Forget Me Not

People seem to ask writers one common question: “Where do your ideas come from?”

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And while I’m still in my early writing career it is a very easy question for me to answer. It comes from answering what drives me as a person.

I’m obsessed with perception, memory, how time can distort both things, and what that means for a person (I am obsessed with other subjects as well: Time Travel, the future, alternate timelines, the supernatural, but I digress).

One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is how my own memory contorts and changes as I get further and further from an event. Now, I assume that for most people this is the case. Especially if it is not the most important of events it is very easily forgotten (though I seem to retain the most useless of knowledge, a gift from my Father I think). Perhaps it remains in some recess of our minds, waiting for a trigger to allow it to rush back to the surface of our mind, but mostly I think our brain just deletes that old, unused data. Kinda like my wife’s pack rat solution she (attempts to) employs upon me. “If you haven’t touched it in 6 months, then you can throw it out.”

Here’s the problem, there are moments in my own life that I have a different memory than those of my friends and family. Sometimes they have been instants where I wish it had been me there because the person feels like we’ve shared this moment and are closer because of it. So I typically go along with it, hoping that at some point it does loosen the old memory and then… but it doesn’t happen.

I can never figure out if it is a ME problem or a THEM problem.

And unless there is audio or video recordings of the event, who is to say that they are right or wrong about these things. If someone tells a story that features you in it, you have already bent in their minds to fit their version of events. Given enough time and enough retelling of that story, why wouldn’t you suddenly adopt it as a part of your own narrative? At what point would you no longer be able to know your own truths compared to those of the story-tellers around you?

Is it gaps in my memory or is he just remembering the event wrong? What do I not understand about my own self? Which is the better outcome for the both of us?

In the mouth of madness

One of my favorite horror movies of all time is In The Mouth of Madness (really, ask my friends Lee and Egg about watching this movie late on a Sunday night and Egg refusing to drive home to north Georgia because of the “guy on the bike”) (I also did not go home that night – dude on the bike is waaay creepy).

For those that don’t know, aside from being a John Carpenter flick (he of The Thing and Halloween to name only 2 classics), the main reason I love this movie, though, is that it postulates a very important question: If the majority of the world suddenly went mad, what would that mean for those of us who still had our sanity? Or, to put it another way, if reality is only this thing that we all have agreed upon, and then a large group no longer shares our same perspective… what happens then? When the inmates run the asylum, then are the remainder of us really the insane ones?

So does that mean that my reality is shaped by others because they remember things about me that I don’t? Should I take in their ideas of me and… and… what? What would I do with them?

These kind of thoughts keep me up at night, furiously typing away on the keyboard, trying to make some sense of my own world through the creation of new ones. Worlds populated with people that I can create and mold. Maybe through them I can try and work some of my own angst about this concept so that perhaps, somehow, I can find a small amount of solace in my own reflection of reality.

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So yeah, that’s where I get my ideas from, rantings and ravings from the inmates within my own brain.

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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.

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At the End… At the Beginning

New Years is supposed to be that time of year for looking forward, setting goals for oneself, and then taking measure in those things from the previous year. So I’m doing that for my writing career. My hope is that the things I write below all come to fruition plus some other things that I might not possibly even know. There were a couple of surprises from 2013…

First a look back at 2013 with the major accomplishments. This marks the end of Year 1 of my mental 5-year plan to take over the world.

Amazon Breakthrough

February/March – Made it through the first round of cut-offs in the Amazon Breakthrough Novelist Contest last February with The White Effect. I actually entered this contest with The Dark That Follows the previous year, but didn’t get out of the pitch stage (I found out about the contest the night before it was due, not a lot of time to revise and really think about every detail). This time I knew it was coming and really worked on the pitch to the point where something must have clicked as I made it to the 5000 word submission round. And while I did not make it past that point, I learned a little bit about how things work (or didn’t work) in that beginning.

GildedAge_Front Cover-tessera

May – The Gilded Age #1 – First full length comic book I wrote and created debuted at Free Comic Book Day. Prior to this my comic work was limited to anthologies, but with this I feel like I’m moving up a step (8 pages to 22 pages!). What started as a bit of inspiration based off a pin-up by an artist (who I never actually got to work with) morphed into this concept of doing a series of complete stories about the various members of a Steampunk era carnival. I’m extremely proud of this comic and cannot wait until the next couple of issues come out. And though I might be a bit biased, I really feel like each issue is better than the previous one (available at Amazon and Comics Plus).

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June – Tiger Style #1 – Technically written before Gilded Age, but comics is, at times, a slow moving field, and this book came out at Heroes Con in Charlotte. Up until this convention I had only traveled to cons as a spectator (there is little need for a table when you don’t have wares), but for that Saturday and Sunday I was on the other side of the table (technically I had done Dragon Con as a creator a number of years ago (back in the Dark Ages), so we’ll call this my Modern Age debut!).

June – Hired an editor for The Dark That Follows. In order to get the manuscript ready for publishing, I shelled out some funds and hired Will Flannigan to help me in that final process. It’s been a learning experience on my end to see the various things that someone outside my circle notices after reading through things. It is a weird position to be in as technically I have the final word on whether or not I agree with one of his suggestions, but I probably did about 95% of the recommended tweaks, changes, expansions, and I’m positive that the work is better for it.

June – Began the serialized novel, Hollow Empire, with J. Edward Neill. This idea formed from a conversation over cards one night where I was talking about a podcast I had been listening to and how they wrote serial novels (Self Publishing Podcast). A couple of days later I had an email waiting for me from Mr. Neill, which basically said: “I’m down with doing something if you are.” Through the next couple of weeks we fired emails back and forth about a potential setting and how exactly we were going to try and conquer this strange format (the goal is to release it in Episodes, like little novellas, on a bi-weekly basis before eventually collecting the 6 parts into a book – Season 1). Writing Hollow Empire has made me a better writer because I have had to turn in something to Mr. Neill pretty much every 3 weeks. I’ve learned as much on this project as maybe my other two novels combined.

July – Finished the 2nd draft of The White Effect, my sci-fi novel. Not only am I excited about that book (and getting it finished up in 2014, but more on that below), but it is the longest work of mine to date (90,000+ words) (nothing compared to the esteemed J. Edward Neill, but he’s crazy with his epic fantasy word counts!). Probably the single biggest thing about this project was that I proved to myself that I could finish another book.

October – Terminus Team-up #2 debuts at New York Comic Con. My 3rd comic of the year is still only available in print (that should change in the new year). It is an attempt at trying to tell a story combining a Terminus Media character into the world of The Gilded Age. So I structured it the same (a complete story in 1 issue). It’s a cool book with some heart in there (and dinosaurs… and flying carpets… and clockwork men… and adventures… escapes… true love…). An example of what happens when I convince myself that I cannot possibly write a story given certain parameters… and then go on to find that story in the deep crevasses of my mind.

