You Take the Good, You Take the Bad

I touched on one thing a few of weeks ago that I wanted to explore a little bit. Basically the idea that out of bad things we should make the best of them.

When life gives you lemons, make lots of lemonade.

Every dark cloud has a silver lining.

silver

I wonder if it isn’t just crap we tell each other to ensure that we get out of bed in the morning.

4 years ago I got laid off from my day job as an engineer. For those of you who have never had the opportunity to take an unplanned vacation where you are stressed a whole lot of the time… let me tell you, it is not worth it. Basically you have this time where normally it would be great. Catch up on sleep, read a book, watch tv, and just veg out. I mean, you’ve been at it for how long now, you might deserve some free time again. But the underlying stress is awful. And at some point there are only so many hours in a day you can look for jobs.

But I digress. Out of that time I ended up writing the first draft of the book that would become The Dark That Follows. I had never written anything that long before. Prior to those moments the longest thing I had ever written was a movie script that was about 100 pages and around 48 pages of a comic mini series. Let me say that writing 200+ pages of a novel is an entirely different beast.

I definitely made some lemonade.

Here’s the question though… why? Why did I need that bad thing to happen before I made an opportunity out of it? Couldn’t I have done the same thing while I was employed (sure I could and have been ever since that point). Still that was the thing that gave me a kick in the pants I surely needed.

So why do we wait for these moments? Why should it take sometime bad to happen for us to reevaluate how our lives are progressing?

Top-Dog-The-Science-of-Winning-or-Losing

My favorites are the blessing in disguise. I’m more referring to the phrase itself, somewhat of a cliche nowadays, rather than the possible religious implications behind it. It might as well be a case where all we are doing is just trying to reassure someone that good times are coming. There is a commercial on tv in Georgia (perhaps other states who have the lottery are running something similar). The conceit of the game is that you win if you match all the numbers (like a normal lottery) OR if you match none of the numbers (so now they have us hoping for a negative return… just weird). And while I am amused at the commercials, it is such an alien thing to hope to not win… but not just don’t win, you need to LOSE completely.

I mean, what in the world are you supposed to be cheering for then? That’s like rooting for your team to tie or something. And while there are spots where that might be a good thing. It is completely alien to my own brain patterns. I (people) are programmed to Win.

So why is it that we must decide to find the silver lining only in the bad things? Can’t they just be bad things and then we move along? Do we need to find lessons in these moments of terrible? Would it be the worst thing in the world to just brush ourselves off and stop obsessing over whatever the bad thing was?

Just once I’d like to learn my lesson from something really good happening!

Of course, that is easier said than done. I think that it might be (must be?) that we all get caught up in our lives. Going to work, hanging out with friends, dealing with family… you know, Life stuff. But that becomes a daily thing. And then it becomes a weekly thing. And then summer is over and Christmas is here and we all stand around thinking “Wow, that year sure went by fast.”

The bad might just be a shock to the system that breaks us of that routine. Maybe we’ve drifted a bit from whatever path we’re supposed to be on and that’s the moment we can really do a bit of self-correcting?

Of course, unlike those people in the Lottery commercial, I’m not looking to have the bad thing happen. And I wish I could steel myself against it, but that never works. So all I can do is just take that extra moment when it happens and use it to the best of my ability. Not the best answer, but the only one I have.

Mostly I’m reminded of why there has to be bad things by two of the greatest philosophers of our time.

beavis550

Beavis: Hey Butthead, how come some stuff sucks, and some stuff is pretty cool?

Butthead: Because Beavis… if everything was cool… how would you know what sucked?

Exactly.

 

***

John McGuire

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

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is currently in week three of its 6-part release. Each episode is only $0.99.

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

A Day in the Life (GIF Edition)

My fellow guild mates thought a look into my typical day would make for an interesting blog post. Maybe. I wasn’t convinced. What if I put you all to sleep with my boring life? So I decided to spice things up, just a bit.

06:00 – I’m not a morning person. My alarm clock, a.k.a. my iPhone, sounds like an alarm you might hear if a nuclear reactor was in danger of meltdown. It’s the only digital alarm capable of wrenching me out of my slumber into the land of the living, but even then I’m not a happy camper.

Destroy Everything

By this time cats are already at the door in danger of becoming feral if I don’t heed their need for sustenance. Since adopting Drusilla I’ve had to shut my door at night if I want sleep. If I leave it open she pesters me almost nonstop. Her favorite ways to pester include, pawing my face, biting my nose, biting my toes, and burrowing under the blankets to attack my legs. Since she and Hunter have become best friends I don’t feel bad shutting her out and she doesn’t seem to hold it against me (she follows me everywhere).

Demon Cat

06:10 – Coffee is the only thing on my mind. The cats have been fed. The dog has been fed and put outside. Now is Coffee Time – Phase 1. I love coffee and I drink a ton of it, but I wouldn’t say I’m addicted. My coffee intake during Dragon Con was almost nonexistent and I functioned just as as well. On a typical day I drink my coffee out of a large travel mug and I drink 2-4 of those. I like to leisurely drink it throughout the morning, oftentimes when I’m painting or writing blog posts. During Phase 1 I usually check my emails and read the news headlines.

Coffee

06:53 – Coffee Time Phase 1 ends. I go downstairs at this point to make lunch for both my daughter and my mother. Yes. I make my mother’s lunch. I’m a good daughter. But I’ll be honest, it’s not my favorite task of the day especially before I’ve had my full caffeine intake.

Cooking before I've had enough caffeine.

07:45 By now my daughter is on her way to school and my mother has left for her job. I’m still in my pajamas, drinking coffee (Coffee Time Phase 2), and updating various social media sites. It’s a necessary evil but nonetheless draining.

Tumblr

08:30 – 15:00 My creative time is a mixed bag of nuts. Every day is an adventure.

I can paint anything!

I can paint anything.

This isn't working how I imagined.

This isn’t turning out how I imagined it in my head…

Everything I paint is crap!

Everything I paint is crap!

I don't let those negative thoughts stop me.

I don’t let this stop me. Paint, paint, paint!

PerfectMy masterpiece. Muahaha!

Doubt

An hour later…

15:00 I try to switch gears around this time. I have an hour before my daughter arrives home, so I do some typical domestic chores.

Cleaning

18:00 – Before I know it, it’s time for dinner.

khaleesi

20:00 My evenings are spent watching a couple television shows we’ve DVR’d and then I head to bed to read, usually for far too long.

Reading

If you’ve made it this far I salute you!

amandamakepeace.com

Split Bill (My mental vacation)

 Hey. How are you? This’ll be a rare rambling post from me. Apologies in advance.

So. What’s up in the world?  Anything interesting going on? Yeah, I know: ISIS, Ukraine, Ebola, Ray Rice, Jack the Ripper. But let’s get to what’s really important: Hollow Empire – Season 1 – Night of Knives. It’s finished. It’s out. In total, it’ll be six episodes (six chapters each) for $0.99 a pop. There’ll also be a complete e-version and a paperback edition. I co-authored it with this guy here. If you like post-apocalypic medieval fantasy westerns, you’ll like it. If you like deep characters wading through deeper shit, you’ll love it. This lady here did the art. And that’s all I’ll say about it for now.

the_thinker

What I’m doing most days. On a side note: ever notice how ripped the Thinking Man is?

 

Aside from Hollow Empire, I’m struggling a bit.

