what they are nonetheless. Objectivity appears to go as far as reporting names and body-counts, but that’s where it stops. Everyone has an angle, especially the reporters. Media isn’t where one goes to find truth. Nowadays, it’s all about entertainment.

Observation 8 – No one knows how to use hashtags

Seriously. Just stop.

Observation 9 – Artists around the world have a home

Jeremy Neill. Honest.

…even this douche.

 

By and large, it’s a good time to be a writer, painter, graphic designer, or any other kind of artist. The modern net allows things that just weren’t possible as recently as ten years ago. Authors can self-publish via dozens of outlets. Artists like this awesome lady here have a home to display their work without needing to hunt down big, pretentious galleries. I mean…these are good times.

But there is one little drawback: piracy. No, not Blackbeard holding a cutlass to our necks. If you’ve ever posted a cool piece of art, uploaded an awesome song you’ve created, or written something digitally awesome, it’s likely (even probable) that many other individuals have downloaded it illegally, plagiarized it, or otherwise distributed your work against your wishes. Some won’t care about a few pirate raids. But for others (me among them) piracy is seriously bad for bizniz. It sucks.

Seems no matter what infrastructure a society settles into, there will always be those who nip at the edges, seeking an advantage. Digital society is no different.

* * *

Be assured, there are darker (much darker) corners of the internet than the things I’ve touched on above.

But that’s a list for another day…

If you like dating on the aforementioned web, this is for you.

But if you prefer seeing your friends face-to-face, try this.

J Edward Neill

 

A Thought for Every Thursday – Walking Contradictions

Welcome to the latest installment of my new weekly series, A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday at Tessera Guild I’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it myself, I’ll look to you for the resolution.

It’s all in good fun.

Here we go…

* * *

Walking Contradictions

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This week I have several questions for you.

All have a similar theme: why do humans exist in a state of near-permanent contradiction?

For example:

Why do Americans lash out against the two-party system, yet few ever vote for a third party?

Why are people so willing to criticize and denigrate others, but so resistant to criticize or improve themselves?

Why do people kill in the name of their ‘peaceful’ religion?

If rush-hour traffic is so detrimental to public safety (and sanity) why do most businesses open and close in the same small window of time?

Why are people who condemn drama (in social situations) usually the most likely to start the theatrics in the first place?

How is it that the people who admit they have the least amount of knowledge are often the wisest among us?

Explain if you can.

And take your time.

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* * *

Past ATFET’s are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

Where the “Ways Cross”

For so many of us, we wonder about our lives, constantly looking to our pasts and the past of our family. Anything to glean some knowledge about our potential future. Today, I’m excited to take a look back with my mother as she gazes back.

***

I grew up in the Deep South in a railroad town forty miles north of the Georgia/Florida line- Waycross, a small town with a population less than twenty thousand. Peculiar name, but, originally, it was called “Old Nine” and then “Tebeauville” until 1935 when the leaders of the community decided to change the name to reflect more of the town’s true identity. This sleepy town was the “cross-way” of the railroad lines traveling through the state of Georgia, and, at the time of the name change, these group of business men thought a new name was needed to identify the junction of the existing Savannah railroad line and the new rail line which connected Brunswick and Albany. Legend has it that they toyed with the idea of Eastcross and Northcross, but finally settled on Waycross, probably over breakfast at the local diner. Waycross is also the point of intersection of five major highways in southeast Georgia, and it is the only town with direct access to the beginning of the Okefenokee Swamp, its claim to fame.

railroad-crossing

I lived the quintessential Southern life. To me, growing up Southern meant drinking sweet tea the color of the Satilla River, sitting on the front porch watching it rain during a thunderstorm, and then smashing the air pockets in the dirt road with my bare feet after the downpour was over. Summer started June 1st after school ended the last day of May, and shoes were forgotten until school resumed the last week in August. Even now I can outlast any of the tenderfoots in my family on hot beach sand. Nights meant mosquitoes, fireflies, air so thick you could cut it with a knife, trying to sleep with a window fan and praying for any breeze-however faint- and the sound of the trains over at the Rice Yard. I spent many days in July shelling peas and butter beans out of our garden in big tin dishpans on my lap. Once that last bean spilled out of its shell into the pan, it was hallelujah until the next round was picked.

Although I was the only child of a critical mother and an angry father, for the most part, my childhood was sweet and kind. I raced grasshoppers with the neighbors, caught dragonflies off the clothesline, and caught tadpoles out of the ditches with my cousin Robert. My Aunt Lucille would actually let him keep his tadpoles in a pan on their back porch, and we would watch them grow into frogs and hop away. I had the same best friend throughout childhood and teenage years, including crushes on boys and many nights with her at her aunt’s skating rink. I learned how to fish in the swamp ditches with a cane pole at about three and could throw a child’s rod and reel at about four. Our vacations every year consisted of a week fishing at Harriet’s Bluff in Kingsland, Georgia, a fish camp on Crooked River, and Saturday day trips to fish off the salt water pier at Fernandina Beach. ( I can still out fish anyone in our family.) On Labor Day weekend, we drove to the Smoky Mountains to visit my father’s oldest brother at his cabin.  I had an Aunt Dot, that aunt who loved to laugh and have a good time- also the aunt who introduced me to flying, the symphony, and the finer things in life. We weren’t rich, but we always had good food and nice clothes. My parents expected me to always do my best, and the measure of character according to my Daddy was whether that man was willing to work.

alligator

Although I have lived in the Commonwealth of Virginia for more than twenty years now, I still think of Georgia as my true home. Just the mention of “Southernness” and living in Waycross evokes deep feelings of nostalgia. When someone teases me about my Southern accent, I just smile- they never knew what they missed. I will always be a swamp girl.

map_of_waycross_ga

When I think about it, where the “Ways Cross” is a metaphor for my life, as it is for humans trying to navigate this shaky path of life. We all face forks in the road, a new path which has to be embraced, a change in our circumstances. In my own life, each decade had its share of upheavals and stability:

My tumultuous twenties as I figured out relationships, marriage, and motherhood.

Thirties a blur as a raised three children.

Forties when I completely flipped and went back to school for another degree and changed careers.

And now fifties where there has been much reflection and floundering as I figured out my identity apart from being a wife and mother.

This upcoming January I will experience my 60th year on this earth-sobering to say the least. Funny thing is, if you talk to ANY sixty year old person, they do not see themselves as an old person. We still feel the same on the inside; it is only when we look in the mirror we realize Old Man Time continued to march on.

So as the big 6-0 fast approaches, here I am again at another junction where the “Ways Cross.” What do I do with the rest of my life? I know I am much wiser than that seventeen year old who left for the big city of Atlanta to attend nursing school in 1974- the first fork in the road. It is my hope with this blog I will entertain some of you youngsters with stories about my life and the people in it- some funny, some sad, and some completely absurd- as I came to each crossing and navigated through. Other blogs will be reflections concerning life and my ponderings as I face the future me.

***

Mickey McGuire is the mother of published author John McGuire, a registered NICU nurse, retired high school teacher, an artist, and passionate student in this game of life.

Ten Eccentric Movies Everyone Should See

There are Hollywood smash hits.

And there are bombs.

There are formulaic rom-coms, predictable horror cheese-fare, and various deadly serious films starring Matt Damon.

But as most of us know…

There are films that defy convention, break from the mold, and flip movie-goers’ expectations upside down. Many of these, you might not have watched or even heard of. They’re not quite mainstream, but not quite indie either.

Please enjoy my list of ten eccentric movies, all of which are worth viewing:

* * *

perfume-the-story-of-a-murderer

Perfume – Story of a Murderer

It’s possible I’m starting this list with the best movie of the ten. Perfume – Story of a Murderer is among the most eccentric, most gripping movies ever to hit the screen. It goes like this: a young man with a gifted sense of smell decides he wants to capture the scent of all things. Only…that’s impossible. So rather than continue trying to capture the odors of copper, glass, and dead cats, he steps up his game and makes it his life mission to make the most powerful perfume the world has ever known.

I won’t spoil it more than that.

Featuring Ben Whishaw, the late, great Alan Rickman, Dustin Hoffman, and narrated by John Hurt, Perfume is a powerful tale of the dark places obsessions can go.

*

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Moon

One must be careful when describing Moon, lest one reveal spoilers.

So I’ll say only this:

A lonely, lonely man named Sam (played by Sam Rockwell) exists on the far side of the Moon with the sole purpose of mining Helium-3. Sam’s only companion is an AI named GERTY. His journey is haunting, sometimes grim, and always mysterious.

Moon’s atmosphere (no pun intended) is different than any movie I’ve ever seen, while the soundtrack is flat out beautiful and chilling.

Just see it.

*

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My Blue Heaven

Let’s go old school for a minute.

My Blue Heaven is my personal favorite Rick Moranis movie (other than mayyyyyyyyybe Ghostbusters.) And Steve Martin definitely has the best hairdo of any dude ever.

So…when Vinnie (Steve Martin) falls into a semi-ridiculous witness protection program, it becomes Barney’s (Rick Moranis) job to protect him. As expected, Steve Martin’s performance is over-the-top absurd, and Moranis plays it pretty deadpan throughout.

Plenty of critics will say My Blue Heaven’s premise is way better than its execution. To them I say, “Pfffffffft.” My Blue Heaven is good, silly fun.

*

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What We Do in the Shadows

Speaking of fun movies, What We Do in the Shadows is among the best of them.