Tessera - A Creative Guild

October – This here site: TesseraGuild.com. It launched during that month and I’ve managed a blog every week since. Another idea pushed to fruition by Mr. Neill, I believe he chose his Guild wisely with Amanda and Chad (and hopefully me too). I think we are still discovering what this site can be and in the coming months I believe we will only get better.

December – Finished the first draft of Hollow Empire. Technically, I’m in the process of writing the last thousand words on my portion of the first draft (got a little distracted by The Dark That Follows being released)…  While there is still editing to be done, I’m extremely happy with the stories we’ve managed to read. This is one of the biggest surprises of the year as this thing didn’t exist at all before June.

December – Finished scripting duties for a CDC project (actually my second batch of scripts). Can’t say much more about it until it debuts (hopefully next year sometime, fingers crossed). Once it does, I will definitely blog a little about the experience.

The Dark That Follows_Ebook

December – Publishing The Dark That Follows with all the nervousness that such an endeavor entails. When I pressed publish it ended a portion of my life that began 3 1/2 years ago when I was laid off from work for 4 months. After pitching the barest of ideas to my wife over dinner one night: “What if there was a fortune teller who could really see the future? And then what if someone came in who he saw was going to die? What would he do?” – she said “You should write it; you’ve got the time”. So I did. I finished the 1st draft the night before I began at my new job, and as per my last post, pushed Publish on December, 23, 2013 (it too is available at Amazon… maybe you need something to read during this winter?).

Since then it has gone through beta readers, wife readings, personal editing, and outside editing. I’m sure it is not perfect (nothing ever is), but I am proud of my work on the book.

I think that’s the majority of it. So long 2013.

Hello 2014. Goals for the year:

Publish Issue 2 & 3 of The Gilded Age. I’m hopeful for more than that, but given the speed of things and the money involved, I’d rather be a little conservative in my estimate here. Issue 2 is being inked right now, and Issue 3’s script is needing 1 more pass after going over editing comments.

Publish Issue 2 of Tiger Style. I believe this one is all but done. Maybe we might get issue #3 as well, Arena Comics?

Publish Issue 1 of Entropy. This is a comic book from myself and Robert Jeffrey II about what happens at the edge of the universe after the wars and the plagues and all the other bad stuff has happened. What do you do when all you can trust is yourself and your ship? Kinda a Mad Max in space is what we’re going for.  I’m so excited about this comic. I think that Robert and I have created a world that has so much potential.

Finish Scripts for Issues 4 & 5 of The Gilded Age – The first set of stories ends with issue 5 and the eventual goal is to collect them all into a graphic novel and then publish them and get them distributed through Diamond. I’m of the opinion that in the comic book process things cannot afford to wait on the writer. He (or she) should never be the thing holding up the penciler. So, I need to make sure to have the last 2 in the bank ready to go when they are called upon.

Finish 3rd Draft of The White Effect. I’m hopeful for a few more beta reader comments. I’m targeting late February for the next draft.

Hire an editor for The White Effect.

Publish The White Effect. This is something that is more than doable, barring something strange happening, it will happen.

Hire an editor for Hollow Empire.

Publish Hollow Empire. Again, this is going to happen. Saying that aloud is crazy as that would mean I would be publishing 2 books this year.

Begin Hollow Empire Season 2. I’m not sure how Season 1 is going to go from editing to getting out there, but I know the story of the world is far from over. Even if it was just getting those first drafts done, that would be a major accomplishment.

Finish 1st Draft of The Edge of the World. This is one that my wife has been after me to write for about 2 years now. The story about a young woman, her missing uncle, and the secret of what lies at the end of the Earth. I have it fully outlined and is just waiting for a block of time to get it on the computer. I’m going to try to start this one very soon.

Finish at least 4 short stories and send them off to various online magazines. I have a folder on my computer filled to the brim with about 20 story ideas. Some are just a title and a couple of sentences, some have a couple of thousand words written in them, and still others are not sure what they are going to be when they grow up. Regardless, I want to take my shot with a few of them as they each burn a tiny hole in my brain telling me to finish them.

Continue blogging for a full 52 weeks. My goal is to not miss a week. We shall see how that goes.

So there it is, the plan for 2014. I can’t wait to see what things I accomplished when I check back in at the end of the year. There may (probably will be) something that isn’t anywhere in my brain right now, and that is even more exciting.

Happy New Year!

John

My Muse

Today is my wife’s birthday.

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

longboxes

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

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

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

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I try to take her to this type of movie…

 

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Not this type of Superhero movie!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

birthday

Happy Birthday, Courtney McGuire!

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

Chad’s (Insignificant) Hollywood Tales : Deutschland, Deutschland!

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As this post goes up, I am in the air, flying from San Francisco to Atlanta for the holidays. I will also be flying with an infant in my arms, so, if you never hear from me again, it won’t be because of anything tragic other than a complete and utter mental breakdown.

So this week’s post has to be fast. I’m going to tell a quick story about the weirdest 90 minutes of my life.

Is this Christmas related in any way? Sort of, only because it involves air travel and that this story really started at Christmastime 5 years ago.

In 2008, Dakota Skye won Best Picture at the Charlotte Film Festival. They tell you this ahead of time, these smaller festivals, to entice the production to send a representative. There were two other festivals going on at the same time, all of which we were invited to, so we had to split up. Director John Humber and actress Eileen Boylan went to Canada. Producer Shaun O’Banion and actor Ian Nelson went to Michigan. Me, having grown up in the South, volunteered for / was assigned to North Carolina on my lonesome.

I really wanted to go to Charlotte mostly because my friends and family in Atlanta, if they wanted to, could easily make the drive to see the film with an audience. This was especially important for my parents and brother. They had all seen in on DVD, but I wanted them to experience a screening, along with my Q&A after. I spent a few days with my family in the ATL then, with my brother in tow as my “assistant” drive up to Charlotte.

Schwerin, Germany

Schwerin, Germany

The festival was fun. Small, but fun. Saw a really great documentary called Immokalee, USA that you should check out if you can find it. After the first of two Dakota Skye screenings, which went well, I was approached by two German men. They informed me that they worked for the Filmkunstfest Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a film festival in Schwerin, Germany, which is a quaint city of 100,000 or so, north of Berlin, close to the Baltic and on the way to Denmark. It wasn’t quite the Berlin film festival, but very few fests are.

These two men explained to me that their filmkunstfest was a sister festival with Charlotte and that they had a best-picture exchange program. That whatever won best picture at Charlotte played in Schwerin the next year, and vice-versa. Dakota Skye, as that winner, was invited to play in Germany.

I thought little of it. Just because it seemed unlikely to happen. So I took their info and passed on the director’s, for he was the one that handled that stuff.