I’ve stopped dreaming at night, and it’s a problem.

I don’t have writer’s block. Not exactly. What I’ve got is a wandering muse. As in wandering off. I usually pull all of my deliciously dark ideas from the corridors of sleep, but now that my dreams have stopped…well…you see? Thing is; I used to dream all night, every night. Epic space operas, terrifying horror stories, tragic romances, end-of-everything dark fantasies…I had it all bouncing in my head after the lights went out.

But now, there’s nothing. I sleep a solid six every eve, yet my head-movies are gone. The world hasn’t ended just yet; I’m still chin-deep in editing a massive novel, which means I don’t need too much muse for the moment. But it’s fair to say I’m concerned. Worried. Troubled…

mooncloud

See that big dark spot on the moon. Yeah, that one. That’s where my mind needs to be at night.

And that’s why, after Hollow Empire and Nether Kingdom hit the market, I’ll take a little vacation. Not a real vacation on the beach, of course. That’s too much to hope for. I mean a mental vacation. Maybe I’ll play some Halo and some Dragon Age. Maybe I’ll double down on my chin-ups. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll even pick up my ancient Dungeons & Dragons books and stage a few goblin slaughters with some friends. That’s AD&D First Edition, bitches. We keep it old school ’round these parts.

But seriously, I need to start dreaming again, and soon. I have the ideas, but all the flavor and darkness come out at night…while I’m asleep.

Next up, a trio of lists. Read and enjoy:

The Top 4 upcoming video games I’d play if I didn’t have a three-year old

1. Dragon Age: Inquisition (Because it has to be better than the second installment)

2. Destiny

3. Halo 5: Guardians (Because, you know, I still haven’t beaten Halo 4)

4. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

My Top 5 fantasy movies of all time
1. Fellowship of the Ring (Sorry, Academy. The first film blew Return of the King out of the water)

2. Willow

3. Legend (Despite Tom Cruise)

4. Animated version of Sleeping Beauty

5. Dragonslayer (The original. Best. Dragon. Ever.)

My Top 3 favorite book covers ever

200px-The_Stand_cover

Dealer

The_Two_Towers_Book_Cover_1965_(Ballantyne)

This week was a jumble of bones. Skulls and ribs and tibias all mixed up. Next week will be more focused…maybe.
Until then,

J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead dark fantasy trilogy

Author of The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera

Down the Dark Path

My Top Seven Words of 2014

HaBones2

 

 

 <— creepy

 

Back in 2013, while plundering the bottom of my mind for the finishing touches on my dark fantasy trilogy, I plopped this little article on the web. Turns out it was a pleasure to write, so much so that I’ve decided to churn one out every year forever. I don’t have another long introduction about how I’ve been busy mining the abyss for skulls, crushing nuns’ dreams, or plotting to rip the sun out of the sky.

So I’ll just get to it.

1. Unctuous – excessively or ingratiatingly flattering; smug

I liked this word so much I made it into a villain for my latest book, Nether KingdomUnctulu, the oily, slick-tongued, loathsome servant of Grimwain, defines unctuous to a tee. The word makes me ill just to think of. Say it with me; Smug. DisgustingUnctuous.

2. Tatters – a torn piece; a shred

tatters

 As in tatters of flesh, tattered clouds, tattered ribbons of dead men’s bones.  You get the point.

 

 

 

3. Masticate – to soften or reduce to pulp by crushing or kneading; to chew

No, not the other mast…ate word. I mean it in terms of, “The ragged, grey-toothed wights masticated the soldiers’ remains until only powder remained.” You know. Something grim like that. 🙂

4. Abattoir – a slaughterhouse

Ok. Maybe I’m getting too grisly here. Still, I like the imagery this word conjures up. It feels ghoulish, grotesque, and maybe a little…meaty. As in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As in a haunted, metal-roofed, broken-windowed building none of the kids are brave enough to sneak into.

 5. Guile –  insidious cunning in attaining a goal; crafty or artful deception

I like this one as well as its opposite – Guileless (sincere; incapable of lying).  We all know people with varying levels of guile in our lives. We’d all be better knowing fewer. I’m not sayin’. I’m just sayin’.

6. Hodor – Hodor

hodor

Now, I’m not nearly as big a Game of Thrones fan as I used to be, but even so, who doesn’t love a word that means everything and anything? Think how much easier reading and writing would be? Hodor, Hodor, Hodor. It’s the ‘I am Groot’ of the fantasy genre. Actually, Guardians of the Galaxy is fantasy, too. So yeah. They both work. By the way, Hodor is guileless. Just sayin’.

7. Selfie – a photograph that one has taken of oneself; usually a sign of narcissism

Some things you just have to love to hate. Selfie is on this list because if viewed in the right light, it can tell you a lot about the person who uses it. Just imagine: “I never take selfies.” or “All I take are selfies.” I bet if you heard someone say either of these sentences, you’d start judging instantaneously. That alone makes this wretched word powerful. And powerful is good…if used to crush Kim Kardashian.

Until 2015,

J Edward Neill

Dragon Con Review

Last week I talked about heading down to Dragon Con over Labor Day weekend. This weekend I tried to make some new memories.

The first thing that always occurs to me is how big the con has gotten since I first went down to it so many years ago. I will say that I believe Atlanta has scheduled a few too many things for Labor Day weekend (maybe). Since we weren’t staying on site (something we’ll hopefully remedy next year), it meant that trying to get into that 10 AM panel presented not only some highway issues…

atlanta traffic

But also actually making our way to that early panel in light of the parade. The sidewalks packed with people, we struggled to reach the Whedonverse panel over at the Westin, only to find it packed.

Boooo!

No problem, we’ll just go to our back-up TruBlood panel… across the street… across a sea of bodies in costumes.

Hmmm.

Which brings us to our first real story. We’re pushing through the mob, but are unsure how we’ll actually get to the Hyatt when behind us we hear a guy asking to get through… carrying a young woman in his arms, passed out from overheating. Of course we make room, as do many of the others lined up on the sidewalk. As they pass, she lifts her head and smiles before resuming her previous “unconscious” state.

Though, Karma is a thing, because the parade was over less than a minute later, so all their deceit got them nothing.

Terminus Media had a panel on Saturday night at 10 PM to discuss the motion comics we’d been working on for the CDC, and to talk about the motion comics side of things in general. Myself and Robert Jeffrey II (a contributor to Tessera) were a part of the panel. About 15 people showed up, and even though there was no real rehearsal, I think we acquitted ourselves pretty well.

It is always weird to see something you had a hand in creating being shown on a screen for others to see (in a good way). Hopefully we did a decent enough job that Dragon Con will invite us to do more next year.

Ran into (literally in couple of cases) a few friends I had not seen in a while. As I touched on last week, that’s one of the biggest and best things about the con – reconnecting. Finding out how everyone is doing. This year I also got to show a complete con newbie around. And she enjoyed it enough that she went ahead and got her 4 day pass for next year.

Aside from not being able to get into the Whedonverse panel (luckily we did get into the Agents of Shield panel on Sunday which had plenty of Whedon love) and not being able to see Cary Elwes (another capped line), there was one big “problem”. The Dealers room is a bit of a nightmare to deal with. I know they are expanding again next year, but there were multiple times that people couldn’t get into the building or into a room because it had reached capacity. If Dragon Con is going to keep getting bigger, they need to figure out a way to handle that.

stock-footage-loopable-seamless-cyclic-animated-sequence-with-expanding-circles-usual-for-presentations-movies

Expand, DCon, expand.