The setup: four vampires living in New Zealand must cope with the everyday challenges of the modern world. This includes: wrangling new victims via a third-party, dealing with dirty dishes, bickering over whose turn it is to clean the house, etc. Each of the vampires is from a different era of history, meaning their interactions are flat-out bizarre and hilarious. It’s shot in a reality TV/documentary format, and it’s insane.

See it now.

*

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Ex Machina

Everything you need to know about this movie appears in my thorough review – right here.

But seriously, most people I know still haven’t seen this instant sci-fi classic, which baffles me. It’s probably among the best sci-fi movies ever made. It’s that good.

The quick and dirty premise: a megalomaniac scientist creates a powerful AI, which he lures an unwitting young man to perform a Turing Test on.

Big mistake.

*

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RockNRolla

Ever seen Snatch? What about Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels? Or…ever seen any Guy Ritchie movie ever?

If so, you’ll love RockNRolla. The plot is too complex to explain in just a few sentences, but I’ll try anyway:

When a Russian real estate magnate pursues big-time property in London, the worst of the city’s criminals close in for a piece of the pie. Meanwhile, the mobster’s son, a drugged-out rocker named Johnny Quid, is the key to the whole deal working out or completely unraveling. And meanwhile, meanwhile, a gang of thieves (played by Gerard Butler, Idris Elba, and Tom Hardy, to name a few) gets in wayyyy too deep.

I’ll just leave it at this – RockNRolla is top-notch Brit crime comedy.

*

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Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro, fantasy and horror genius, sets the stage for something truly beautiful in Pan’s Labyrinth.

In it, a little girl seeking refuge from a horrific civil war stumbles into a web of dark secrets surrounding her (sadistic) stepfather’s mansion. In typical del Toro fashion, we’re sucked out of the usual Hollywood fantasy tropes and thrust into something eerier, crawlier, and more visceral.

It’s not really a fantasy movie in the typical sense. Nor is it quite horror. It’s about a little girl trying to escape her awful reality, meaning it’s a step above most of the fiction fare you’ll ever see on the big screen.

*

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The Big Lebowski

You’ve maybe/probably heard of The Dude. At least, I hope you have.

Mashing up Jeff Bridges (mellow) John Goodman (insane) and Steve Buscemi (obnoxious) to star in a movie about a missing rug, a cheating wife, mistaken identity, and bowling, was pure genius from the start. And to call it a cult classic is easily an understatement.

My favorite parts: when John Goodman goes off on John Turturro’s (playing Jesus the bowler) teammate. And then of course the big fight with the nihilists (one of them is played by Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea) at the end.

It’s a total mess. It’s weird. It’s almost without a tangible plot. And it’s awesome.

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The Prestige

“Are you watching closely?”

The Prestige (Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine) is among my all-time favorites.

The plot: when a stage magician’s wife (Piper Perabo) is accidentally killed during a dangerous trick, a cold war begins between her husband (Jackman) and the man (Bale) who may or may not have been responsible for her death.

Everything about The Prestige is a bit dark, a bit tragic, and shadowed by questions about what’s really going on. It’s not really about the stage tricks the two warring magicians pull off. It’s about the rivalry between them, and how much damage the whole concept of revenge can do to everyone involved.

*

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Kubo and the Two Strings

I figured I’d tie in a kids movie, because…well…so many of us have kids, and kids love movies, too.

Kubo was one of those films I didn’t know anything about when I sat down in the theater to watch with my son. We’d seen exactly half of one preview, and we didn’t really know what we were getting into.

What we didn’t know – Kubo and the Two Strings is an elegant tale about a little boy, a monkey, a giant beetle, and a tiny paper man…and all their adventures as they try to escape the boy’s dreaded (and all-powerful) grandfather. The fight scenes are somehow bloodless AND intense. The subject matter is full of quiet wisdom. And the movie itself is beautiful. My son was riveted during the action, and full of sharp questions about life, death, and love afterward.

What more can you ask for in a kids’ movie?

* * *

*

Honorable mentions:

Dragonslayer – The coolest old school fantasy film you’ve never heard of

Strange Brew – Max von Sydow versus Rick Moranis? Count me in

Memento – A classic head f**k

The Machinist – Christian Bale lost a million lbs. for the lead role

*

If I were to make one of my novels into a movie, I’d choose this one.

…and this one, too.

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

A Thought for every Thursday – So Many Opinions

Welcome to the latest installment of A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday at Tessera Guild I’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it myself, I’ll look to you for the resolution.

It’s all in good fun.

Here we go…

* * *

But Are We Really?

The old saying goes, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

Let’s explore that a little deeper.

When people talk about opinions, they’re not really talking about truth. They’re talking about their personal feelings as they relate to various topics. They’re talking about emotions, instincts, and impressions. But most importantly, they’re talking about themselves.

Perhaps they don’t like a certain kind of food.

Or the way a car looks.

Or maybe it’s more serious, and the person really dislikes something going on in our society, sometimes to the point of being enraged by it.

Generally speaking, opinions are emotionally driven. They’re often formed when a person achieves a limited understanding of something and associates a positive or negative emotion in regards to it. Typically, though not always, the person with the opinion (regarding something important, not something frivolous) feels the need to express the opinion.

Loudly.

To anyone willing to listen.

And sometimes to people who aren’t so willing.

So now let’s talk about that saying again. When we talk about entitlement, we’re talking about something that a person has an inherent right to possess. And when we talk about opinions, we’re talking about feelings and emotions, something that doesn’t always mix well with truth and reality.

So…

Is a person truly entitled to their opinion?

Always?

What if it’s ignorant or based on misinformation?

And are people who possess a wide variety of powerful opinions narcissistic?

Or are opinions inalienable no matter what the circumstances might be?

And when someone says, “I respect someone else’s opinion,” regarding something they strongly disagree with, are they really telling the truth?

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* * *

Past ATFET’s are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

How Playing D&D Reshaped My Entire Life

Christmas Eve 1987.

I was eleven years old.

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

And then my Uncle John rolled into town.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah ok,” I grunted in real life.

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

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

Great. More clothes.

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

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

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

What was inside?

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Mind. Blown.

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

I was lost, but in a good way.

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

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

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

* * *

Let’s fast forward a few years.

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

Friends who would game with me.

Friends who shared my passion for deep, dark storytelling.

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…friends who would fight this guy with me.

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

And it was ON.

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

*

We spent thousands of hours role-playing.

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

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

But the best part?

It didn’t stop there.

It began

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

And so I started my writing journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Published in 2015….conceived in 1992.

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

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

🙂

J Edward Neill

Author and Artist

DownTheDarkPath

 

 

 

A Thought for Every Thursday – What’s in a Heart?

Welcome to the latest installment of my new weekly series, A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday at Tessera Guild I’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it myself, I’ll look to you for the resolution.

It’s all in good fun.

Here we go…

* * *

What’s in a Heart?

What’s a gesture worth?

What’s the value of symbol, an image, or an idol?

If you think about it, we’re surrounded by symbols. They’re on our cars, on our sports team logos, on businesses, roads, and flags.

Some of these symbols appear to be of more importance than others.

Like how the McDonalds arches are more widely known than the Maserati ‘M’.

Or how the US flag is always hoisted higher on the pole than the others.

Human gestures can also be symbolic. Like remaining silent during a somber moment, flipping someone a middle finger, or standing (or not) during a ceremonial moment.

These symbols and gestures are obviously important to many people, otherwise no one would be up in arms whenever someone else didn’t observe the popular protocol.

Let’s talk about that.

If a person remains silent during a somber moment, does it really, truly imply their respect for the moment? Given how our thoughts are our best-kept secret, is it possible many (or even most) people are thinking about something completely unrelated to the moment at hand?

What about symbols such as military standards, sacred buildings, and flags? If a person stands at attention (or otherwise appears to pay their respects) does it really reflect what’s in their heart?

Is it possible that many of the people giving apparent respect don’t actually give a damn? Is it probable?

And if it were true that some of the people who appear to give respect don’t actually care much about whatever’s happening in the moment, does that mean we’re kidding ourselves when we praise the appearance of respect and turn our noses up at the apparent lack of it?

Because it’s what lies in the heart that really matters, right?

Gestures and symbols are nice things to have, but do they really have the meaning we think they do?

Also…when’s the last time you stood at attention before a symbol (a building, a flag, etc) when no one else was looking?

I don’t know the answers.

Which is why I’m asking you.

* * *

taco-bell

I’m willing to bet a LOT of people worship this symbol…

Past ATFET’s are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

Dragoncon 2016 – The Good and Other Thoughts

Last week I talked a lot about the bad stuff that went down at Dragon Con this year. These are obviously not crazy problems, and I completely understand that. More it was as much about having that moment where you just say “this is going to be one of those weekends” and it happened to be this particular one.

That said, I do have some thoughts about the convention below that occurred to me as I was waiting in the fabulous Line Ride(s).

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But first, The Good

On Saturday we saw the Legends of Tomorrow panel where I got to see a man dance like he might have been Michael Jackson in a previous life. Considering he plays Hawkman, a character whose whole gimmick is reincarnation, it was somewhat fitting. I discovered that the man who plays Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) might actually be Vandal Savage in real life (or more to the point, just frickin’ owns the role!). I realized that the cast realized they might have a drinking game on their hands with the number of times Kendra (Hawkgirl) says “But I was a barista only 3 weeks ago!” Something Robert had brought up the day before (that I hadn’t really noticed).

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Oh, and the complaint about not getting the line in quick enough from last week? Apparently that was not a problem for this panel as we got moving 15 minutes before the panel started and were seated by the time things got started.

Maybe it is a hotel thing?