That Christmas, I was home in Atlanta when John called me. We’d been invited to Germany. It wasn’t a 100% free ride, but they were willing to pay enough of it to make it worth considering. He was definitely going, and I was also invited. The question is, did I want to?

You see, for the first 30+ years of my life, I was a scaredy-cat flyer. My brain knew it was safe, but it had a hard time communicating that to my gut. And I had never been to Europe. The only time I had spent outside of the country was a half-day trip down to Rosarito I took once with my friends Colleen and Matt. I really wanted to go, but the flight a flight from Los Angeles to Berlin scared the ever-loving shit out of me.

But when these types of opportunities pop up, you can’t say no. You just can’t. So I agreed to fly to Germany to show our movie.

Cool enough, right? But this is where it starts to get weird.

tumblr_mumheh8g0D1rd1x99o1_500For those of you unfamiliar with Dakota Skye, all you need to know in the moment is that the film is full of subtitles. Not subtitles in another language, but in English. They are burned into the film. They are an integral part of the story. Which pretty much makes Dakota Skye un-subtitle-able for foreign audiences. Because at any given time there could be three sets of titles on screen: one interpreting the spoken English, one English-language story-based one, and then another to translate the English-language subtitle itself. Just imagine all that text on the screen. Untenable. Unwatchable.

So the only way for Dakota Skye to play in another language is to dub it. That at least gets rid of one set of subtitles. But being a tiny, tiny film, we had no ability to put together a German-language version of the film. But the festival organizers told us that they would take care of that. All we had to do was show up.

Okee-dokee.

So in early 2009 John and I flew to Germany. And I did pretty well for my first trans-Atlantic flight. In fact, ever since then, my fear of flying had reduced greatly. What’s a four hour trip to the East Coast when you’ve sat through 14 hours to get to Europe?

4526_80751054924_3806585_nWe landed in Berlin, got our passports stamped, and I was officially a world traveler. After spending the night in a hotel by the airport, we were met next day by one of the two men I had met in Charlotte. He would be driving us up to Schwerin (maybe a two hour drive). He was late in meeting us, which I told him destroyed my perceptions of German punctuality, but he explained to me that he was actually Bavarian, and, from what I could gather, Bavarians are to Germans as West Virginians are to Ohioans.

On the drive up to the festival, the weirdness began. The festival rep, riding shotgun while another man drove us, broke out a document. It was the English to German translation of Dakota Skye. Being the writer of the film, I was intrigued. He started asking me questions to make sure he had things right. Certain cultural references, even things as simple as bowling lingo, wouldn’t translate, he said, so he needed my help finding alternative ways to say things.

Wait a minute, I thought. The first screening is tomorrow. In fact, we discovered, we were the OPENING NIGHT FILM. And the dubbing hadn’t been done yet? They were still tinkering with the script. Then we found out the bizarre and terrifying truth:

They would be doing a live dub.

A live dub involves a person standing in the projection booth with a microphone who then talks over the film’s natural audio (which is also audible), reading from a German script. One person doing every voice, just reciting the translation in a monotone. It’s like what you see in movies about the United Nations, except in this case it’s for a dramatic (and more dangerously, comedic) piece with several distinct character voices, both male and female.

And the man who would be doing it was like 40 years old.

A man.

Dakota Skye stars a 19 year old woman playing a SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL. So you’re telling me, Mr. Bavarian, that my teenage female protagonist is going to be dubbed by a full-grown man?

“Trust us. We do this all the time.”

3349_1163286039552_6122236_nSo we were swept into the film festival as American celebrities. We did a press conference, in which we said maybe two sentences between both me and John, went to the reception, saw an art show, and were interviewed by two German teens for the festival newsletter. They were good kids who two days later we found ourselves drunk with, another bit of culture shock. They were full of questions about how Americans see Germans. I’ll never forget when one of them said to me, “World War I started because someone killed an Austrian; World War II started because someone didn’t.”

Very true.

 

 

So, opening night of the festival. The theater is filled with donors and older folks and people and suits and here we were about to present our little American romantic comedy filled with masturbation and marijuana jokes. I mean, this was our crowd:

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You can understand why we were nervous.

But nothing could prepare us for what came next:

The weirdest 90 minutes of my life.

I very rarely sat through a Dakota Skye screening. Add my natural anxiety to my filmmakers’ anxiety to the fact that I’ve seen the damn movie a thousand million times, but there was no way John and I were going to miss what we were sure was going to be a train wreck. We sunk down into our seats before it even started.

And then it started.

Whoa boy.

During Dakota’s festival run, we had screenings that were good, great, and mediocre. But there were certain moments, and definitely certain laughs, that always landed.

Not so much in Germany that night.

So the movie starts and the moment our heroine begins to speak, this deep, male German voice comes over the speakers, talking over everything in an attempt to German it up. And wow was it awkward. The laughs definitely did not come when they were supposed to and did when they weren’t. Sometimes the scene would move too fast for the translator, and he would just give up on it. I didn’t know what he was saying, but I definitely heard him stumble and stutter a dozen times. A handful of people walked out. We weren’t sure what everybody else was thinking, but from our point of view it was a disaster.

And it was the most fun I had at a Dakota Skye screening.

Because there was no pressure. Because it wasn’t our fault. The audience understood what was happening. They were seeing the movie, which is great looking for a 100k film, but is still a 100k film, but they weren’t hearing it, and it’s a fairly wordy piece. They had no idea what was going on. At moments, neither did I.

It was kind of hilarious.

It was without a doubt the longest, strangest, most surreal, blissfully uncomfortable hour and a half I have ever experienced.

So after the polite applause, John and I were brought up, with a translator, to answer questions. The first question I was asked, by the moderator, was “How was it seeing your film in German?”

“That was the weirdest 90 minutes of my life,” I said. And, before the translator got out a word…

THE WHOLE FUCKING THEATER FUCKING LAUGHED.

At my joke.

IN ENGLISH.

Son of a bitch…

Turns out a lot of folks in Germany speak English; you’d think the Germans running the festival would have known that.

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The next day we had a screening of the film in a much smaller theater and without the dubbing, just in the original English. And it played very well. Got laughs. Got good questions after. It was a typical, fun Dakota Skye screening. Go figure.

3349_1163285399536_6501020_nA lot of awesome things came of that trip. I got over my fear of flying long distances, paving the way for subsequent trips to Italy, France, Italy, England, and Italy. Got the first stamp in my passport. I spent a day in the gorgeous city of Berlin, going to the Pergamon Museum and the Brandenburg Gate and a near-secret bar that didn’t open until after 11:00. John and I met legendary cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who shot many films for Martin Scorsese, including Goodfellas, one of the greatest films ever made. Discovering currywurst. Finding a section in the record store called ‘Black Music’. Legally getting drunk with 19 year-olds. Seeing London, kind of, while landing and taking off from Heathrow while making connections. It was all-in-all fantastic.