Second story of the con – We are ready to leave for the night. It is about 11:45 Saturday evening. I am finished with the Terminus panel and am looking forward to getting home, to bed, and then back again the next day for more fun. We only have to get down the outside stairs of the Hyatt, which for some reason the DCON staff decided to block (with their bodies) so as to allow a line for one of the late night panels to move through.

Now, I don’t have a problem with this if it takes a minute or two. When it takes 10 minutes then maybe you need to pause that line and let the queue of people on the stairs out to where they might be able to get to meeting spots, late dinners, gaming, or home (in our case). What kills me is that they finally did have to pause that line because I think we were about to storm through them. Not the best way to end the night.

Oh, and I did have one huge regret.

C. Thomas Howell had a panel (along with Cary Elwes) and not only did I not know about it, I didn’t know he was there at all. Those that know me know of my fierce love of 80s movies that include C-Tom (as I like to call him).

Yes, they know about it even if they don’t understand it!

Anyway, I just wanted to let him know that he still holds the distinction of being in the greatest volleyball movie of ALL TIME – SideOut.

Sideout

Summer did, in fact, get hotter!

A bold statement, for sure, but one I stand by. Regardless of the fact that I’m not sure there are other volleyball movies!

So that was a bit of my Dragon Con for the year. I can’t wait to see what next year brings!

***

John McGuire

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

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

 

Dragon Con Memories

We’re days away from another year of Dragon Con. As you may or may not know, I’ll be at the Terminus Media panel on Saturday night at 8pm. I’m not 100% on what we’ll be discussing, but it should be a fun time to mix it up and talk with some of the local independent comic people around Atlanta.

Dragon Con 2014

Dragon Con is this weird thing for me because it has always been there. I believe the very first time I went I was 15 or 16 and Chad’s dad dropped us off and then picked us up some time later. It is where I first realized that there were these comic book conventions, and where I got my very first comic autographed (issue 300 of Amazing Spider-Man by Todd McFarlane). We were only there for a few hours, but my mind was blown, and I resolved to come back again the following year.

ASM-300

Of course that promise was blown away the very next year when family commitments meant I couldn’t attend and ended up missing a DnD session run by Tracy Hickman (of Dragonlance fame). For the weeks afterward my friends all made sure to let me know what I missed out on.

A year later the Magic the Gathering frenzy had taken over. You had to wake up early, stand in line for some crazy amount of time, and if you were lucky you would get 1 pack of Legends. Now I know that must sound crazy to think that the current set could not be bought at any random comic store, but it was the world we were living in.

The years went by and most of the time I tried to ensure I’d go at least two of the three days. And then when it became a four-day con, I pretty much stuck to  the two days anyway. At the time it felt like they were expanding just to do it… I mean, I could see 90% of what I wanted in 2 days, why bother with 3.

But then a curious thing happened… friends began to move away or maybe they lost interest into going. And soon that group of 10 or so that made it where no matter what panel you wanted to go see or what deal was going on in the Dealer’s room – you’d know about it and have someone to share in the experience. I don’t know about you, but doing things by myself means there is no one to nudge when you see that “cool thing”.

And not long after that, I was the only one going to con… and it became strictly a 1 day thing for me.

I carried the flag for those “dark” years for my group of friends. Sure, I might see a couple of people I knew, but that old core group was nowhere to be found… and it lessened things a bit.

Then came Firefly and Serenity.

ImageDayFireflyMotivational

For most of this time my wife avoided Dragon Con. It was something I think that amused her from a distance. That “thing” John did around Labor Day. Every year I’d ask and nudge and hint that I thought she’d have a great time if she just did 1 day with me.

And she always put it off. Maybe next year. Maybe next year.

Then came Firefly and Serenity. And a panel at Dragon Con with pretty much the whole damn cast.

And I had her.

And she came to Con, and saw the panel, and then saw that Charlene Harris and TruBlood was there and sat in on another panel. And we spent the evening watching the costume contest with some good friends in their room on closed circuit enjoying room service.

That’s all it took.

And suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore. I had my best friend to nudge and point at a cool costume and to experience things with and just enjoy this piece of my own life with her.

Soon enough some of the other friends have drifted back (here and there) to the con. And I get to meet up with newer friends as well… guys and gals I may not have seen in months.

It’s glorious.

At the end of Dragon Con I’m always hit with a slight melancholy. No matter how much I enjoyed myself or even on those years I was bummed out about being by myself… I would still get it. That idea of all these people who shared some passions with me… all these people who said fuck it, I want to enjoy what I want to enjoy and not worry if I look or act silly during these 4 days. I love that about Dragon Con. I love people watching. I love going to panels and seeing tv and movie stars talk about their projects and getting excited about the next big thing. I love going to writing panels in an effort to glean as much information from people in the “know” as possible.

sad panda

It makes me feel not so alone. Because, for a long time there us nerds were out in the wilderness. It wasn’t cool to say that you played DnD or Magic or read comics or liked Anime or played computer games. And for 4 days Dragon Con offered an oasis for those of us who wanted to feel apart of something bigger than just us.

So yeah, at the end of the day on Sunday (most likely I will not be down there on Monday – we’re using it to recover) I’ll get that funny feeling in my stomach that another one of these has ended, and it will be another year before I get the chance to do it again. I’ll be tired, my feet may hurt, and my wallet will likely be lighter, but even with that slight sadness I know that it is only a matter of a little time before we get to do it again.

Hope to see you this weekend!

***

John McGuire

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

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

Ten Commandments for writers (or any artist, for that matter)

MosesJunk

 

God has given us these fifteen – Oy! Ten…ten commandments!” – Moses – History of the World, Part I

For any writer, artist, athlete, musician, or human being with any accidental creative intent, I recommend the following list. In my limited, brief, relatively ridiculous experience, these etched-in-stone rules will help (or possibly confound) any man or woman who takes their craft at least somewhat seriously.

1. Thou shalt not have a but a shadow of thy former social life. – Seriously, who needs friends or lovers when you could be sitting on your couch in sweats, agonizing over how much your latest work sucks?

2. Thou shalt possess a cat or dog who sits on thine work and distracteths from the task at hand – Because, you know, it’d be too much trouble for them to sit on the fucking couch like most normal pets.

3. Thou shalt never clicketh on Facebook, Twitter, or any website ever – If you do, you’re fucked.

4. Thou shalt set aside one hour per day to exerciseth, lest thine body turn to jello – Unless of course you’re going for the George RR Martin look. (Because everyone knows success as a writer = scruffiness + BMI x beard length) Yes, for the ladies, too.

5. Thou shalt paint, write, and sketch while tipsy, yet fixeth it all while painfully sober(ish) – They say alcohol and drugs bring out the creative juices.

        5.1 They’re wrong. It just makes fixing your F ups all the more tedious.

SugarSkull

Look! A bamboo skull iPhone case! If I buy it, I’ll waste 20 minutes of productive time…and blow my profits from the last 700 books I sold!

6. Thou shalt be no less than three months late for thine deadlines – At best.

7. Thou shalt sleep no longer than five brokeneth hours per night. Three if you have kids, a spouse, or *gasp* a day-job. None if you’re attempting a social life.