I sat in a number of writing panels where I either learned something or it helped to reinforce some things I knew, but haven’t yet put into proper practice. I like to think of those panels as a nice way to get recharged for the rest of the year. You have all these people who just want to get their ideas out there, tell their stories, and hope someone enjoys them.

It’s refreshing.

Even on Sunday, we had no problems getting into the vendor’s room, and the extra floor really helped to let things breathe a little bit more. That’s probably the single best thing from the convention expanding into the America’s Mart buildings these last couple of years.

Like I said before, while it might have started out rough, we came home on Sunday with smiles on our faces, already looking forward to next year.

The OTHER

I do have a couple of thoughts about Dragon Con and where it might need to go eventually. Again, I’ve been going to Dragon Con virtually every year since 1993. And I know I’m probably in the minority on this, but during those moments when you can’t move due to the sheer amount of bodies in a building, where you can’t get into a panel without having to wait an hour plus in a line, and where there is even discussion about what a Fire Marshall might require.. it might be that Dragon Con is TOO BIG.

Dragon Con 2016

I’m not sure of the attendance numbers, I do feel that Dragon Con has gotten bigger and bigger over the last 4 or 5 years. When it gets unpleasant for people to be there, that’s not really the goal, is it?

Maybe they should consider a couple of things:

Capping attendance. Not sure if that is through only having pre-sale 4 day passes or something. I know they want to be able to serve everyone who wants to come, but enough is enough.

Or maybe this Con needs to move to a bigger venue. Yes, we all love that it’s in the hotels. It means that when you are sore and tired (and have a room), you can go upstairs and take a rest. But one of the things hotels create are choke-points. The sky bridges are natural choke points. Everyone is in costume, and it’s awesome, but I can’t move from one building to another because there is no flow. So many times it becomes salmon swimming upstream.

This year we were lucky to not have rain most of the weekend. When it rains no one walks the streets and the hotels cannot handle it. It becomes a complete mess.

Now used to be, before the Chick-fil-a Kickoff game didn’t exist, I thought “Hey, move to the World Congress Center, we’d have the space and everything would be in ONE BUILDING (effectively)”. Currently the Con is now in 6 buildings over like 5-6 blocks.

SIX BUILDINGS!

Come on. That is far too many.

Now that the football game exists, I don’t think being over there would be the best idea. We’d be on top of the football tailgaters. And while I love the looks on the people from out-of-town as they gawk at the cosplayers, we’d just be over crowed somewhere else.

So my solution, assuming the World Congress Center would work otherwise, is to move the date of Dragon Con. It’s not unprecedented. Used to be it was in mid-July. If you moved it, you’d be asking people to take that Monday off (instead of having the built-in holiday), but I’m not sure that would really be the issue. Monday is kind of hit or miss most years (we normally use that day to recover, but maybe we’re in the minority). Find that weekend where you are the only BIG THING in town.

Now maybe that would mean a slight dip in attendance, but I’m saying that may not be a bad thing. If there were 5-10% fewer people there… just something to think about.

And there is another benefit, more hotels available for the con goers. You wouldn’t be competing with the football people for rooms. Heck, could it be possible the prices might drop slightly (probably not, but I can dream).

Note, this is not me dreaming of the “good old days”, just trying to make it a little better before it becomes too big (an odd statement to be sure).

Again, maybe I’m just being grumpy. It’s always possible.

***

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.

Three Little Sunsets in Florida

Recently I took a little vacation to the Gulf Coast of Florida.

In contrast to some of my lavish vacations of yesteryear, I did this one quick and cheap.

Which turned out just perfect.

This is my journal for four days and three nights in Palm Harbor, Florida.

Please enjoy.

* * *

Tuesday, Sept 6th – Morning and Early Afternoon

On a sunny, warm morning, I drove my kid (the G Man) to his school. After releasing his groggy, five-year old self into the waiting arms of his cranky teacher (she always gives me stink-eye) I wandered back to my car. Decisions, decisions… I knew a 7-hour solo drive awaited me, and that if I didn’t get some exercise, I’d regret it. You see, my body rebels at long car drives. Without space to move around, my muscles tense up and everything starts to hurt. It’s pretty much the worst feeling ever. So instead of immediately settling in for the long drive to Florida, I went on a four-mile run.

It’s probably worth mentioning I never get to run in the mornings. And after Tuesday’s little sprint, I remembered why I love early running so much. It’s cool outside, usually mildly breezy, and in the deep woods of the Suwanee Greenway, I get to be alone under the trees. This particular run was especially wonderful. I mean…not having to instantly go to work afterward meant I got to stand under the leaves and breathe deep.

…and then drive seven eight-and-a-half hours to Palm Harbor.

Some of the billboards seen on the way:

“Only Jesus can stop the Zombie Apocalypse!”

“Wind Turbines kill Millions of Birds Every Year!”

and my favorite pairing:

“Jesus is the Only Answer!” ….right next to…. “Strippers! We Bare All!”

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Wow. Just wow.

Tuesday Mid-Afternoon

After a loooooong drive, during which I listened to the Mad Max – Fury Road soundtrack at least twice, I arrived in Palm Harbor at about 5:30 PM. I was half-starved, having consumed only a Muscle Milk and a Babe Ruth bar since breakfast. 🙁 Luckily, my buddy Danish Mike (more on him later) arrived from Fort Lauderdale at nearly the same time. We met for an early dinner, and the eating was on.

Now, the thing about restaurants in Florida is this: if they’re anywhere near the beach, they’re all the same. They look the same (weathered pastel paint and crumbling roof) their clientele is the same (tanned seniors) and the menu is pretty much the same (crab cakes and rum runners.) The place we chose was exactly like any other place we could’ve chosen. The food was cheap and hot, and the drinks were cheaper and cold.

I sat down with Danish Mike (think Arnold Schwarzenegger with a tan and long hair) and our buddy Greg (local musician and philosopher.) We slurped down about 4,000 calories each while catching up and planning a three-evening destruction of Palm Harbor. It was the perfect way to start a relaxing trip.

Oh, in case you wondered, Palm Harbor is a mostly residential town wedged between Tampa and Clearwater. It’s flat, crisscrossed with narrow waterways, and quiet. Not sure any of this matters. Just thought you should know.

Tuesday Evening

I wish I could tell you we immediately leapt into scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, or massive senior citizen orgies. Nope. Didn’t happen. My long-haired European friend and I simply skipped to another bar, where we ate again, sipped some really mediocre beverages, and enjoyed a three-hour conversation about the meaning of life. If you know me, you know I love philosophy. And so it went: deep drinks and deeper talks. Niiiiiiiice.

Wednesday, Sept 7th – Morning

So there’s this restaurant on the Gulf Coast of Florida. It’s in Clearwater, about 100 yards from the shore. Clear Sky Café – not quite a dive bar, not quite high end. It’s pretty much a mandatory go-to spot every time I’m in town. After rising early, Mike and I hopped in my truck, turned up some realllllly loud, obnoxious death metal, and sprinted down to grab some breakfast. We planned on a quick meal and then whatever, but naturally, as it always happens, we stayed at Clear Sky for about two hours. Nope, not chasing local girls. Nah, not drinking. Somehow we started talking politics.

And it turned out we did so in an ocean of hardcore Trump fans. Yay!

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Clear Sky Café – home of amazing mojitos, top-notch food, and vigorous political fury.

Wednesday Late Morning through Early Evening

I suppose some people’s idea of relaxation is different than mine. Most of the people I know would define relaxation on the beach as: lying in the sand, wading in the ocean, reading by the pool, and generally chilling completely out.

Me and Danish Mike…not so much.

For about nine hours on Wednesday, we played volleyball, swam in the ocean, ate more food than an entire third-world nation, and…played more volleyball. Now, when I say we played volleyball all day, I don’t mean to imply we found eight random people to play five versus five. Nah. Not our style. We scoured four different beaches (and four different bars) to find some hardcore competition. We found and played against: an Italian woman and her Andre the Giant-sized Brazilian husband.  A group of super friendly weekend warriors. A beautiful South American girl and the overbearing guy trying to impress her. And a bunch of young dudes eager to destroy us. We played them all, and for the most part, we won….despite being sauced with rum & beer and playing with full bellies.

It’s true. We’re addicted to volleyball.

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The Gulf Shore is home to (not kidding) thousands and thousands of volleyball courts.

Wednesday Evening

Exhausted and covered in a pretty gross sunscreen/sand lather, we drove back into town, ate our sixth meal of the day, and collapsed. What a day!

Thursday, Sept 8th – Morning

It’s turns out Clear Sky Café isn’t the only good spot to get breakfast on the Gulf Coast. There’s also another chain called First Watch, a little family-friendly spot with tons of offbeat breakfast and brunch fare. After Wednesday’s high level of exercise and consumption, we decided to play it healthy. If you’re ever in the Palm Harbor, Tampa, or Clearwater area, I suggest First Watch. While it’s true most of the wait-staff is either high or realllly high, the food is fantastic.

Plus, I really like pancakes. Sue me. But theirs were amazing.

Thursday Late Morning – Midafternoon

Our musician/philosopher friend, Greg West, had the perfect solution for our mid-Wednesday malaise. He suggested ocean kayaking, which…if you’ve never done it, is really a transcendent way to spend an afternoon. So it’s kayaking we went. We loaded up between three little islands (Holiday, Caladesi, and some other island I can’t remember.) It was just three dudes and a buttload of sunscreen out in the relatively shallow water between islands.

What’d we find out there in the beautiful blue water?