But the highlight to me, which would be the lowlight to some I guess, was watching my movie, hearing my words, badly dubbed in German in a room full of people. Watching romantic scenes between Dakota and Jonah with the same man playing both parts. The utter silence during the film’s biggest laughs. Looking at John with complete and utter amazement at what was happening. Disappointing the sold-out opening night crowd. Experiencing something so crazy and wrong and embarrassing and so out of our control that all we could do was laugh and take some video to show people later. I wish I had that video now; I’d totally post it here.

It was glorious.

To me, at least.

Anyway. That’s today’s sort-of-Hollywood tale. I won’t be posting Christmas Eve, which is my next turn, so Happy Holidays and stuff.

Chad

Sincerely Yours, The Breakfast Club

I mostly recall fighting with my sister as we grew up.

Oh, sure, there were those times where we hung out and acted civilized to one another. Obviously, we loved each other, but more times than not my memories are of her chasing me around the house with a knife (this happened on more than one occasion) or me throwing a bouncy ball at her and her friends (“just leave me alone!”). Fights over whose night it was to do the dishes, and somehow her twisting things so that it was miraculously my night more times than not (you would think that I would have marked it on the calendar, but I didn’t). Heck, fights over trying to get her to “play Transformers right” (“No, they aren’t going to play friends!”).

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These guys don’t want to be friends. They are dinosaurs! This isn’t the Land Before Time!

So when I went away for college (or actually more to the point, my parents moved from Georgia up to Richmond, Virginia… the joke being that since I didn’t go far enough away to school, they needed to put some distance between us), I did not expect that to change very much. That first quarter I’m not sure how much, if at all, we really talked on the phone. I was trying to get accustomed to a whole new experience, living on my own, etc. And she was in the process of starting high school in a brand new school, in a state she had lived a total of about 3 months. Sufficed to say, we were busy.

Then Christmas Break was upon me, and I made the trek northward, not exactly sure how that would be (I lived in that house a total of 2 weeks before moving into the dorm, so it wasn’t like I was going “home”… I was going to the house where my family resided – a huge difference). My sister’s room was over the garage, which really meant that she had the largest room in the house. At the opposite end of the top floor from the parents, she could pretty much listen to music as loud as she wanted, stay up as late as she cared to, and so on. Somehow, during one of those first nights I decided (or maybe she suggested it) hanging out with her up there. After some talking, she popped in The Breakfast Club for us to watch.

breakfastclub

And we bonded.

Thus began a tradition we maintained for probably 6-8 years. Every quarter break I would return home and at some point we would sit down, normally around midnight, and watch that movie.

We expanded to various other 80’s movies Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Princess Bride, Adventures in Babysitting, The Goonies,  insert your favorite, we probably watched it. But not Ghostbusters 2 or Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I love both of those movies  but those are two we watched with my brother far too many times over the course of about 3 summers when he was 2 to about 5, so we had that one memorized. We recorded both of those from HBO on one VHS tape and in an effort to make sure he didn’t disturb our mother (who worked nights) would put that tape in and he’d sit content as could be. It got to the point that we were so sick of watching those two that my sister tore the name tag/tape off of it and he still knew which one it was.

S-VHS-cassette-tape

But I digress.

Those movies somehow became a part of us and our relationship. A chance to finally connect over common interests, which had eluded us for so very long when we were younger. Maybe we saw something within that one movie that spoke to each of us. Her just starting high school and me just starting college. That awkwardness of not knowing what the future will hold. Worried about how others perceived each of us. How those characters on the screen summed up much of each of us.

Perhaps it also was this place where our differences could be represented within these characters. The beautiful thing about that movie is that every single one of us is not just one aspect of the nerd or the criminal or the jock or the basket case or the princess, but made up of multiple ones. As they became friends on screen, I’d like to think that my sister and I became friends beyond just being family. That we could see our differences and embraced those things which formally put us at odds.  In those moments, I think we felt like it was us against the rest of them (whomever “them” may be on any particular day). Not quite kids, not yet adults, at times feeling like outsiders to the greater world.

It seems weird that this movie, which came out when I was 9 and my sister was 4 has come to mean so much to our relationship. A movie that when it is on TV I’ll end up watching, wading through commercials (even though I own the DVD).

Or how the lines still creep into my everyday talk (for better or worse):

bull and horns

“You mess with the bull, you get the horns.”

“Don’t talk, don’t talk, you’ll make it crawl back up.” (I use this one far more than I probably should)

“Impossible sir, they’re in Johnson’s underpants.”

Nothing wrong with having a little John Hughes dialogue running through my brain.

So thank you, Breakfast Club, for showing me how to get along with my sister and her with me.

 

***

John McGuire

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

Brought to you by Yellow #5

With it being Thanksgiving Week, I figured this was a good time for me to reflect on what I’m thankful for. However, this particular thing is not a person or a place, but a moment in time that could have gone all sorts of sideways on me. So, sit back on this pre-turkey day and take a stroll to March/April 1999.

It was during my last year at Georgia Tech, at the end of Winter Quarter… finals week. I don’t know how many finals I had that quarter, I believe 4, and of course, I had 2 scheduled on that Friday.

finalsweek-kitty-photo

Which wasn’t supposed to happen. The policy at Tech was that you only should have 1 final per day. They figured, smartly, that you were under enough stress studying for a test that would pretty much make or break your grade, so why complicate things with trying to study for 2 at once. And let me tell you, I tried to get one of them rescheduled for earlier in the week. I begged and pleaded, and each of the professors told me that I needed to talk with the other one as “Their class took prescedence”. After banging my head against that wall, I sucked it up, and took my medicine like a good boy.

I don’t remember what the classes were, nor do I remember how long I was up the night before (heck, the week before). What I do remember is that feeling of relief as soon as I finished that second test. I walked out of the classroom feeling both the extreme fatigue, but also filled with a warm feeling knowing that I was that much closer to being done with school (I would graduate at the end of the year). The Mountain Dew surging through my veins had managed to keep me awake long enough. So, I begin driving back to my apartment in Decatur, Georgia.

mountain_dew

Again, I don’t recall much of the drive until I got into the city limits. Only 1 mile away from my place I come to a stop at a redlight. All I want at this point is to go and take a nap and not wake up until sometime on Sunday. My body ached, my brain ached, and my eyes ached. The light seemed to go on forever, but with the free time afforded to me suddenly, I took a glance into my rearview mirror…

And saw one of Decatur Police’s finest behind me. Now I pass the Police Station almost on a daily basis. Never worried about it…

Until right then.