8. Thine bank account shall never explodeth, nor erupt, nor even runneth over – Unless you’re fully decked out with the aforementioned beard, in which case you’ll be swimming in cash. And then, after you’re bearded and rich, you’ll never get laid again. (You’ve got a reputation – and a beard – to uphold.)

9. Thou shalt die alone – Relax. I’m kidding. (But not really.)

10. Thou shalt only know joy when thine project is completeth – And then, because you’re a masochist, you’ll start a new project, looking for that one sharp-as-a-sword ray of sunshine to gleam upon your work once again. Dumbass.

 I could probably stretch this list to 100, but…

Until next week,

J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead dark fantasy trilogy

Author of The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera

Down the Dark Path

5 Things I Miss Most from the UK

In 2004 I married a Brit. My daughter and I pulled up roots in the US to live abroad in England (2004 to 2008). We had some hard times, but also many wonderful memories. I regret none of it and given a chance I’d move back in a flash! While living in London I was finally able to come out of my shell, to unfurl my wings creatively. I attended Kensington & Chelsea College for a short course in the Visual Arts; where for the first time I was required to show a portfolio as part of the application. I painted my first piece for the cover of a book. I also discovered the first place in the world where I didn’t feel out-of-place. My daughter and I often talk of the things we miss most, like friends, the museums and the book shops! Here are several more, in no particular order:

 

Outdoor Markets

French Market at Poole Quay

 

Outdoor markets are not confined only to London and other big cities in the UK. I took this photo at the French Market at Poole’s Quay, when I lived there from late 2006 to 2008.

The Cafés

Caffe Nero

I miss my Caffè Nero lattes. I miss them, very much. Don’t judge me. Starbucks, you’re okay but nothing beats Caffè Nero. While Starbucks does have a presence in the UK, I rarely visited one. There are an abundance of café‘s in the UK from big chains like this one to small family owned cafés.

The Gardens

Kew Gardens outside London

There are gardens everywhere. I took the photo above at Kew Gardens, outside London, but there are gardens gracing  many cities across the UK, large and small. Parks and gardens are loved and people flock to them. I wish we could see more parks instead of shopping centers that end up vacant.

Food Standards

 

Sainsbury's Fresh Bread

 

Let’s just say the UK has certain standards the US seems to neglect or simply not care about when it comes to the food it sells its citizens. Many of the additives you hear about in the news here are banned from UK foods. Banned.

Education

Avonmore Primary School - © Copyright Phillip

The school above may not look like much, but it has an excellent record. This is the school my daughter attended in London. When she arrived she was far behind other students her age. In the US she would have been starting the First Grade, but in the UK it was Year 2. That’s right. Their equivalent of Kindergarten is called Reception and it begins at the age of 4 years, their Year 1 (at age 5) is a far more advanced than our Kindergarten. But the amazing teachers and staff at Avonmore Primary had her caught up in no time. They taught my daughter to read and there was no stopping her after that.

Top 10 challenges of being an only child

I can’t recall the last time I answered to anyone.

I’m spoiled rotten in a sense, having obligations that are entirely under my control.

No sibling rivalry, no gift-giving nightmares, no Thanksgiving dinners. No blow-up family fights, no jealousy, no summers stocked with weddings and in-laws.

But long stretches of silence, sometimes deep and dark.

It’s true. All of it. Despite having four half-brothers and sisters, I’m essentially an only child. Strange, I know. I was raised completely separate from the rest of the crew, and thus enjoyed (and suffered) all the peculiarities of being number one all the time. My son is likely destined for the same fate, with all the good and the bad that being an only kid entails. It’s with this in mind I’ve decided to list the Top Ten Good and Bad Things about being numero uno.

And here we go…

1. Fewer people in your life –  I’ve heard friends talk about how they ‘couldn’t imagine life without my siblings,’ and yet I’ve eavesdropped as those same friends carved their brothers and sisters’ behavior to tatters. For my son, I wish he had a friend and confidant other than me and his cadre of Lego Stormtroopers, but I also love that he lives in relative peace, not having to endure the constant tug and pull of a little brother or sister. For me as an adult (sort of) it’s like being on an island. The beach, trees, and water are all mine, but no one else is here. I happen to love it, but perhaps that’s because I’ve never known any better.

2. Large amounts of time to contemplate – My favorite part about being an only is having the luxury of max me-time. Non-only friends have told me the exact opposite (that their favorite part is always having someone to talk to). Both arguments have merit. However, I tend to believe it’s easier to develop a creative passion when alone. An only has no choice in the matter. If he wants to play Hungry Hungry Hippos, he’d better invent his own competition. That’s all I’m sayin’.

3. Selfishness – See also narcissism. Booting one’s self from the center of the universe is no easy task. Learning humility and patience are challenges easier faced with siblings on hand. Need I say more?

4. Maximum one-on-one time with mom and dad – For the little ones, this a good thing. It’s a true luxury to be able to approach mom or dad for whatever you need, whenever you need it. Also, bonding opportunities (at a premium in households overrun with children) come hourly. It’s true that as an adult, I worry about all-my-eggs-in-one-basket syndrome, and if-he-turns-out-to-be-a-serial-killer-I-don’t-really-have-a-plan-B, but I wouldn’t trade my uninterrupted, five-hour long conversations with the G Man for the world.

 

Turkeys

Who’s really the kid here? Him? Me? Hell if I know…

 5. Holidays – While it’s true that I and some of my only-child friends share a snicker every time we hear about family gatherings gone awry, that’s hardly the whole story. In secret, while other huge families full of brothers, sisters, in-laws, and hordes of children are gathering for backyard-shaking parties, I’ll admit to sitting on the sidelines and being green with envy. ‘Looks pretty fun,’ I’ll tell myself. ‘Maybe I’ll sneak in and pretend to be someone’s cousin.

6. Empathy – From personal experience, this one is tough. Being an only child can boost creativity through the ceiling, but it can also result in ruthlessness. Growing up in a quiet household without any sense of other people’s feelings tends to leave one a little behind in the race. Kudos to you only-children who’ve managed to catch up. If you’ve got any pointers, I’m listening.

7. Sportsmanship – Until I developed a circle of friends in my teens, I had none of this. If I didn’t destroy my competition in every way possible, I went home hating the world. I see evidence of crappy sportsmanship in other only-children. I have to believe it’s due to never getting our asses kicked enough by older brothers or being humbled by having to play fair with younger sisters. Parents of only-children, beware. Teach them how to lose. It’s a key life skill.

Punchout

Your lunch money, or else!

8. A Shoulder to Cry on – Everyone needs this at some point in their lives. And if that person has a parent or spouse with whom to share sorrows, that’s great. But there’s nothing like a sibling (or so I’m told) for leaning on during tough times. They were there with you. They know what it was like.  Common experiences create common ground. My advice to other only’s; marry into a big family and be cool to your in-laws.

9. Vacations – Which is better: Riding alone with mom and dad or riding with someone to torment on the way to the beach? I don’t have the answer. I’m asking you. If anyone wants to experiment by riding with me in the backseat while Clearwater-bound, let’s do this.