We came across a ship marooned on a sandbar. We speculated the ship’s captain must’ve been drunk as hell. The boat was pretty big, and yet somehow Cap’n Genius McIdiot managed to pilot it into two-feet deep water, where it’s been stuck ever since. The cool part: some pretty cool fish made a little reef out of the ship’s far side, and it’s there I plucked out a handful of beautiful shells to bring home to my kid.

We saw a shark (black – about 5′ – 7′ long) feasting on fish near a patch of stumpy mangroves.

We rowed within five feet of a dolphin pod. They didn’t mind us at all. We approached them calmly on our little kayaks and watched them jet through the shallows. Meanwhile, everyone on shore lost their minds. Based on their over-the-top screaming, I’m not sure any of the screaming teenage girls or drunken frat dudes had ever actually seen a dolphin before…or any wild animal…ever.

We spotted two manatees. They’re faster than you think.

Greg stepped on a crab, which bowed up at him as if to challenge him to a claw fight. Lacking claws, Greg backed down. A wise decision, we all agreed.

And then the tide rolled in. Somewhat reluctantly, we rode the rising waters back to shore and treated ourselves to beers and snowcones. Honestly, kayaking in the ocean was the most fun we’d had all trip. After proposing to our server, eating a buttload of fresh shrimp, and trying to force feed Greg in order to make him gain weight, we fled the islands and crept back onto the mainland.

Thursday Evening

So it’s true. A while back I committed to not watching any NFL football all season long. And yet…on Thursday, game one of the season (Panthers vs Broncos) happened to be playing on every TV everywhere. “Fine,” I thought. “We’ll watch it. Let’s go. Just don’t tell anyone.”

And so it went. A group of us (our clan had somehow swollen to five people) shambled over to a local Taco Mac-like spot to listen to Greg jam and to torment the waitresses. We watched Serena Williams lose badly, the US hockey team spank the EU team, and the Panthers blow a 10-point lead. Somehow we did this while barely drinking or spending any money. I think, being a local celebrity, Greg’s presence allowed us to camp out without emptying our wallets. It’s good to have friends, people. It’s even better to have friends who play guitar. Remember this.

In the middle of the football game, the bar fired up some trivia. We didn’t play (we should’ve; we’d have won easily) but we did witness one table cheat over and over again. You see, there were these five meatheads who busted out their phones for every question, and yet…somehow…didn’t win the trivia tourney. My theory is that if you’re gonna cheat, you’d better win. Just my two cents. Mediocre, meatheads. Mediocre.

Exhausted from rowing, waitress-tormenting, and talking about the end of the world, we retreated to sleep once again.

Friday, Sept 9th – Morning

I suppose the hardest part of any vacation is dealing with the fact that at some point, it must end. This is doubly true for short trips, and triply true when a looooooong drive awaits at trip’s end. When I awoke Friday morning, I let out the world’s longest sigh. I wanted to go kayaking again, to play volleyball all day, and to go back to the bar with the rubber ducky racing lagoon. Yes, I’m serious. And yes, I’d picked the purple duck to win. And yes, he lost.

So after a quick breakfast, Danish Mike and I headed down to Clearwater Beach to fit in some last-minute volleyball. But it turned out our hearts just weren’t in it. We knew we couldn’t commit to a full day of fun, and so, much like pouty kids, we just lounged in the ocean and judged all the people walking by. It was pretty relaxing, at least until Captain Blonde Dude McWhatever hopped on his waverunner and tore off into the deeps at 500mph. I’m not afraid to admit we both wished his waverunner would explode.

But it didn’t.

We crawled out of the water. We listened to Greg play a few songs at the Rockaway (another bar filled with tanner-than-everyone seniors.) And we drank the nastiest pineapple juice ever.

And then, after a hug and a fist bump, we got in our vehicles and drove away.

Friday Evening – The Drive Home

There’s something about driving solo over long distances. After a while, it becomes a meditative experience. To pass the time, one tends to fall into one’s thoughts. For the first few hours, I listened to loud music and drove wayyyy too fast, but after a while I slowed it down. I dreamed up a few offbeat book plots, not unlike this and this.

But then I started thinking about new marketing strategies. You see, on the long stretch of road between Palm Harbor and Atlanta lies a string of quiet (and mostly dead) towns. And clustered around these towns are some of the most entertaining billboards I’ve ever seen. They range from simple and poorly-worded to straight-up weird.

I seriously need to invest in some of these billboards. Can you imagine, sitting between a thousand signs for pecans, adult toy shops, and Jesus, a huge banner for a crazy dark fantasy novel?

I can.

Here. Enjoy a small sample of awesome billboards:

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Pure, raw entertainment right there…

Exactly how a vacation should end.

* * *

I’m back home now. I’m listening to music on my couch and contemplating what flavor Ramen noodles to eat. As for my time in Florida, I loved it. I’ll not soon forget kayaking on the clear blue water, eating pancakes while discussing the end of humanity, and zombie-Jesus billboards.

These are the things vacations are made of.

J Edward Neill

Author and Artist

The search for badass bloggers!

artists%20wanted

Hey you.

Are you an artist? An author? A photographer? Or someone with something awesome to blog about?

Yeah. We bet you are. 🙂

We think you should know; Tessera Guild is looking for someone like you.

Did you just finish a rockin’ painting? Cool! We want you to blog about it.

Did you publish an epic novel or a smooth little short story? Nice! We want to interview you about it.

Or maybe you want a weekly platform from which to write or podcast about art, life, and the end of the world? Yeah. We can help with that.

Tessera Guild is looking to grow its readership and help fresh new artists and wordsmiths get the exposure they need. We have primary openings on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends.

There are no strings attached. We don’t charge any money to anyone. We’re not in this for the cash.

Seriously.

We’re looking for full-time contributors AND one-time interviews, blogs, and press releases.

Interested?

Good. It’s easy. Just reach out to us via the comments section or send an email to JEdwardNeill@Downthedarkpath.com.

Tessera Guild gets thousands and thousands of hits every single week, and has been for more than two years now. Seems like a no-brainer for you to join us.

See you soon,

Team Tessera

Dragoncon 2016 – The Bad

This year I think I’m playing the Grumpy Old Man.

That’s how I felt on Friday of Dragon Con. The little things adding up to just annoy and bother me. I’d like to think it was just a combination of things, but regardless of the individual pieces there was still enough there to last me until about 4:30 on Saturday. Luckily it all turned around shortly after that, and I was left with a positive taste in my mouth after the weekend was done.

But let’s start from the beginning…

Actually, let’s start about two week’s earlier, because that’s when I tweaked my ankle, aggravating an old Achilles strain. Come Dragon Con, it was still hurting. Good thing I wasn’t going to have to do much walking or anything!

But, I digress…

Friday morning we gathered the last of what we’d need for the trip to downtown Atlanta for the day. I had a couple of copies of my books and comics just in case (in case of exactly what, who knows, but I need to have them on hand more than I normally do). I go to the drawer in our desk where every other year I’ve placed the postcards Dragon Con mails out (effectively your ticket).

Not there.

I checked another drawer and then another and then another. At some point I could only say, “I’m starting to panic here, Courtney.”

After another 30 minutes of looking with no luck, I checked the web to see what the procedure was, and while it wasn’t on the FAQ, it was on a Reddit thread from like two years ago (just present your Driver’s Licence and you’re good to go). So we drive down, find a parking spot, and then go over to Registration… where they can’t find that we’ve paid.

Eh?

So now we have to go to the far side of the room where it seems one of the places didn’t turn in their registration forms last year. We don’t have a receipt because we’ve never needed to have a receipt. And I’m starting to wonder if maybe we didn’t preregister last year…

A minute later we have our badges and it is off to the Vendor’s hall.

Except, we get stopped about 8 people from being able to get in. It seems that they were already experiencing, at 2:30 on Friday afternoon, capacity issues and don’t want the Fire Marshall to shut them down, so we have to wait. Now this isn’t a big deal except that the Vendor’s room has been open for only 1 1/2 hours and they are having this issue. On Friday.

We make the pack not to bother to come this way on Saturday as I could only imagine how long the line to get in might have been.

30 minutes later we get in, do a quick walk through of one floor of the vendor’s room, before we have to go upstairs to the CDC Panel that I’m actually a part of (second time I’ve been on any kind of Dragon Con panel!). The panel was focused on the motion comic web series I helped write KABI Chronicles (check out all 7 episodes!).

(I plan on doing a full post about that whole experience soon.)

As to the panel, other than wishing more people had turned out, it went well enough. And afterwards we did another pass of the vendor’s room before heading out to eat.

All these people coming to Atlanta during Labor Day Weekend!

Now, here’s the thing. In Atlanta on Labor Day weekend, you have tens of thousands of people descending on downtown due to Dragon Con, the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Football game, AC-DC had played on Thursday night, and probably a bunch of other things I’m forgetting at the moment. So normally getting into a restaurant can be a bit of a pain. But not this night. Somewhere, the convention gods smiled down on us and said that Hooters would get us seated in about 15 minutes.

And then 45 minutes later we had to inform a manager type person that we still hadn’t gotten our food.

Why didn’t we tell the waitress? Oh, that could be because she’d disappeared for most of that time. And then, after the manager offered us free deserts to smooth things over, she tried to charge us for those as well!

That was enough for us, so Court and headed home, where I began to realize that I wished we’d actually had a room downtown so that I didn’t have to make that 40 minute drive again.