What’s the problem you ask? Well, there was one other thing that happened to me prior to my double finals. My poor Pontiac Sunbird was in the shop (I was just hoping to get through school with it, figuring once I got a job I could get a new car). Courtney, my girlfriend at the time (and my wife now) was going to Cancun on Spring Break. She made me a deal (she loves to make deals, her nickname is Monty Haul): I can use her car for the week if I take her to the airport (or perhaps it was to MARTA) at some ungodly hour in the morning. Not having much of a choice, I agreed. As I dropped her off she said these fateful words:

“Hey, if you get a chance, could you swap out my tag, I haven’t done that yet.” (She placed the physical tag in the passenger seat so I wouldn’t forget.)

“Sure.”

Oh, and if you don’t know, her birthday is in December…

And it was now late March/early April.

And the tag still hadn’t been changed.

Anyway! Flashback to me in the car with the cop behind me.

Please don’t notice, please don’t notice…

cop_car_crop380w

Light turns green. I press on the gas and the red lights flicker on behind me.

Damn.

I pull the car over on the next sideroad. Annoyed. Nervous.

Oh, and the window on her car did not work (did I mention that this Honda Civic from the stone ages was effectively a lemon?). So I have to open the door when he approaches. I’m sure that got his Spidey Sense tingling.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?”

I did.

“I’m assuming it is due to the expired tag?”

“Yes.”

“Look, it is right here. This is my girlfriend’s car. I’m on my way home and I was going to change it.”

When I handed him my licence and insurance card my hand was shaking. Visibly shaking. The kind of shaking where you realize that it is shaking and the more you try to stop it from doing it, the more it continues…

Shaking.

“Why is your hand shaking son?”

Because I’m running on about 4 hours sleep for the week. Because I have enough Mountain Dew in me that my blood is yellow and not red. Because my brain is fried from taking two finals in one day.

I did not say any of those things.

“I don’t know.”

“Please step out of the car, son.”

A second police car pulls up at this point.

“May I search your vehicle?”

Yeah, I’ve got nothing to hide. I’ve never done drugs. I’m not drunk.

“Sure”.

NOOOOOO! What are you thinking? This isn’t your car. You don’t know who Courtney might have had in the car. Yeah, you trust her, but what if they stuffed something under the seats?

Well, too late now.

The second cop pulls me aside while the first begins to go through the car, my backpack, glove compartment, trunk, etc. I joke that Courtney is going to get an earful after this. A few minutes later, the first cop calls me back over. Stacked in a nice row on top of the car are pills of various shapes and sizes.

Loose-Pills

Courtney was notorious for opening her pill bottle and having them go flying about the car. She never cleaned them up, so the floorboards were littered with various pills. If you knew her, it was no big deal.

These guys don’t know her.

“What are these?”

I looked at them, fear in the pit of my stomach.

“Those are herbal diet supplements my mom sells.”

“Those are my girlfriend’s epilepsy medicine.”

Those I have no idea what they are.

“I think those are more epilepsy medicine.”

And then came the words I never hope to hear again…

“This will go a lot easier on you if you just tell the truth.”

What!?! But I am… I don’t… WHAT!?!

“Are you on something? Speed?”

“No, sir. I don’t do drugs.”

“And this diet pill, if we call your mom and she comes down to the station she’d confirm that?”

I don’t think I was trying to be a smart-ass, but…

“Well sir, she’s in Richmond, Virginia.”

A third cop pulled up (I am not kidding). Apparently it was a slow day in the City of Decatur. That or I was Walter White 10 years before Breaking Bad… or would that make me Jessie?

At this point, I was led to the first officer’s police car and placed in the back seat.

A couple of observations:

Not a ton of legroom. Guess they shouldn’t be all that concerned about whether the criminals are comfortable. Still, I’m 6’5″ and I was kissing my knees.

This was the first and only time I’m ever been in the back of a police vehicle (I’m hopeful that this remains true for a very long time). I missed that opportunity earlier in my life by 15 minutes back in high school (another story for another holiday).

While the 3 officers searched the car, ran my information, and made me sweat, three songs played on the radio. I wish I could say that I remember them (my guess is that there was a Red Hot Chili Pepper’s song since they are the bane of my existence and 99x played them about every 5th song), but my brain focused on the various scenarios where my future mother and father-in-law would have to come bail me out of jail.

My friend Egg’s voice popped into my ear, “John, they’re cops. They can do anything they want.”

Later, when I relayed this story to my sister, she said, “You do realize that there was probably a drug deal going on within 100 yards of you and yet they are harassing you.”

My Dad said, “Well, you did fit the profile. 20-something, expired tags, beat-up car.”

So about 10 minutes pass and the first cop comes around to the door and opens it up.

“Get out.”

I stood up as he handed me my information (along with the tag).

“We’re done, for now. Get that tag changed.”

“Yes, sir.”

Drive that last mile home. Go upstairs and grab my tools and CHANGE THE DAMN TAG.

Georgia_2007_license_plate

It was only at that point did my pounding heart begin to slow down.

A small postscript to this story. That night, Courtney called me to tell me she was in Cancun. By this point, I’d relayed the story to my roommate and to another friend, so it was becoming something funny (Comedy is just tragedy from a distance). So I started telling her about it. I was about 1/3 of the way into the story when I heard her start balling on the other end of the phone. “I’m so sorry!” over and over. I felt so bad about making her cry I don’t think I ever really gave her the business about the incident in the first place.

I guess I still owe her for that fun experience.

But, yeah, I’m (very, extremely, beyond, etc.) thankful that I didn’t go to jail that day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Movie Makes the Man (Sometimes)

Once upon a time, I contended for the title of the world’s biggest movie buff.

Every week between 1990 and 2008, I’d scan the roster of movies coming out that Friday (or Thursday night, if I felt like wrecking my sleep patterns). Typically between 5-8 new movies would pop up on my radar. Honestly, I wanted to see almost all of them. I’d set aside a large portion of my paycheck to see the ones that excited me first, but early in the next week I’d shell out more cash to see the ones I felt only ‘meh’ about. The quality of the movies became less important than the quantity. I found things to like about ALL of them, no matter how terrible, boring, or absurd.

You're right, Arnie. I will be.

You’re right, Arnie. You will be. And so will I.

And then…

After I cleaned out the theaters of anything even remotely watchable, I’d rent VHS tapes (remember those?) and later DVDs from Blockbuster. I went back and watched movies I’d already seen a hundred times (I’m looking at you, Terminator, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Braveheart). I’d rent foreign films whose characters’ names I couldn’t pronounce and whose titles have largely leaked out of my mind, but whose subtle lessons stuck like super glue. I’d watch and watch and watch. I’d go to work and quote, quote, quote. I’d try to help all my friends by telling them which movies were awesome and which ones sucked and which ones, “…just aren’t for you, Russell.”