10. All the Things I Haven’t Thought of – Here’s the thing; since I’ve never fought on a battlefield stuffed with siblings, sometimes I feel like there’s an entire world of experiences I’ve missed. Don’t get me wrong. I’d never trade being an only. It’s awesome. It’s epic. It’s do-whatever-I-feel-like-tastic. But still…I can’t help but be curious. As a side-note, and something I never noticed before today, every book and story I’ve written is populated almost exclusively with only’s. The heroes, the villains, the characters in the backdrop. Only’s, all of them save two. I guess that means I’m biased, eh? Maybe it’s time to step outside my comfort zone…

 

Love,

J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead dark fantasy trilogy

Author of The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera

Down the Dark Path

Put Me In Coach, I’m Ready to Play

The following is about baseball and me betraying my math inclined side of my brain.

But mostly it is about baseball.

Of all the sports, I believe that Baseball is the one most steeped in mysticism. There is a magic about it, sure, but more than that, I think there is something to all the superstitions and whatnot. More than any other sport, it is the one that focuses so much on numbers. As science has gotten better and better, they have managed to distill the game into an algorithm. And the math side of my brain loves this idea – solving baseball.

We have movies celebrating this idea.

field-of-dreams

But the other half of my brain wonders about sucking out the mystery of the game. Where a nobody can turn into a somebody, if only for one at bat. Where we value a player because he only fails 70% of the time. Where a pitcher can attempt to do something that only 23 other players have ever done: pitch a perfect game. Think about that. In over 100 years only 23 people have played the game perfectly. I look at the list and see names that are steeped in lore, but there are other names on there who I don’t immediately recognize.

How do you solve for that?

At some point tomorrow night (I’m writing this sometime on Monday) I’ll be settling in to watch the Baseball All-Star Game. I don’t always watch the All-Star game. As much as I love baseball, the game doesn’t mean the same to me it did years ago…

Wait – this isn’t one of those things where I say such and such was better back in the day. It wasn’t better. In fact, it was pretty much the same. The difference is that I’m not 10 anymore. The thrill of seeing an Atlanta Brave in the game is still cool, but there was something more to it when I was younger. The one thing I seemed to be able to count on was Dale Murphy being on the tv at some point during the All Star Game. As bad as the Braves were (and boy were they awful), I knew one of our team would be out there.

1986DaleMurphyDonrussCard1

I have this card upstairs.

Which is why I’m always amazed when I hear the sports talk machine complaining (bitching) about the fact that each team has to be represented. So that means 15 of your spots are automatically taken. They say that someone is going to be left off the team that deserves to be there… and maybe they are right. But considering the sheer amount of injuries that happen to players, it is not that uncommon for 3rd, 4th, or 5th alternates to get invited to play as well.

So that “loser” from the “loser” team, did they really take someone’s place? Not really.

Just like when the NCAA Basketball tournament has to decide on cutting the 67, 68, & 69th teams, there is always going to be someone annoyed at a choice.

Here’s my counter argument that throws stats and logic out the window. An argument that tries to look at the purpose of this mid-summer classic.

And no, it is not because “this time it counts”. That is the dumbest thing about the All-Star Game. Home field given to the league who wins… ugh.

I think back to a time when I was happy to see that at least Dale Murphy was going to be on the All Star team. There would be one player from MY TEAM who would make it worth while to watch.

In a time when baseball’s ratings get trounced by the new American pastime (football), why would you want to exclude ANY fan base from watching the game? It wouldn’t make any sense.

More than that, who is to say that the “loser”, that one guy who was the last one to make the team… what if it just happens to be a magical night for him? Don’t you think there will be some 10-year-old out there who sees that and forever falls in love with this silly game of hitting a ball with a stick?

left-brain-right-brain

Logic and stats and numbers be damned when it comes to baseball. Something else moves the ball through the grass. Some bit of wind carries a fly ball higher and farther than it was supposed to go. And the guy who wasn’t supposed to be there… well, maybe tonight is his night.

We shall see.

 

***

John McGuire

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

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

Half Way There

At the beginning of the year I wrote a blog post talking about my goals for the year. We’re just over half way through 2014, so I thought it would be a good time to check in on this year’s goals and note any other happy writing things.

To-Do-List_604

Comics – This was a big section of the blog mentioning future issues of Gilded Age, Tiger Style, and Entropy. Sadly there has been little to no movement on these (not my fault, I promise!). Some of it has to do with funding, some to artist timing, and others to the grand thing that is life. I still have some hopes to see a Gilded Age #2 at some point in the Fall, and that Entropy #1 could get underway as well.

This is going to have to fall under the old “fingers crossed” bit.

NovelsThe White Effect – It is my goal to have this book out this year. I believe that will still happen, though again, the year is speeding by. As soon as I finish my current project, this will become my all-consuming focus. I’ve been looking for editors for this tale, so I should have one lined up by the time I’m done with the 3rd draft.

Hollow Empire – Life has intruded on this one more than anything else on this list. I still need a last editor eye on my portion of it, but that had to be delayed while I was out of work (not expecting that one – hard to pay for editing when you have no job). Now that I am returned to the path of the employed, this is getting done and soon.

SONY DSC

That’s a whole lot of incomplete. So what things have I been doing, if not the above?

Edge of the World – The current Work In Progress. This is what I’m happiest about. I just passed the 1/2 point in the novel and I’m very much digging the story. I’m liking it so much that I keep finding new things and avenues to explore within the world. New characters have made themselves known and demand to have some page time. And I’ve experienced that magic moment when you write something and then have it tie into something else you weren’t entirely expecting… like magic.

Blogging – Still haven’t missed a week. This is on track for 27  weeks (now 28).

Website -I have a website now. And while I didn’t do the heavy lifting (a heap of thanks to Tanya Woods for that), I have been trying to keep it updated. This should have been on the list, but wasn’t, but I’ll count it as a win.

4 Shorts to online magazines – I haven’t submitted anything, but I did complete a short story (Piece by Piece) and posted it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords (and at the latter 2 it is completely free – and you can also find it here and here for download). So another positive step forward.

Kindle Worlds Novella – When I capped off the Jan 1 blog, I said there probably will be something that pops up that wasn’t even on my radar back in January. This Veronica Mars novella was definitely one of those. With my lovely wife as co-writer, we got this out there at the end of April. So that was another one in the win column.

The Dark That Follows – Lastly, my debut novel finally exists in PRINT (here)! Another one that should have been on the list. Regardless, this was a cool day.

2010-Biodiversity_countdown (1)

So that’s it, as far as I can tell. 6 months in and the one thing I’ve really learned is that I need to get my butt in gear. There’s plenty of time left to do what I set out to do, but that time is going to speed by if I’m not careful.

 

***

John McGuire

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

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

 

Lemonade on the porch

Lemonade on the porch

Noun

1. A state of contentment.

2. A time in one’s life during which a person reflects upon all they done in life and finds satisfaction.

3. The whole point of it all.

LemonadeOnThePorch

This guy has the right idea. I’ll see ya in a few years, buddy.

 

Used to be, I thought happiness meant something entirely different. Perhaps I was entranced with the American ideals: money, a big house, a beautiful wife, long vacations on the beach, etc. I wouldn’t say I was obsessed with materialism, but certainly I was clueless about the truth of what happiness really is. Lemonade on the porch isn’t a thing, a place, or a person. It isn’t something you hope for, dream of, or want for tomorrow.  It’s something you have to make for yourself. It’s something you have to try to earn today, because tomorrow will be different. Or it might never come at all.