Saturday started fine, but nearly the last straw was trying to get into the Flash/Arrow panel. We decided not to try to play the epic game of “where does this line actually begin” but instead just wait until those people got inside, and then if there was room we’d go in (not wanting to screw anyone over here).

Dragon Con 2016

The problem is that Dragon Con puts these panels 30 minutes apart. But instead of loading the room as soon as the previous one is cleared, they waited until 5 minutes before the panel’s start time to start letting people in. By minute 20 of the panel people in that line still hadn’t finished entering.

What the fuck!?!

Had I actually been in the line and missed a third of the panel because of incompetence, I might have lost it on someone. As it was, we opted to go and check out something else for a little while.

Oh, and to the lady who was taking her time walking in the line… not hobbled or anything, just acting like she’s got all the time in the world – you’re not only holding up the rest of the line, but you are going to see a panel featuring stars from the FLASH, not slow-poke Magoo! Pick up the pace!

Then things took a turn for the better…

But that is a story for next week.

***

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.

 

I’m awful at relationships (and it’s ok)

Hi there,

I’m J, possibly the worst person at relationships in the world.

A while back, I wrote about how modern love is a battlefield. I talked about how dating is harder than ever  because it’s actually too easy. And I figured (out loud) that finding love and relationships will never be the same as just fifteen years ago.

My article probably came across a little grim. But honestly, I don’t feel mine is a ‘glass half-empty’ viewpoint. It’s just the way things are. At least in my experience.

So after my original ‘love’ article, I decided to write tons more about modern dating. I can’t explain why I did it, especially since relationships aren’t exactly my strong point. Even so, I penned two books on the topic and published sarcastic blogs like this and this. I was pretty harsh, essentially mocking the entire process of dating and relationships. The whole thing felt funny to me. Not just funny, but laughable. I’m not really sure why.

But then I got to thinking. What if, instead of taking enjoyment in deconstructing everyone else’s love lives, I actually tried to forge something meaningful for myself. As in, a real relationship. Or at least a thriving presence in the dating underworld. What if I crawled out of my subterranean writing lair and began a legitimate search for love? At the very least, it’d be a fun experiment. At the worst…

Well…

Before I set out into the dating wilderness, I stopped to reflect on my life up to that point. It wasn’t a pretty picture. I’d been married, and I’d been pretty awful at it. I’d had girlfriends, but I’d carved my way through their lives, always finding some tiny reason to justify an instantaneous breakup. I’d worked way too hard to forge a persona that was cold, indifferent, and to be honest, pretty damn selfish. I sucked at relationships, and I knew it.

untitled

Ok. I’m bad, but maybe not THAT bad.

It was then I realized, even if my destiny was to be a lifelong bachelor, I had to change things up. Being a perma-jerk really wasn’t a good life plan, even if I confined it to dating. If I was gonna bother to meet new people and light some fresh romantic fires, I had to take it seriously. I had to be *gasp* a nicer human being.

So out I went into the wide, wild world. I had a dating plan, and I tried…really tried…to embrace it. I dressed better than in previous years. I hit the gym hard. I made a conscious effort to be extra polite, to smile more than once a day, and to compliment people without being sarcastic. I even tried not to laugh if a woman said she liked country music. That last one was particularly hard for me. Actually, it still is.

And so…dating, real dating instead of just crazy, midnight, one-evening collisions, started happening…

…and let’s be honest. I continued to suck at it.

I remember one night in the dead of winter.  My date, already tipsy from several glasses of wine, started kissing my face while we were in the middle of a restaurant. I don’t mind PDA, and certainly not from a good-looking girl, but I probably didn’t handle my reaction too well. I sat there, dead as a fish, and made a face like I was being murdered. Fail.

After a few weeks of steadily seeing a beautiful girl I genuinely liked, I randomly decided to blow off our (always awesome) Friday date-night to party with friends. The party wasn’t much fun. Naturally, we broke up a few days later. Fail.

While dating a smart, funny, and possibly out of my league younger woman, I flubbed every major conversation. I was too sarcastic, too blunt, and too indifferent. When, despite my idiocy, she came to me with the big ‘L’ word, I looked her in the eyes and said…nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was like someone had hit me in the head with a shovel. We dated for a little while afterward, but what human wants their big ‘L’ revelation to be greeted with silence? The answer: no one. Anything would’ve been better than nothing. Fail.

The stories gathered. The fails piled up. My effort waned. And within a few months, I was right back where I started. Single. A bachelor. A perpetual third wheel.

The weird part was – I didn’t really mind.

I like to think of myself as a pretty introspective person. When I eff up, which is often, I tend to look inward to find out what I did wrong, why I did it, and what I can do better the next time.

So inward I looked. And here’s what I came up with:

If you go into a relationship expecting it to be dull, crappy, or short-lived, it will be. Trust me. I know from personal experience.

But if you go in with sky-high expectations, you’ll be disappointed just the same.

If your favorite thing to do in life involves locking yourself in a dark room for long hours every night to write novels, relationships will be hard.

And if, when you finally come out of the room, you find yourself wanting to either: A. Go back in …or B. Hit the town hard to expel all your pent-up energy, relationships will be extra hard.

If you’re a guy, and your favorite things in life are attending death metal concerts, painting deathy landscapes, cooking huge piles of meat, playing tons of sports, and basically doing whatever you want whenever you want to, you might have trouble finding a girl with similar interests.

Especially if you have a young kid who’s exactly like you.

And double especially if you’re rapidly approaching 40.

* * *

I could go on. I really could. I have all kinds of stories about my relationship suck-itude. I mean, did you know RBF (Resting Bitch Face) is also a guy thing? Yep. I have it. Have you ever looked up the meaning of ‘aloof?’ Yep, I am it. Have you ever had a date or a significant other tell you they thought you had a terrible, dreadful night when you actually had a blast? Yep, happens to me every time. Apparently I suck even when things aren’t sucking.

Now, let’s be clear about something. I’m not writing this to earn sympathy. I’m not bemoaning my life story as a lousy relationship-er. I’m all about the facts, and I’m completely at peace with my suck-itude. I’m just here to tell you that if and when you start to think you suck at finding love and meaningful companionship, rest assured someone sucks worse than you.

Me.

🙂

J Edward Neill

Author of all kinds of relationship-y books:

101 Qs for Couples Front Cover

101 xxxy Questions Front Cover

101QSP

 

 

 

 

Why I’m taking the year off from watching NFL Football

It’s kind of a thing.

You might’ve heard of it.

NFL football. The world’s most lucrative sport. Bone-crunching hits. Last-second touchdowns. An all-consuming war between twenty-two men on the gridiron.

Also…

Hugely addictive.

Also also…

A massive devourer of time.

Crunch

Not sure your helmet helped you much, buddy.

For the last 3,000 or so NFL seasons, I’ve had a little ritual. Ok…fine. It was a big ritual. It went a little something like this:

  • I reserved a nine-hour block of every Sunday to watch football
  • I reserved every Monday night, no matter which crappy teams were playing, to watch Monday Night Football
  • When Thursday night football started being a thing, I caught every game
  • On Saturdays, to get in the mood for Sundays, I watched college football for several hours
  • I watched every single minute of every single playoff game

If I do some conservative math, I calculate that over the last ten NFL seasons, I’ve committed to watching approx. 300 hours of football per season. That’s 3,000 hours over ten years. That’s one-hundred twenty-five days of nothing but football.

Holy crap.

Even though I watched pretty much no other television during that span, 125 days was still a huge chunk of my life. It’s especially huge if I consider all the wings eaten, alcohol consumed, and money spent on obnoxious NFL TV packages. Not to be forgotten is the fact that my team, the Chicago Bears, pretty much wallowed in mediocrity the entire time. It’s not like I sat down to greatness every game. Most of the time, my team lost. Badly.

43910-Cutler1-f4266d20

A metaphor for my every football Sunday since 1985.

So here we are. Another NFL season beckons. My friends are nipping at my heels to join a fantasy league (never gonna happen) and my television just sits there in the dark, waiting for football to explode.

Only this year, it won’t. Not for me.

I’m taking an oath this year. I’m not going to purposely sit down to watch a single regular season football game. Not NFL. Not college. I might allow myself to watch the playoffs, but then again I might not. How is this even possible, you ask? Will I really be able to resist flipping the TV on? The answer is a resounding YES. I don’t have cable or satellite this year. So unless I’m at someone else’s house with the sole purpose of watching the NFL, this part of the oath should be easy. Right?

Why? Why would a football-loving lunatic deny himself a beautiful season of pigskin?

It’s simple. I want my time back. I want my 300+ hours refunded, and I want to do other stuff in place of sitting on my backside for a large portion of my free time. Do I know exactly what I’ll do with the time? No. Not really. I might write books, paint huge canvasses, or go running in the rain. Then again, I might take my kid outside, spend all day BBQ’ing and sipping scotch, go jogging in the deep woods, or play a ton of fantastic video games.

I don’t know. And I guess I don’t really care. It’s an oath I’m making. No football. No fantasy football. No obsessing over statistics. And no, I’m not turning into one of these people. I don’t hate the game. I haven’t lost my love of competition. I’m just done for one year, maybe more, of planting my bottom in a chair to watch other people take the field.