At some point in 2009, I fell off the wagon. Real life began to shove my movie obsession aside, and the urge to write novels late into each night defeated my lust to consume endless film. I went from ‘…watches 4-7 flicks per week’ to my current state of ‘…has only been to the theater twice in three years’ and ‘…hasn’t sat on the couch and watched a good movie in eons.’

And yet…

To this day, some of those movies, however random, stick with me. Some have influenced my tastes, others contain quotes I can’t let go of, and still others I’ve absorbed parts of for use in daily life. Yes, I know that’s weird. Eating movies and find them nutritious. Copying fictional characters’ behaviors. What the f@#$(? .

So here are some of the ones that really stuck. Go ahead and laugh, roll your eyes, and maybe reminisce a little bit. But mostly, enjoy:

Office Space. Milton. You remember him. To this day, I hide my stapler. Admit it; some of you do, too.

Office Space. Milton. You remember him. To this day, I hide my stapler. Admit it; some of you do, too. Come to think of it, I hide everything at my desk. Ask me to borrow a pen, and I’ll deny I ever had one.

Arizona

Everything about this movie. All of it.

 

Everyone else in the theater (about twenty people) fled within the first hour. I stayed. And then I watched it twice more that week. In the same theater. What the hell was wrong with me?

Baseketball: Everyone else in the theater (about twenty people) fled within the first hour. I stayed. And then I watched it twice more that week. In the same theater. And this wasn’t even the worst movie I did this for. What the hell was wrong with me??

 

Look I washed

The not-so-famous ‘Look, I washed for supper!’ scene from Saving Private Ryan. Even today, I sometimes quote this line and mimic the Germans’ hand waving. And people get all like, ‘What the F is wrong with J?’

  • I try to wear shades resembling the Terminator’s. Yes, really. And no, I don’t (…look like the Terminator. Sadly…)
  • Whenever it rains, I quote Braveheart’s, “Oh it’s fine Scottish weather, madam. The rain’s falling straight down. Well, slightly to the side-like.”
  • I keep three naked female vampires in my castle’s basement, a la Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and I feed them babies (ok, that’s not actually true)
weather

In 2005’s The Weather Man, Nic Cage runs out of cash in his wallet after buying a single cup of coffee. His dad, the mighty Michael Caine, asks, “”You had enough money to buy a coffee, but not a paper?” Ever since I watched this seemingly innocuous scene, I’ve been a little OCD about having at least $20 in cash in my wallet…at all times. I’m completely serious. Mostly.

Willow

In 1988’s Willow, the High Aldwin asks Willow which finger contains the power to control the universe. Willow almost chooses the correct answer, which is to pick his own finger. No lies; ever since watching that scene 487 times, I force myself to look inward when solving any problem. (Plus I developed a brief crush on Sorsha, quickly dispelled when she later showed up in that movie with Bill Murray)

Fight club

Fight Club is top ten for me. One of my fav quotes (besides ALL of them) was and is: “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”
Modern day philosphy at its finest…

Speaking of movies, I hear this will one day make for a great one.

This too.

Love,

J Edward Neill

 

 

 

Calling all Bloggers!

imagesCACU84DE Happy Halloween hangover, everyone. Alas, the best non-holiday holiday of the year has come and gone.

Typically, Fridays are somewhat slim here at Tessera. That’s because, at least for the moment, we’ve got five days to fill, but only four artists. Much as we’d love to blog 24/7/365, we’re spread out over our many projects like cream cheese on a box of bagels.  We’re delicious, but there’s only so much of us to go around.  

That’s where you might come in.

We’re currently seeking talented guest bloggers to help us make our Fridays more exciting. We’re interested in anyone with something interesting to say. Got a unique perspective you’d like to share? Got a crazy story you’re dying to tell? Got a comic book, a novel, a painting, or a photo album of your latest cosplay event in Tijuana you’d like to show off? Maybe you’re the one we’re looking for.

BestWrite

The pen is mightier than the sword. The keyboard is stronger still.

So if you’re interested and willing to submit to our terrifying gantlet of questions (usually we’ll just ask for a small sample of your writing/storytelling skills) send us an email HERE. We’ll check you out. If you’re qualified, we’ll find room for you on one of many, many Fridays to come.

Much love,

J Edward Neill

I should have paid more attention to C. Thomas Howell

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

dunce-cap

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

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

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

I felt sad for her immediately.

“Can I help you with something?”

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

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

I braced myself for the question.

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

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

Not this time.

“Uh, yea, I guess I could do that.”

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

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

“I’m right over here.”

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

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

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

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

Behind me.

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

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

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

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

urban-legend-killer-backseat

“So, where is it I’m taking you?”

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

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

“Oh, then just continue on North.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Base Map 285

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

dark road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Have a good night.”

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

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

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

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

Just gun it!

“You know how to get back?”

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

“Alright. Take care.”

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

Somehow still alive.

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

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

John McGuire

Dear _ _ _ ,

writing-letter

Dear _ _ _ ,

I hate writing you this letter. A decade ago, five years ago, it would have been unthinkable. I would have never thought I’d be writing these words. But the last few years have been hard for me, and I can no longer deny it:

I’m not in love with you anymore.

It happens. To everyone at some point. You fall in love. Hard. The object of your affection becomes the only thing you can think about. You can’t sleep. You can’t eat. You want to know absolutely everything about your love, inside and out. The time you spend together, well, it’s electrifying. Comforting. Glorious. You invest your emotions so wholly that if anything goes wrong, you feel it for a week.

Because for every cheer there is a rolling tear; for every pleasure, there is lingering pain.

But without the droughts, the showers wouldn’t be nearly as sweet.

You and I have been in this relationship for a very long time. To be honest, it’s been hard on me. You have not been kind. Sometimes you’ve been flat-out mean. There have of course been some amazing times, but more than anything you have been a cruel tease: every time I felt as if magic was going to happen, you yanked it away from me.

snoopy

But it’s not the pain that brings me to write this letter. As a wise and dashing dread pirate once told us: “Life is pain…anyone who says differently is selling something.”

No, the reason this long-overdue letter is being written now is simple.

We’ve changed.

It’s not you.

It’s not me.

It’s us.

I’m a guy that likes to arrange my thoughts in bullet points. I know that seems rather formal and cold given the delicate nature of this communication, but it’s the best way to explain how I feel. So the following is an itemized list of why we cannot be an…item…anymore.

1) You are both too violent and not violent enough.

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You are by your very nature a brute. A rampaging, violent freak that smells of blood and sweat. You thrive on carnage,  and whether it’s broken bones or crushing blows to the head, you know how to throw down. And every year you get stronger and you get faster and you get more intense and every time I watch you I’m afraid someone is going to get killed.

That shit used to turn me on.