And so, once again, I’ll turn to books. Books will be my lemonade, and the porch my castle in the sky. Hell, I don’t even own a porch right now, but no matter. I’ll pretend I do. I’ll sit somewhere and pretend the stars are wheeling over my head. I’ll wander vagabond-like to every park bench and gazebo in Georgia. I’ll invade your porch when you’re not looking. Because, you know, there’s something special about the written word. A good book can provide instant serenity, while two hours spent writing can satisfy the mind in rare fashion. When life gives you lemons, grab a book and find a porch. You’re welcome.

Here’s the part where I’d normally get all long-winded about life, death, love, and darkness. Nah. I’m done. Instead I think I’ll jot down the top ten books I want to sit and read in a comfy chair with an icy beverage at my side. Think of it as a bucket list, but for books. Because no matter what horrors real life might bring, one can always escape. Simply crack a cover, wet your thumb, (or turn on your Kindle) and start reading. Peace will find you.

Book Bucket List:

Sideways – Rex Pickett – Because it’s about two dudes looking for lemonade on the porch. I mean…c’mon. And because it’s sitting on my bookshelf…on its side.

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte – The Tom Hardy movie turned me on to this one. Enough tragedy to make anyone feel better about their life.

The Chronicles of Narnia series – C.S. Lewis – I read these as a kid. Time for a re-read. Odds are an adult read will make them feel completely different.

Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger – I can’t believe I haven’t done this one yet. Time to see what all the fuss is about.

The Hunger Games trilogy – Suzanne Collins – I’ll pass on Twilight, Harry Potter, and Divergent, but something tells me I’ll find value here. And yes, I know. I’m sorry.

War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy – I fancy myself an epic novel writer, but I’ve got nothing on Leo.

Les Miserables – Victor Hugo – Another one the movie sold me on. If the book is even half as good…

Dracula – Bram Stoker – If only because everyone tells me it’s about as grim a novel as is possible to write.

Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand – I know the premise. I know the controversy. I’ll consume this for the same reason I read the Bible.

The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien – Already read it several times. Doesn’t matter. Gonna do it again.

So anyway, what’s on your bucket list? Wanna make a million dollars? Climb a mountain? Live to be a thousand? I recommend none of these. Go for lemonade on the porch, whatever it means to you. And go for it today.

Next week, the What if? series returns.  I’ll adapt the original animated Sleeping Beauty and Angelina Jolie’s recent Maleficent into a dark fantasy novel. It’ll be fun. I promise.

 J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead dark fantasy trilogy

Author of The Sleepers and Old Man of Tessera

Down the Dark Path

 

Summer sucks for writing

SkullMelt

North Georgia. Circa the dead of summer 2014.

It’s hot out there. It’s sunny, muggy, steamy. The 4th of July is right around the corner. My skull is melting…

I’m more or less taking a vacation from writing this weekend, but before I dump ice over my head, shut my laptop down, and take my long-awaited rum runner/margarita bath, I have a few things I’d like to say:

Summer is terrible for writing. Especially writing horror and dark fantasy. Especially for me.

During early spring, late autumn, and winter’s dregs, it’s easy. I look out my window and see clouds. I open my door and feel the wind and rain wash over me. I hear the leaves crunching beneath my boots, the sound so very like bones breaking. It’s easy for me to get in a writing mood. The night comes sooner. My phone is quieter. My kid, bless his wee fiery heart, can walk outside and play without turning into hot, crispy bacon. Mmmm…bacon.

But in summer, it’s pure chaos. Everyone wants to party. There’s always a pool needing invading, a cool drink requiring sipping, and a friend whose barbeque needs to find its way into my belly. Summer is a big, loud, hot, sweaty mess. I love everything about it, except that it makes sitting in the dark, alone with my imagination, a little trickier. I could probably wage war against all the distractions and max out on my silent time, but…nah. I’ll just play both sides. I’ll bake all day and write all night. Instead of a haunting Hans Zimmer soundtrack, I’ll crank up Danzig’s Dirty Black Summer. Instead of candles, I’ll open the windows at midnight and let the white hot starlight in. I’ll party and I’ll write. Sleep is for dead men.

Mmmm…bacon.

Since I’m shorting Tessera several hundred words this week, I’ll make it up to you with a few links. These are my favorite Tessera Guild articles of all time. Some are mine; some belong to my guildmates. We’ve been around long enough now that even if you’ve already read these, you might enjoy a recap. I know I did:

Top Ten Villains of All Time

John R McGuire’s Grab Bag

Amanda Makepeace’s Zen Time

Longing For Rain

Chad J Shonk’s Summer is Coming. Baseball is Here.

Now I just need to find a way to get back to the beach, if only for a day or two.

See you on the flip side,

J Edward Neill

 

 

 

New Studio Assistant

 

These week I hired a new studio assistant. She knows nothing about brushes, paints or Photoshop but I’m sure she’ll be a quick study. Drusilla is eager and full of creative drive. I met her at the dog groomers over the weekend and I knew then she’d make a perfect edition to the creative family. She’s already begun learning about colored pencils and of course, brushes. I’m going to have to watch her with those–she keeps trying to munch on them.

Drusilla MakepeaceDid I fool you?! Probably not. If you follow me on the web anywhere I’ve been posting photos of this little angel almost non-stop. She’s just too precious!

And, she looks just like Shadow. It was a little surreal when I walked into the dog groomers Saturday morning and saw her sitting near the door. My heart clenched and I tried not to look at her. It must have been fate. She’d been found inside a car engine and she has the scars on her nose to prove it. The small, very friendly kitten, was also severely underweight. I brought her home and within days she was gaining weight and running around the studio.

Up until yesterday, we were not positive on whether she was actually a she and that was partly due to her weight and overall scruffiness. The Veterinarian confirmed yesterday we indeed have a little girl and except for some tummy bugs, she was in good health.

I can’t take credit for the name, but I also didn’t need any convincing. Drusilla was my mother’s suggestions. And yes, she is named after that Drusilla. 😀

Drusilla is already taking after Shadow. She likes to sleep right up near my face and she lunged and hissed at the dog yesterday. She’s a fighter and a survivor, but also incredibly loving. I still miss Shadow terribly but this little look-a-like warms my heart. Before long she’ll be sitting in my lap, snoozing as I paint.

Drusilla

For fellow Buffy the Vampire Slayer Fans, you may be interested in my videos from Dragon*Con 2012. I have two videos from a panel with actors Juliet Landau (Drusilla) and Spike (James Marsters). Here’s Part 1, check my profile for Part 2.

Time to Put the Brush Down

Follow the smell of oil paints, the trail of art frames and pencil shavings–that’s where you’ll find me. It’s non-stop right now. I’ve been busy embellishing prints for Dragon*Con, working on a oil painting (what was I thinking??), and amassing a collection of frames for the art show. I love it! But every artist must venture forth from the studio to the real world. What keeps me sane amidst the rush of creativity?

1. Walking – I started a new routine of walking the circle of our neighborhood. It’s just shy of 2 miles. Unfortunately, I had to put that on hold when I took a small tumble down our stairs. No broken bones, but I do have a bruised tailbone that is still causing me pain two weeks later. I’m hoping to get back to my walking routine next week.

2. Longmire is back. – Wait. Did you think I only watched Science Fiction/Fantasy type shows? I do have other loves and this is one of them. You can’t go wrong with me if you put together a crime show, set in the west, with a strong Native American cast (not that you can tell from the photo below). Katee Sackhoff is in the show too. She’s been a favorite since BSG. The big guy there, who plays Walt Longmire, he was an agent in the first Matrix film. Seriously! And of course there’s Lou Diamond Philips. When Longmire isn’t on I’ve been re-watching Fringe from the beginning. How I miss that show!