If I think about it, and if I’m really honest with myself about the effects of having watched so many thousands of hours of sports in my life, I have to consider the things I’ve probably missed out on. Because football’s not the only game I’ve been obsessed with. There’s also baseball, basketball, and volleyball, which no doubt I’ve lost thousands more hours to. And if I add them all up, I start to think maybe…

  • I could’ve spent more time outdoors with my son
  • I could’ve written twice as many books
  • I could’ve mastered the guitar instead of just toying with it
  • I might’ve been wayyyyyyy better at relationships (nah, probably not 🙂 )
  • I’d have gotten even more exercise. And consumed less scotch
  • I’d have made more friends. And maybe had a few thousand more awesome conversations
  • And I’d have definitely spent more time out in the autumn air, which is something I’ve always loved

I’ve talked about this year’s non-football oath with my friends. They don’t really understand. They think I’m kidding, that I’m just playing a game of chicken with the football season. Nah. It’s not like that. And I’m definitely not judging people who still plan to watch a ton of games. If that’s still what they love, more power to ’em. Maybe I’ll hang with them next year.

But as for this year, I’ve got other things in mind.

No football. No TV. No texting, web-surfing, or couching the days away.

It’s time for a change.

Let’s do this.

J Edward Neill

Author of tons of stuff, such as:

WebImageFront DDP 1 The Little Book Front Cover

 

 

 

 

 

Letters to You

I found a letter I wrote over twenty years ago mixed in with my various electronic files I thought enough of to try and keep them for the pack rat in me (at least the digital versions of these things don’t cost as much space these days). What’s interesting is how that 17 year old was so angry at how things were turning out. You see, I think the lie that we all like to hear is that as you get older it gets easier, but as time goes on I’m not sure that’s the truth of it. I think we’ve just had more experiences that we no longer react as extreme to some of the bad things.

old-letters

Maybe.

And of course, when you’re 17 the “bad stuff” is not always as bad as you think it is. But even that’s unfair to say. If something is affecting you negatively it doesn’t matter how big or small the “thing”might be… right?

In the letter though, is a line that stuck out to me more than anything else: “Maybe one day someone will find this, and understand me a little more than before.”

That line is a bit ominous. Anger, sadness, teen angst… I read it and I’m not sure I understand that person, but I remember those same feelings.

You see, when you get to be a junior in high school, that’s when it is all supposed to change. You can drive by that point so there is a fair amount of freedom you’ve never had before. And with that are potential dates… and yet none of that had happened by the end of April. It’s my own fault for inaction mixed with a crippling sense of “what if she says no”. And I’m fairly sure I missed any number of signs that might have come my way… oblivious to the flirting. Always looking for the explanation where the girl in question was just being nice and there was nothing more than that.

anger

Junior year was supposed to be “the year”. But it had started with some body blows to the old self-confidence and then shifted to ensure that confidence would be diminished later in the late fall. After playing 2 years of high school basketball, it came time for Varsity try-outs, and I just wasn’t good enough. I’d be lying if I said it was a complete shock. I was never a starter on the Freshman or JV teams, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it was still a kick to the gut. I remember later that year talking to some others in my classes and one of the guys mentioned that I should have went out for varsity as I was a shoo-in to make the team.

Yeah, not so much.

The second “big bad” was getting pink eye and having to wear those dorky/nerdy glasses again over my contacts. Glasses had always been that thing growing up that made me see myself as ugly – so when it was that I got contact lenses it immediately took my confidence from a negative 100 to around a solid 0. Suddenly to go backwards for the better part of a month… just a nightmare.

My week days were a mixture of working at Kroger from the time I left school until 9 or 9:30 at night. I’d eat dinner, do any homework I had left, and then maybe watch some TV or play video games or listen to music in my room. On my off days I’d roleplay with friends or play basketball.

This version of me in the letter… he lays awake at night and seriously wonders if there is someone out there for him. He’s a dreamer who wishes he was a realist. Maybe he’s read too many fantasy stories where the guy gets the girl. I’m not sure. And again, at this point in April High School is closer to being completely over than it is to starting. Of course, the problem is he’s in the midst of it. He’s too close to acknowledge something like that.

board-Welcome to the future

He’s made it almost to the finish line. I want to find someway to reach through and let him know that while Junior year sucked, Senior year will more than make up for it. That he only has a few more weeks of school and then summer vacation will begin. I want to mention that the girl he’s been waiting for is someone he already knows. That he is still 3 months, almost to the day, from going out with her.

That he needs to take a moment and just be patient. It is going to get better. No lie…

***

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.

All the things I don’t understand about the world

A while back, I created a giant list of things I didn’t understand about life, society, and humanity. I felt like Jon Snow, in that I realized I knew nothing about the world or anything in it. I almost took pride in my ignorance, except not really.

In my original list, I thought I covered most of the things on Earth that made no sense to me.

And yet…

The more I dwelled on it, the bigger my sense of ‘WTF?’ became.

Huh

I was like, “Durrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.”

Turns out I know even less than I thought I did.

So here’s another pile of things I don’t think I’ll ever understand:

 * * *

I don’t understand chasing Pokémon monsters, but nor do I get taking to social media in droves to blast it.

I can’t figure out why bottomless mimosas aren’t actually bottomless.

I’m not sure why anyone would ever eat at McDonalds.

Or why people drink diet soda.

I don’t understand most wars. I mean…I get the government’s financial motivations…but I’ve yet to figure out how murdering huge groups of people changes anything for the better.

I don’t understand people’s aversion to nudity.

…coupled with a (statistically proven) love of porn.

Instead of giving workers sick days, why don’t they just give out a handful of additional vacation days? Wouldn’t that negate the need for workers to fake being sick?

I don’t get wanting a big, aggressive dog.

Or a small, angry cat. 🙂

I haven’t yet come to terms with the word ‘gaslighting.’ Can’t we find something better to call it? Like ‘crazinating‘ or simply ‘f__king with.’

I don’t quite grasp craft beer.

Or craft anything.

Isn’t it still just beer?

Is anything I create ‘craft?’ Even my kid?

I don’t know why one of my dentists hates me.

But the other one pushes her breasts on my face during every visit.

My grasp of the US taxation system is tenuous at best.

Political conventions make no sense to me. Aren’t they populated entirely by people who have already made up their mind whom to vote for?

Also, I can’t understand why anyone would run for political office. I mean…I get it, but I don’t.

I don’t get bad tippers.

Or double parkers.

Or Uber drivers who try to sell me weed.

In the modern world, I can’t wrap my head around why anyone would want to be a police officer. For several reasons.

I don’t get how baggers at the grocery store manage to use 23 bags to carry 22 items.

I can’t understand why perfectly intelligent people become raving lunatics when discussing religion or politics.

I don’t know why anyone would ever want to watch the nightly news.

Or the NFL Pro Bowl.

Or the new Star Wars (Part VII) movie.

I can’t grasp why only certain things make some people extremely angry.

Like the pizza delivery guy being late.

Or who got killed on GOT.

Or legal immigration.

I definitely don’t get motivational memes.

Especially the misspelled ones. Which is almost all of them.

Why is it that football and baseball commercials on TV are usually for beer?

But basketball commercials are for hard liquor.

Are the advertisers trying to say something?

Speaking of sports, I don’t understand why every athlete busted for steroids says he didn’t do it. Especially when he pretty much always did do it.

Why did Papa John’s discontinue the Cinnapie? I don’t get it.

I’m not sure why the guy driving 5 mph over the speed limit gets busted, but the dude weaving in and out of traffic at 100 mph never does.

I can’t comprehend the over-the-top tabloid magazines at grocery store check-out lanes. Who reads these?

I’ll never understand the term ‘indie.’

I don’t get movie franchise reboots. How many Batmen can there be?

I can’t wrap my head around why no one builds new homes for less than $300,000.

I’m not sure why all French fries ever aren’t like Chik Fil A waffle fries.

Ditto for their lemonade.

And lastly, I wish I knew why it is I can’t pretend I live in the 50’s…

…and have a bottle of bourbon with two crystal glasses in my office.

* * *

So…

Anyway…

Thanks for listening.

Want something a little deeper?

Or how about something way darker?

J Edward Neill

Again and Again

Wake up. Look at the alarm clock. Decide begrudgingly to not hit the snooze alarm (again). Stumble out of bed, somehow weaving through your house to find clothes for the new day. At some point decide not to call in sick to work so as to take a hooky day.

Go out to lunch, bring my lunch?

Tackle Task 1 on the To Do List or tackle Task 747 (the Goddess must be appeased!)

Take the interstate home? Take the back roads?

Go to the gym?

Watch TV when I get home? Write? Play a game? Go to bed?

Start all over again.

***

alarm-clock

This is your life through your eyes. This is your world, shaped by your decisions and desires.

Time and decisions and more time and less time…

***

Why does the Old Guy speak his mind so readily when the rest of us struggle to say what we actually mean? Could it be he doesn’t have the time left in front of him to pussy-foot around or spare your feelings? Could it be he has shit to do, and more than anything else, you are actually killing him very slowly?

***

More than money, more than love, more than hate, more than anything – Time is that thing you, me, everyone just doesn’t have enough of. Even if we had more of it, what good would it do me? I still perceive the world through these same eyes. Through the colored lens of my own experiences and memories. I might chose to do something different the next time a similar situation comes up, but only because I know more about what the outcomes are.

***

Maybe that’s why time travel fascinates me so much. Those long forgotten decisions shaping today. What would it be like to take a glimpse at some event from our past as an outside bystander? What would we see that we couldn’t see in the moment?

But so many of the books and movies and tv shows (because they need to sell you on the storyline) make it where they are going to change things that went wrong. Or maybe they are going to right something and save lives.

Or they are probably going to try and kill Hitler at some point.

Probably.

***

Today as I left the gym I saw the front desk girl talking with some guy, and she was clearly into the guy. And maybe, maybe he knows. Maybe they are already dating. Or maybe they’re still in that dance where she’s putting out the signals, and he’s hoping she’s into him, but he doesn’t want to put himself out there?