But you’re starting to change your behavior. And I appreciate that. You’re doing things to curb this facet of your personality. You will never be a pacifist, but at least you are trying to be safe. More responsbile. You don’t want anyone to get seriously hurt.

It’s happened before. Remember Joe? You hurt him bad. Sterling, too. Poor Mike from Detroit was never the same. And what about Bo? Everybody knows about Bo. Especially Bo.

You are going to hurt people; that is unavoidable. But you are making great strides in stemming that tide. There’s only one problem…

It makes me less attracted to you.

I never thought I was into bad boys, but I guess I am. The less dangerous you get, the less interesting. Less fun. That edge was such a thrill and now you’re doing everything you can to blunt it.

And I hate myself for thinking that. You’re not doing anything wrong. You are being responsible. My brain knows that. But my heart…

My heart wants what it wants.

And, to my shame, it wants blood.

This one’s on me.

2) You’re kind of a thug.

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I’m no saint but I’ve never been arrested. A few traffic tickets but the only time I’ve ever been detained was in elementary school for talking in class.

But you, you’re trouble. Way badder of a boy even for the likes of me.

Theft. Drunk driving. Drugs. Domestic assault. Rape. Murder.

Remember that time you put a gun in your sweatpants and went to a club and accidently shot yourself? So, so, stupid. Who wears sweatpants to a club?

And the dogs? Really, man? Those poor dogs.

It’s hard to keep making excuses for you. To defend you to my friends. I have to accept it.

You’re a fucking thug. And I don’t think that’s going to change.

3) The Man upstairs.

Denver Broncos v Oakland Raiders121202_wk13strickly_inside

This may not seem fair, but your religious views bother me. Not the fact that you have them, but that you display them so ostentatiously. How you thank the Lord for everything that goes right but never curse His name when things go wrong.

If there is a God, do you really think He’s your personal good luck charm, your magic genie you can rub for wishes? Do you think He gives a He-damn about these trivial things you pray about?

You probably do. Humility has never been one of your strong suits.

4) You’re kind of a racist.

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5) You’re such a cheat I can’t believe Miranda Lambert hasn’t killed you in a song yet.

Posted by Mike Florio on May 1, 2013, 7:02 AM EDT

The NFL bans HGH use.  The NFL still has no test in place to determine whether players are complying with this rule.  Not surprisingly, players still ignore the rule.

Dan Patrick mentions from time to time that a starting NFL quarterback privately told Patrick within the past two or three years that 60 percent of the league uses HGH.  Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that HGH use is “rampant.”

 

Everybody knows it but no one wants to talk about it. We all look the other way, myself included.

Sure, other guys cheat. Barry, Alex, that dude Lance. But while we’ve condemned them, no one ever accuses you, even though, by all accounts, you’re the worst of the bunch.

You’ll do anything to get what you want. The law, honor, and your health be damned.

It’s become obvious that you can’t even function without cheating. And no one seems to care. It’s disgusting and I can’t just sit idly by and perpetuate the illusion.

As someone who loves you, it has hurt so much to learn about how chronic your cheating has been. I feel betrayed. It’s almost enough for me to take a Louisville Slugger to both of your headlights.

 

 

 

6) You’re stuck in a fantasy world.

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I played Dungeons & Dragons in high school. I have logged over a 100 hours on my copy of Skyrim and have started over so I can log another 100. I know what an owlbear is.

I know fantasy.

But your entire life has been taken over by fantasy, like a guy who just discovered Game of Thrones and now runs around draped in furs calling himself ‘King of the North’ (I do kind of wish I had named my Siberian Husky ‘Ghost’). You’ve built this alternate self that may resemble you, but it’s not you. It’s a twisted, Bizzaro version where it doesn’t matter what you do but how you do it. In this world, the means are king and the ends don’t mean a thing.

I used to visit this fantasy universe with you and I have to admit I enjoyed it for a while. But it really started affecting the actual time we spent together. I couldn’t tell which one of you I was with at any given time and you became a lot less enjoyable to be around. When I was playing in this fantasy, I did things, said things, thought things, cheered for things that I never would have in real life. It changed me. And I didn’t like it.

Some people only like the fantasy you. Don’t you get that? They don’t care who you really are, not in your heart. They only care about your measurements, reducing you to a set of sexy numbers. Do you really like being objectified like that?

I guess you do, because you have so embraced it as part of your personality that every year the line between fantasy and reality blurs a little more. Who cares why they love you? You’ll take any attention you can get. It doesn’t matter to you how you get it, does it?

Whore.

7) You drive people crazy.

 Junior-Seau-2012-Cover-of-Sports-IllustratedDave Duerson

And I don’t mean in a Fine Young Cannibals sort of way.

I mean in a life-destroying, brain-swelling, personality-changing, driving people to suicide sort of way.

I don’t have any jokes about this.

You know what you’ve done.

8) THIS.

21st Century Fox, Inc And FOX Sports 1 Rings The NASDAQ Stock Market Opening Bell

I mean, what the fuck?

9) There’s someone else.

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I have a confession. This whole time I’ve been with you, I’ve also been in love with someone else. A friend of yours, actually. Well, more of a rival. And while my love for you has waned over the years, my passion for the other has grown and grown to the point of eclipsing you entirely.

Look, me and this other guy, we’re just a better fit. He’s more laid back. Takes his time. He brings me the same ups and downs as you, but, while every bad day with you seems like a catastrophe, with him you just brush it off and try to be better the next day. He is a marathon and not a sprint and you know, deep down, I’m not a sprinter.

I just love him more than you. When he’s around, I don’t pay one lick of attention to you.

I know that must hurt to hear, but it’s the truth.

I’m sorry. It’s not me. It’s not you.

It’s us.

————

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Don’t be so sad. Look, we can still be friends. We can still hang out on Sundays, but I can’t promise you the whole day. Our Monday night date will stand, but I probably won’t wake up looking forward to it. I don’t want you out of my life. I’ll still come to your party in February, but I won’t be on your arm. I just don’t feel that way about you anymore.

And don’t worry. There are literally tens of millions of people out there who will love you more than I ever could or did. You will never be alone.

This is not good-bye, but I am sorry.

I just don’t love you anymore.

Best wishes,

Chad

P.S. If you’re worried I’m going to hook up with your little brother, don’t worry. He’s more screwed up than you. At least all of your bullshit is above-board. Who knows what’s going on with him behind closed doors? Well, we all know. We just don’t talk about it.

Clearwater Chronicle

Clearwater 2013 View from WindowI recently made the long drive to Clearwater, Fl.  And no, it doesn’t mean I love George Zimmerman.

I made this little journey with two goals in mind. The first: to see an old friend who’d arrived in the States from Denmark. The second: to carve a few days out of my routine life and recapture some mojo for writing. Both, I think, proved successful.