Longmire Cast

3. Comics – I’ve been devouring them lately. It’s what I find most relaxing before I shut my eyes at night. Here’s a peek at what I’ve read and what I’m still reading. I’ve read so much lately that I couldn’t easily post them all.

Digital:

The Gilded Age by John McGuire  Saga Vol 1  Latverian Prometheus

Paper:

 

 

Journey into Mystery: The Complete Collection Vol 1  Loki: Agent of Asgard  Trees  The Wicked + The Divine

 

Walking, a little TV, reading comics and of course studio time–that’s my life right now. 🙂

A New Chapter (sticks and bones)

Realms_Art_Pile_of_Human_Bones_Vue_25_0_imgM

 

 

 

I’ve missed ye, old bones.

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

Never again. I promise.

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

Check that. Life is completely not normal at all.

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

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

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

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

Ur Shadow Black and White

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

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

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

Love,

J Edward Neill

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

Taking the Next Step

“Seize The Moment because you never know if that moment will ever come your way again. I know that when I look back at my life, I will see the memories of all the little adventures that I didn’t let pass me by.” – Cody Atencio

Sometimes, even when we don’t think we’re ready, we have to take the next step. That was me four months ago when I finally decided to take the plunge and apply to the Dragon*Con Art Show. The idea, the seed, was planted when I met artist Charles Urbach during the last year’s convention. I’ve talked about our conversation and the encouragement he offered at length, but I was still on the fence as to whether I should apply or not. I decided to take a leap and wouldn’t you know it, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Dragon*Con is a Juried Art Show. It’s not an Artists Alley you see at some typical Fantasy/SciFi conventions. This year’s jurors were Michael C. HayesPatrick J. Jones and Thomas Kuebler. Wow. Wow. Wow. That made me even more nervous but I’d already decided to ‘seize the moment.’ After an excruciating month of waiting, where I’d told only a handful of people what I’d done, I received notification that I’d passed the jury selection. I was in shock. I think a part of me is still in shock. I celebrated with my family two weeks later when I received notice again that I was to be placed on the Art Show Floor.

To think. . . I almost didn’t even apply.

Let’s be honest now. As much as my friends and family lather me with compliments, I know I’m in the infancy of my digital painting skills. Some things I have a strong grasp of and others I’m not quite there yet.

One painting from February 2013 and one from November of the same year.

But I’m learning and I like to think I’m improving, but the message here is stop waiting for your dreams to come true. If you want something, ‘seize the moment,’ go after it with a passion. When I stopped by Charles’ table last year he took a look at a few of my paintings, and asked me, ‘Why aren’t you here?” (Or something close to that.) I’m sure at the time I looked like a deer in headlights. He said, even if you don’t make the cut the experience is valuable. It’s a process all artists have to go through as they are trying to make their way in the world. I know this but I was stuck in thinking I needed to hone my skills more–I was convinced I wasn’t ready. I kept telling myself I needed another year. I was wrong. Even if I had not passed the jury, the experience has helped me grow. The juror comments have helped me grow.

Comment #1:  Nice work! Keep working on your anatomy and you will go far.

Comment #2:  Human facial anatomy needs work. More expression. Even if the subject is in repose more facial definition and distinction would be helpful.

Her Domain by Amanda Makepeace

Her Domain, 2013

So what is the next step?

I’ve made the cut. I’m in the Dragon*Con 2014 Art Show and now that I am, I am pre-approved for future Art Shows. Next year I’m going to have a bazaar table in the Art Show room. That’s my goal. From now until then I’m going to ‘seize the moment’ again and work to improve my human anatomy. I’m going to do whatever it takes, legally, to keep growing.

As for this year’s Art Show. . . I will be attending Dragon*Con all four days. I will be lurking around the show and I will be available to talk art, illustration, Fantasy, etc. To keep up with where I’ll be and when I suggest following me on Twitter. I’m not always super active there but I will be during the convention.

Don’t Fall for the Trap

Charles de Lint quoteIt’s easy to lose sight of our path. It’s easy to paint what everyone else is painting. It’s easy to think I’ll never be as good as “them.” It’s easy to fall into the trap.

If you aren’t painting for you, you’re stifling your own creative voice. This makes you unique, what sets you apart from other artists. There are dozens of artist/illustrators I admire, and there is a small part of me that hopes and wishes I might be as great as them one day. But focusing on that won’t get me anywhere. As much as I admire Todd Lockwood, Cynthia Sheppard, Dan Dos Santos, and Cory Godbey (to name only a few), trying to be them is a trap. Read more

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Does Whatever A Spider Can

With the release of the Amazing Spider-man 2 I feel like there is something I should say. I have a confession to make. Well, maybe not a confession, but more like a moment of truth. Spider-Man is my favorite comic book character.

That’s not the confession.

This revelation does not make me unique or anything. Plenty of people love Spider-Man (as evidenced by the sheer amount of money the movies alone have made). The fact that any kid might have something Spider-Man themed in his closet. Or that dozens of figures of the guy are released every year.

No, the confession is that I have not read a Spider-Man comic in quite some time (5+ years).

Now if Spider-Man is my favorite character why would I forsake him in the very media that I profess to love beyond probably even my wife’s understanding?

One name: Mary Jane Watson Parker.

Many of you will know the name Mary Jane Watson from the Sam Rami movies of the 00s as she was played by Kirsten Dunst. As you can tell from the movies, she is an important cog in Peter Parker’s life.

I personally think she’s the true love of his life, not Gwen Stacy, but that’s mostly because I don’t know Gwen. She had been dead for a decade before I picked up my first issue of Amazing Spider-Man. I only have the occasional flashback to let me know who she was.

Though, one of my favorite stories came from a “Gwen” moment. Spider-Man Blue by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale tell a story where on Valentine’s Day Peter is feeling reflective about how much he misses Gwen, and proceeds to talk into a tape recorder about the two of them falling in love. He talks to her about how her death messed him up for a long time, but through Mary Jane he learned to love again. And then this happens…

Spidey Blue 1

 

Spidey Blue 2

 

And if you were to pick up a Spider-Man comic from around 1987/1988 until about 2008 you would have probably seen Mrs. Parker in the comics. As Peter’s wife she’s been with him through think and thin.

However, if you picked up a Spider-Man comic today you might notice that Peter is no longer married.

More on that in a second…

Spider-Man appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962. By the time I started reading the comic was approximately 25 years old. During that entire time Spider-Man was a single guy. Yeah, there were girlfriends: Betty Brant, Felicia Hardy, Gwen Stacy, and Mary Jane, but he was a single guy. For 25 years those writers got to weave stories featuring a single Spidey. But that changed in 1987 (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21) when the two of them tied the knot.

the-amazing-spider-man-the-wedding-issue

I was 11 at the time this happened. I think I had read about 6 issues of Spider-Man before he got married. Spider-Man getting married did not change how I saw the character. It did not make him my “Dad” all of a sudden. It didn’t make him the “winner” of life because he married this gorgeous model (these were some of the reasons for getting rid of the marriage, but more on that later).

Growing up I never saw myself as a good-looking kid. I was taller than all the other kids, maybe a little clumsy, and shy around girls. There were plenty of times I would think about the fact that I would never find a girlfriend.