But the point is, as the outsider, I could see some aspect of what’s going on. I was the time traveler of their moment that is already gone as I type these words.

If I was the Old Guy, I might have gone up to them and said, “Look, she likes you. You like her. Get together and see what happens.

(Well if I were the Old Guy and also very ballsy.)

***

book-school

School is starting/has started/or is about to start for kids everywhere. And much like the graduation signs in the Spring, this time of year has me looking back to my own high school days. Days when I was completely clueless about everything and everyone. How I was convinced no girl would ever want to go out with me.

The standard types of things.

But it makes me wonder, if I could go back in time to those moments and just observe. And see if the world was actually the way I perceived it, or maybe it wasn’t quite as big and scary. Maybe things were much more apparent than even I was seeing, but I lacked the 4th dimensional view of things.

This isn’t that old standard of “if I only knew then, what I know now”. This is more being able to actually get outside of yourself for a little while. Take in your surroundings. Understand why the events are happening.

Because…

Those days where going to school meant that you somehow had to force yourself through the door. Force yourself to smile when all you might have wanted to do was scream. Maybe the highlight of your days were in 5 minute doses, talking with the few friends who seemed to instinctively understand… IT.

***

They say that those who do not know their history are destined to repeat it.

They also say that history repeats itself.

But I like Mark Twain’s quote:

history rhymes

 

Never the exact same, but enough of the same sounds to maybe let us understand things a bit better?

***

High School never ends…

We still have to do things we don’t want to do. And there will be days that you can’t get out bed. But… just maybe we can hear that old song in a new way?

Maybe we can find a way to make that new rhyme…

***

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.

The Top Three Video Games of Every Decade

Ok. So. Let’s get this started.

First, a few disclaimers:

1. This list doesn’t include sports games, indie titles, fighting games, or sandbox games. And it’s not because I don’t love those kinds of games (a few favorites are Limbo, Inside, Killer Instinct, Crackdown, and Tecmo Bowl) but more because I’m focusing on the big guns. The literal game-changers. The kinds of games one can sit with in a dark room and lose oneself for days.

2. Also, this list represents my personal favorites. These might not always align with popular opinion…I get it. Rather, these are the games I grew up with and love as part of my life experience. In other words, don’t get butthurt if you don’t see Madden 7,000, Halo, or Grand Theft Auto on here. These games are all cool in their own right, but didn’t impact me as much.

Enough.

Here are my top three video games for each decade, starting with the 70’s.

*

1970’s

In 1978, I was just two years old. I didn’t have a game system. My only real exposure to the medium was during my dad’s trips to the local tavern, during which he’d plunk me down beside him while he played Asteroids. So…in other words…I played these games a decade after they came out, which serves only to illustrate just how awesome they were and still are.

Combat

 

Combat (1977)

Combat was one of the first games I ever handled. Featuring two-person, head-to-head matchups between tanks and planes, this bad boy was awesome. I consumed 100’s of hours with friends and family blasting and getting blasted to smithereens. After everyone else got tired of the action, I’d sit down by myself and practice shooting from angles and while moving. My dedication to Combat was a sure sign of an addiction soon to come.

*

Breakout2600

 

Breakout (1976)

Beautiful simplicity is how I describe Breakout. You’re a paddle hitting a ball and blowing up bricks. Much like other games at the time, the difficulty was ever rising. The ball moved faster…your paddle got smaller. This game was hard in a way modern games don’t really embrace anymore. You were going to lose. It was only a matter of time.

*

adventure

 

Adventure (1979)

Not just among my faves from the 70’s, but definitely an all-time favorite, Adventure was pretty much the industry’s first attempt at building a role-playing game. You’re a dot, and your only mission is to return the holy grail to the golden castle. Only trouble is, the dragons are after you. Somehow, as a little kid, this game terrified and enthralled me. I must’ve played it a thousand times. And again, unlike modern games, victory was not assured. If the dragons get you, it’s game over.

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1980’s

The 80’s for me were a fun, fun time. I had three game systems: Intellivision (with the little slip-on gamepad covers) an Atari 2600, and the original NES console. For a kid growing up in a place where winter reigned for 5-6 months a year, video games were key to my not becoming a career criminal. I’m kidding….mostly.

Tarmin

 

Treasure of Tarmin (1983)

Without a doubt, ToT was my most beloved game on the old school Intellivision. It was difficult, engrossing, and scary (to an eight-year old.) The theme was more complex than 70’s games, but still direct. You’re a guy in a vast labyrinth looking for a fabled treasure. An army of monsters and traps lies in your way. You will die…a lot (much like a retro Dark Souls.) The scariest part of the game still resonates with me. I remember the noises the monsters would make when they cornered you. Played in the dark, it was enough to capture my imagination for many years to come.

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The Legend of Zelda (1986)

Do I really have to tell you how awesome the original Zelda is? In an era of arcade style clones, Zelda broke away from the pack. As one of the first games allowing players to save games (without a clunky, 30-digit password) it broke every mold. I can still remember sitting in my dark bedroom during winter. Everyone else was asleep. I didn’t have a game guide or a map. I played Zelda hardcore…and still do sometimes.

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metroid-4

Metroid (1986)

1986 was a good year for games, and a great year for a game geek like me. When Metroid came out, the first I glimpsed of it was at a friend’s house. He let me play it for all of fifteen minutes before (justifiably) taking his controller back. I was hooked. Completely and utterly.  The only hard part: I didn’t get to play it again until a year later. And then, after I stepped into Samus’s boots, I didn’t play anything else for months.

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1990’s

The 90’s were a strange time for me. I skipped several years of game-playing entirely, but also spent months at a time locked in my room at night, playing until my head hurt. The raw brilliance of the 80’s was over, and a new era of polished titles hit the market. Moreover, I hooked up my first PC computer, which opened up an entirely new world of entertainment for me (and the rest of the world) to consume.

Civ

 

Sid Meier’s Civilization (1991)

In 1991, I got my first real job. I was in lawncare in the deep south, which meant days and days of grinding away at grass in 95+ temperatures. I loved it. But what I loved more is that before each workday began, I drove to my coworker’s house and played a few hours of Civilization while waiting for the rest of the crew to show up. If you’ve played Civ, you know about the addiction. One more turn, people. Just…one…more…turn.

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Baldurs

 

Baldur’s Gate (1998)

This was the first game I played on my very own PC. As a diehard role-playing guy (dungeon mastering inspired my epic fantasy book series) Baldur’s Gate put into pixels everything I needed. Build a party, gather weapons, master spells, and go forth to battle a powerful evil. I mean c’mon…who didn’t love this game? Right?

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Diablo

 

Diablo (1996)

It’s true Diablo came out before Baldur’s Gate, and also true I didn’t discover it until nearly the turn of the century. But ohhhhh, when I sat down to play it for the first time… The dark themes and unbelievably good music sold me immediately. It was creepy. It was engrossing. And truthfully, it was one of the first action games allowing players to win using such a vast variety of tactics. I always played as a wizard…because I like dying a lot apparently.

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2000’s

By the time Y2K rolled around, video games had become mainstream. Everyone I knew had at least one system. It was no longer something only nerds did in their basements. It was a part of daily life, a stress reliever far more powerful than regular television. I was extra lucky in that I had a girlfriend willing to let me play for hours every day (before shoving me aside and taking the controller for herself.) In other words, the 2000’s were a beautiful time.

beyond-good-and-evil-hd-7

 

Beyond Good and Evil (2003)

Before playing it, I had no idea games could be this absurdly fun. I’d always played top-down isometric games or standard platformers, but this game took a newer, crazier, more beautiful take on things. If you’ve never played BG&E, you owe it to yourself to pick up the remastered version. I honestly can’t even remember the complete plot (because it was pretty out there) but I can definitely recall how much fun I had playing it.

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Half Life 2

Half-Life 2 (2004)

When I picked this game up (as part of the Orange Box) I’d never before touched the Half-Life universe. But by the time I was done fighting headcrabs, using grav-guns, and scaling giant alien towers, I’d played it through three times without touching any other game. Half-Life took storytelling to a new level. It was also serious in a way other games hadn’t quite mastered yet, embracing its dark, futuristic subject matter without the need for laughs. Just writing about it makes me want to go back and play it again…because seriously it’s still better than most modern titles.

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Dragon Age Origins

Dragon Age Origins (2009)

I didn’t care about the two sequels. I never minded the kooky combat controls. I liked the original Dragon Age so much, I wanted it to last forever. Maybe it’s because I’ve always wanted to date a girl like Morrigan (ha) or because Alistair is pretty much every doofus I’ve ever befriended. Whatever. I’d never before had a game make me agonize over which dialogue option to choose.  And I’m not sure I ever will again.

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 The 2010’s

Is that what we call ’em? The 2010’s? Hell if I know. What I can say is that the modern era is the greatest time ever to be a gamer. Retro games, indie titles, and unbelievably realistic graphics are all a thing now. It’s true games are getting a bit ridiculous to pay for ($60 for a typical modern title) but it’s the price we pay for quality. And usually…it’s worth every penny. Also note, it’s possible or even probable that new games will come out before 2020 that are good enough to make this list. Technically that means this part of the list is 2010-2016…and therefore somewhat incomplete. Probably. Maybe.

mass-effect-3-159380

Mass Effect 3 (2012)

Let’s forget about the kickass action. Let’s pay no attention to the amazing cutscenes. Let’s not even discuss the unreal amount of customization. ME3 is all about decisions…decisions. With one slip of dialogue, your characters can be lost or changed forever. Which in a way makes this the ultimate thinker’s game. Who gets to live? Who gets to die? I loved the entire Mass Effect series. It probably helped to inspire this novella. And it definitely pulled me into the story without any resistance on my part.  I hear there’s a new Mass Effect coming out someday soon. I’m there.