Beach at twilight

I wish the water looked just like this for far longer than three minutes each night…

While walking the beach each morning, day, and night, I tried to pay better attention than during previous vacations. I picked my gaze up out of the water (which was too cold for swimming anyhow) and observed my surroundings. And wow, the things I saw:

  • On the first day, after a grueling round of sand 2v2 volleyball, I watched as a British family near the water argued. Ah, the Brits. Their colorful language attracted the attention of everyone within a half-mile. But the real action started when the mother walked right up to her foul-mouthed daughter and punched (not slapped) her right in the chops! No one could believe what had happened. The daughter howled. The dad…laughed. The mom unleashed a stream of profanities I haven’t heard since the last time I watched Snatch. It…was…awesome… More importantly, I can’t get enough of the way the Brits drop the F bomb
  • That night, I saw The Counselor. Now, without getting too deep in spoilers, I’ll just say I love it when the bad guys win. It’s rare in movies, but utterly realistic. The monologues delivered by several characters were deeply philosophical. No one would ever talk like that in real life, but it didn’t matter. Truth is truth, especially grim, hard truth. Movie Review – A
  • On the first night in my hotel, I arrived in my room on the top floor. I had an ocean view, just as requested. The dark water was spread out beneath my window, roiling beneath the stars. I thought to myself, “This is perfect. I’ll get tons of writing done tonight.” But…just as I sat down by the window, the hotel’s elephantine AC system kicked on atop the roof, making my room shake as though a helicopter were landing three feet above my head. I’m all for white noise, but this was absurd. “My night’s ruined,” I feared. “And besides, the concierge is a dead man.” And yet, as it turned out, I was able to tune out the sound of my room shaking and write an entire chapter for Hollow Empire, my joint venture with John McGuire. Strange indeed
Dark Water

The ocean. At night. What else do you need?

Falling Star over ClearwaterOther random events I observed while walking the city:

  • A homeless guy pretending to be a broke tourist. I’d seen him try his little game the previous day, so when he walked up to a young woman and said, “My wife and I are in town for the weekend, but we lost our credit cards. Do you think you could spare me some cash? She really needs her coffee,” I laughed a little bit inside. Sorry, homeless guy, you need to work on your approach. Begging for coffee money isn’t going to cut it
  • A woman with a giant (I mean enormous) tramp stamp of a volleyball. I’ve seen bad tattoos, and then I saw this. It was huge, as in actual-size huge. Just…no…
  • A dude at a Halloween (Best non-holiday holiday ever, btw) party dressed as Christian Grey. His costume: 50 grey-shaded sample paint cards from Home Depot duct-taped to an otherwise unremarkable shirt. While he didn’t win the best costume prize, he won the admiration of every woman at the party
  • Jesus playing Sweet Home Alabama on guitar…with an actual crown of thorns worn over a head full of dreadlocks…drinking Fruit Loop flavored vodka. Yes, really

What does any of this have to do with regaining  mojo for writing? In a nutshell: people-watching. Observe the interesting things people do, listen to the crazy things they say, and add the experience to the card catalogue in your brain. Or, if people-watching doesn’t inspire you, try walking along the ocean at night. If that doesn’t bring you peace, you may want to try vicodin.

Next week I get serious, delivering an excerpt from Dark Moon Daughter, Book II in the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy.

Much love,

J Edward Neill

 

Makepeace Really is my Name

Hi there. Welcome to Tessera! I’m the artist of this creative guild, the one with the really cool last name. Makepeace isn’t my birth name, but it is by far the best surname I’ve ever had and let’s face it, I should have been born with this name. A week doesn’t go by when I haven’t received a comment about it’s validity or origin. I’ve almost got the spiel down: “Yes, that really is my name. It’s great isn’t it? I can’t take credit though, it was my ex’s name. It’s an old Quaker name. No, I’d never change it!” In all seriousness, it does suit me. I’ve had a passion for art and nature for as long as I can remember. Many of my fondest memories involve the outdoors–one of them is the photo to the right. You can still find me wandering the woods today, collecting feathers, stones and other odd bits of nature. My studio is full of a my collection.

Quite often, bits of my collection end up in my art, but once my imagination has a say you never know what you’re going to get. I am an avid reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy, with some horror on the side. Movies? Same genres. Television? Same genres. I do read (and watch) outside of those realms, but anything from the Avengers to Middle Earth will take precedent over a thriller. Don’t get me started on music. You probably wouldn’t believe how far my tastes swing (Classical to Linkin Park).

I’m also, as was pointed out earlier in the week, a Web-Warrior Princess. Technology doesn’t scare me. If you were to look at the testing they do in schools, my highest ranked subjects were the Humanities and Science. My favorite courses at university were Comparative Literature and Human Osteology. I love both, just another example of my broad interests and skills. I can create with a paint brush (both digital and physical) and I can create with HTML, CSS, and PHP.

I guess all of this combined makes me a tree-hugging geek with a wild imagination. I’m cool with that.

What does this mean for you readers of Tessera? Well. I’ll be sharing a lot of art, some of my process as it applies to creating art for a story, things that inspire me, photos from conventions (I’m going to one this weekend!), books on my nightstand (and comics too), and so much more. I’ll even share a story or two of my own. I don’t think of myself as a writer–I think about art and painting far more–but I do write the occasional piece of flash fiction. I might also occasionally share a flashback from the movies, stories, images and events of my childhood that shaped who I am today. The possibilities are endless.

 

Five Random Facts

1. My favorite things to draw as a young teen? Horses and Xenomorphs. Not together, but that would have been cool too!

2. My favorite things to paint nowadays? Birds and Faces.

Xenomorph by Amanda MakepeaceFirst Light Detail by Amanda Makepeace

3. Artists I listen to the most on my iPod? Bon Iver, Florence + The Machine, The Glitch Mob, Cry Monster Cry, Imagine Dragons, Of Monsters and Men and Lindsey Stirling.

4. What did I want to be when I grew up? It changed quite a few times. High on the list: Geologist, Marine Biologist, Forensic Anthropologist, and of course an artist and writer.

5. First and last comic I bought? First was Aliens: Earth War (Dark Horse) and the last I bought was Infinity: Part Three (Marvel).

Follow me on the web:

deviantART Facebook Twitter

amandamakepeace.com

makepeacestudios.etsy.com

Because I Had To

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing_Quote_20Like a fool.

Why?

Because I had to.

Third grade. (MUMBLE) years ago.

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

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

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

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

Anyway.

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

Write a story about a monster coming to the classroom.

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

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

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

Why?

Because I had to.

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

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

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

All I know is that it killed.

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

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

Because I had to.

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

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

I think it was called “Zap!”.

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

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

Then I moved to L.A.

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

Because I had to.

And why do I ‘have to’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because I–

Well, you know.

Chad J. Shonk
October 2013

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