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witcher3

The Witcher III – Wild Hunt (2015)

It’s true I’ve gushed over The Witcher before. What can I say? It’s probably my favorite game of all time. Heartstopping action. Smokin’ good graphics. An absolutely killer story. I’m not gonna apologize for all the superlatives. The tale of Geralt, Siri, and the world-swallowing war they fall into is among the best in gaming history. I liked games like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Far Cry, but really they don’t even sniff the same league as The Witcher.

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Doom 2016

Doom (2016)

Twenty years ago, I remember the original Doom. I played it after high school. I played it during high school. I got fired from a job for playing it. I lost countless hours death-matching friends and even girlfriends. And now in 2016, the heavens have opened and delivered unto me a gift I’ll not soon forget. Doom 2016 is fast-paced to the extreme, gory to the max, and fun as HELL. It taps into all the retro glory of the original while bringing a whole new level of intensity to the mix. I mean…have you fired the BFG yet? Have you?? Please…make more Doom games like this. Thanks.

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Honorable mentions:

Utopia (1981)

Burgertime (yes seriously) (1982)

Super Mario Bros (1985)

Metroid Prime (2002)

Halo 2 (2004)

Zelda – Twilight Princess (2006) Gamecube version

Crackdown (2007)

Deus Ex – Human Revolution (2011)

And many, many more…

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Test your own video game knowledge right here.

For a different brand of entertainment, try this.

J Edward Neill

 

For My Fellow Creators Who Stay On The Grind

I’ve been a freelance writer for 10 years. I started out working for The Atlanta Voice Newspaper back in 2006, and I’ve been able to build a pretty decent career as a “hired gunslinger” when it comes to the written word. With the guidance of awesome folks like Maurice Waters, Tony Cade, Mark Stancil, and Dennis Malcolm Byron, I’ve been able to grow in this freelance world of journalism and comics.

The freelancing has provided me with some awesome opportunities, and put me in front of people that I never thought I’d ever be in the same room with. I’ve had a chance to interview such hip hop icons as Ludacris, Chuck D, and Andre 3000. I’ve had a chance to do client work on such award nominated/ critically acclaimed series like the CDC’s Kabi Chronicles: The Edge, Barron Robert Bell’s Radio Free Amerika and William Satterwhite’s Stealth: The Life and Times of Allen White.

Heck I even parlayed my love of comic books into doing a phone interview with one of my writing inspirations, the late great Dwayne McDuffie, for a story I did on black comic book creators with The Atlanta Voice Newspaper.

So when I say I’ve been blessed/ fortunate to have the career that I’ve had, that’s an understatement. I’m extremely grateful for every opportunity that has graced my pallet, not even including the creator owned comic book work that I’ve done.

But I want more. 🙂

This is what I'd love my 9-5 to be: writing full time, or something close to it. :-)

This is what I’d love my 9-5 to be: writing full time, or something close to it. 🙂

I want to do this full time, or at least close to it. I want to be able to provide for my family, and still parlay this love of the written word into my primary 9-5.

Is that greedy? Is that unrealistic? Maybe so, in today’s economic climate. But I’d be damned if I didn’t say I didn’t want more.

And you know what? I don’t just want it for myself, I want it for my fellow Tessara Guild members John McGuire, Amanda Makepeace, Chad Snok, J Edward Neill. For the kick ass poet/ rapper I know as I my little brother, Brandon Jeffrey, a.k.a OB. For my director/ writer/ Jane of all Trades cuzzo Gabrielle Hawkins. I want it for my ride or die brother in arms Sean Hill. For Barron Robert Bell. For Tony Cade. For Mark Stancil. For Takeia Marie. For Tanya Woods. For Maurice Waters. For Nicole Kurtz. For Deon Brown, William Satterwhite, Vincent Christie, Bobby NashAshton James Mason, and heck, everyone else I know I’ve missed because I’m apparently suffering early onset memory loss.

I want our collective love and passion for the fields of writing, art, comics, filmmaking, etc., combined with our strong worth ethic to parlay into something where we can do this for our 9-5’s. Because, hell we deserve it, and we are constantly putting in the work and drive to get there.

What I wanted to do with this post was give a shout out to my folks who grind at the 9-5’s that they have to work, to get to where they want to work (or at least closer to where both career’s bring in equal amounts of income).

Two songs that I love that I feel capture this idea of a creator doing what they have to do, to do what they love, are Lupe Fiasco’s Hip-Hop Saved My Life (feat. Nikki Jean), and Ace Hood’s Hustle Hard. I’m a hip hop/ rap fan so both speak personally to such a drive to find a way to do what you love, so you can take care of those you love, and still enjoy what you’re doing.

This post is for those folks like myself who would rush out at 5:00  pm on the dot to do an interview with someone halfway across the country. For those people who stay up to 1:00 am in the morning to knock out final edits on a personal project, or client work, knowing you have to be up at 6:00 am that day for your other job. Or for those who become true weekend warriors to put the final touches on an awesome piece of art, realizing that Monday brings yet another day of the main job that puts food on the table, and a roof over your families’ head.

And hey, reaching such a level can be done. I look at those creators who are doing what they love full time, 24/7 and feel driven to get to where they are, while also being extremely happy for them. Not for the reason of making a crazy amount of money. Nope, I simply want to get to a point where I actually love what I’m doing full time.

Heck, at least close to full time would be great, so I’m not choosy.

So to all my fellow “after 5:00 pm/ weekend/ up to all hours of the night/ holiday warriors-creators” I salute you with a Captain Benjamin Sisko toast. You, and all of your work is mad’ appreciated yo’.

Now get back to creating so we make these dreams a reality.

Benjamin_Sisko_toasts_the_good_guys_zps274bf4dc

Captain Benjamin Sisko approves this message

You’ve Got the Touch!

Transformers the Movie turned 30 years old on Monday. I want to write something about the Transformers to celebrate that idea. But then I realized that I’ve already written a bunch of things about the Transformers already:

Transformers-movieposter-west

How when the movie originally came out, I couldn’t go during opening weekend. And it disappeared from our theater before the next weekend (stupid small town theater!).

Or how issue #4 of the comic was the first comic I ever bought.

Or how Michael Bay won’t get me to watch another of his movies, even if they have Dinobots in them!

Or even discussing the proper way to “play transformers” (and no, they don’t play “Friends”).

The thing about Transformers is that it kind of replaced Star Wars for me after Jedi had come and gone. Maybe there was some aspect of the engineer in me wanting to come out as I transformed certain characters from car to robot and back to car again. But when there was really no other outlet to interact with Star Wars anymore (remember, this is still the better part of a decade before the Zahn books even show up).

This was crazy space battles. And crazy Earth battles. And planets which could destroy other planets (granted it wasn’t a laser beam from a Death Star, but by being eaten by Unicron).

Good and evil fighting things out until the end of everything.

But here’s the thing, without the movie I would have still loved the show. Heck, it took years for me to even see the movie. However, there was something about the idea there could even be a theatrical release of a children’s cartoon. GI Joe didn’t manage that. He Man did, but it was a live action. The less we talk about that, the better things will be for all of us.

My show got a movie. Not only that, but it advanced the storyline. Characters lived and died and underwent complete changes. After the movie, I remember the GI Joe TV movie where some things changed, and we got Surpentor. Or the Thundercats “movie” where they introduced other villains and other survivors for the characters to interact with.

And maybe all those things were in the works for a long time previous. To my 10 year old self, it meant that Transformers was pushing the envelop in story-telling. That thing we all kind of take for granted from television today: serialization.

dinobots

But it didn’t just start with the movie, the show had done some of that kind of thing before. Obviously it was to sell toys, but they’d introduce the Dinobots, then many episodes later there would be two more Dinobots, and then maybe they got their own episode. The characters might not change at all from episode to episode, but the world was definitely getting a little bigger than it had been before.

When one season ended and the next began, so it meant we’d be seeing newer Transformers. We’d have new favorites to cheer for and against.

What the movie really did was super-charge things. Where the transition from season 1 to season 2 might have meant less screen time for your old favorites, they were still there. After the movie, the slate had been cleared for a whole new generation of Autobots and Decepticons to continue fighting this never-ending war. Again the world got bigger (suddenly we had a whole universe to fight over rather than simply remaining on Earth).

Death had come to the Transformers.

Generation 1 Box Art 2 1280 x 1024

It was a big deal to me. As big a deal as Vader’s revelation to Luke at the end of Empire. Optimus Prime was dead (and again, realize I had to have friends describe exactly what happened since I couldn’t see the movie. It would be like trying to dissect the Zapruder Film with only someone else’s word to let you know exactly what had happened). Someone else was the leader (who the heck does this Rodimus Prime think he is anyway?). Starscream was gone (and thought dead as well – say it ain’t so!).

Lil’ John McGuire’s world was sufficiently rocked by all of this. And then I bought the soundtrack, and Stan Bush rocked me a little more.

Now, I have to admit, I haven’t seen the movie in a long time. I have no doubt it won’t necessarily hold up to my standards today. It is sitting over there on the shelf… and my nephew is coming to town this weekend. I wonder what he’d think of it…

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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.

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.