Comics are a great escape from life. When you get down on yourself, get depressed about something that’s happened to you, they are there waiting for you, month in and month out. Ready to take on the worst of the worst bad guys.

So how did it make me feel when Spidey got married?

It actually made me feel like, maybe, just maybe, there was a girl out there for me. That even if I felt awkward and ugly that it wouldn’t matter. I’d find that person who I was meant to be with. Maybe that girl next door might take a shine to me.

It’s probably silly to think that way. These weren’t real people. And yet… because Mary Jane and Peter weren’t just two people who started dating and decided to get married. These were two friends from way back. They’d suffered through tragedy on both sides. And where he had never confided in Gwen about his alter-ego, Mary Jane knew (she figured it out – girl is smart). Because she was his best friend. Moreso than Harry Osborn (when he wasn’t the Green Goblin) or Flash Thompson (in the later years), MJ was the one that he could always turn to.

So, no, it wasn’t a bad thing that this happened. Not for me at least.

And so it went that from 1987 to early in 2008 Spider-man was a married character.

But apparently this was a problem for the people in charge. Apparently having Spider-Man married meant that they couldn’t have Peter date the Black Cat or whomever they wanted him to. Apparently being married… wait for it…

Made Spider-Man OLD.

They felt like the truest form of the character was that of a single guy. That him finding love with his best friend meant he’d won and was no longer the loveable loser everyone thought he was.

They (the writers) felt like they were hamstrung on stories because he was married.

Counselor, I present Matt Fraction’s take:

fraction annual

 

During J. Michael Straczynski’s run on the book I told my wife that I could have read 22 pages of just the two of them talking. But more than that, I think JMS understood how to approach the relationship. Mary Jane being married to Spidey is the life many women (and some men) live when their spouse is a police officer (or firefighter or in the military). There is always that chance that they may not come home that night. I don’t think that means they love them less, though. I think that means they try to fight for every moment they get.

But the powers that be didn’t like the marriage. And I’d heard the same argument about Superman and Lois Lane. And I think it is complete crap. It’s lazy writing to say you can’t come up with a story for the character because his connection to another person is marriage. Because, let’s face it, Peter Parker, single, was not going to be running around banging every chick that he meets. He’s not that character and never will be. So if he had a girlfriend he’s not going to cheat. So what the heck is the real difference there?

There isn’t one.

One other point about this that I’m not sure people really thought about. 25 years as a bachelor and 21 years married. That’s effectively the same amount of time, and one could argue that there were far more actual comics with him married than single (more titles in the 90s, etc.). But it wasn’t like this marriage had been around for only a couple of years. For all intents and purposes Spidey was a married man (or at least a committed man).

But the decision had been made. They came up with a story line that had Aunt May on the brink of death (yes, that old chestnut of a story – never used that one before!), and the only way to save her was to make a DEAL WITH THE DEVIL.

And the Devil wanted their (Peter and Mark Jane’s love).

Wait, that’s not right. He wanted their marriage.

Let’s toss aside the fact that Spidey lives in a Universe where superheroes come back to life on an almost daily basis. Let’s ignore the fact that there are mutants who have the ability to HEAL other people, and even if he doesn’t specifically know those people, he knows people who know those people (confused yet?). And let’s even forget about the fact that Aunt May is OLD and has lived the good life, and would NEVER want her nephew to make a DEAL WITH THE DEVIL.

The fundamental problem with this is that Peter and Mary Jane would never make such a deal. They just wouldn’t. Peter would find another way. He’d triumph through some angle we hadn’t thought of.

But no, he made the deal and the marriage was undone.

Amazing_Spider-Man_545

The last issue of Amazing Spider-Man I own.

And I haven’t picked up an issue of Spider-Man since.

The place I now get to read about my favorite character is in the pages of the Avengers when he happens to be on the team, or when he makes a guest appearance in a comic I read.

Now we’re 6 years into my “strike” on reading the character. They just finished a 30+ issue story where Doc Ock swapped bodies with Peter and then tried to use the powers for good. There’s a new story (that could have been told with him being married I’m sure), and one I would like to read.

But I can’t. Stupid principles.

So now I have to be content with watching Amazing Spider-Man 2 this weekend to get my fix. Fingers crossed its a good one.

 

***

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.

 

Why Digital?

There are quite a few misconceptions about digital art. I honestly don’t hold that against anyone. It can be confusing. Digital Art is a broad term to describe anything created via a computer. Just as with Traditional Art, you can then break that down into subcategories: Photomanipulation, Digital Painting, Vector Art, Pixel Art, Fractal Generation, 3D Art and more. Digital Painting is what I do. Illustrator Kelley McMorris has a comic to help explain it a little better:

How Digital Painting Works by Kelley McMorris

 

This is incredibly accurate, even the second half. Over the holidays I was showing some family members my digital paintings, specifically my Jackalope. One person asked me, “So the computer does this for you?” I was polite. I tried to explain in simple terms, that no, a digital painting is not that different than a traditional painting.

If a computer were able to spit this out:

Gatsoh Elder by Amanda Makepeace

Or this:

Stone of Knowing by Amanda Makepeace

Then I’d have far more paintings in my portfolio already. Paintings, whether they are digital or traditional, take time and planning. With that said, there are a myriad of shortcuts to the process when you are painting in Photoshop. Custom brushes that look like leaves or trees is one example. Not everyone utilizes these shortcuts. I have on occasion, but more often than not, I paint everything in my paintings by hand. There are no shortcuts. See the little tablet in the comic above? I have one of those too:

Wacom Intuos 4

It’s called a Wacom Intuos 4 (Medium). When I use the stylus to draw on the tablet, it translates that into Photoshop–precisely and accurately. No, it doesn’t feel the same as drawing on paper or painting on canvas, but it basically does the same thing. The outcome is the same. Anything I can draw on paper, I can draw the same in Photoshop via my tablet. It’s  not magic. I use all the same skills I’ve learned with traditional art.

There’s one of those misconceptions. Many people think that using the tablet is somehow like cheating or it will make it easier to draw and paint. Sorry, but, no. I’m not saying it’s impossible, because I always believe in exceptions, but if you struggle with traditional drawing you will have an even harder time trying to use a Wacom Intuos. It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone. Many artists find it cumbersome to draw with the tablet. So they draw on paper first and then scan it into the computer. There’s nothing wrong with that. It took several months of retraining my brain before it became second nature.

Still, your asking, how is it the same as a traditional painting? Let’s look at the definition of the word.

Cambridge Dictionary:

the skill or activity of making a picture

Dictionary.com:

the act, artor work of a person who paints

Merriam Webster:

a product of painting; especially :  a work produced through the art of painting

A painting is a painting, whether it’s painted with oils or computer brush strokes. The outcome is the same. When I paint in Photoshop, I use a digital brush to apply paint to a digital canvas. Here’s a look at the brushstrokes from a few of my favorite brushes.

My basic brushes

These brushes can be large for painting washes or very small for painting details. Sound familiar?

There will probably always be individuals who refuse to see digital painting as Art. I will probably continue to be asked, “Are you going paint any originals soon?” Which, kinda feels like they are actually asking, “Are you going to create any real art?” I’ll admit, it stings a bit, but only for about a minute. Then I get back to creating. Creating is what it’s all about. That’s why, to answer the title of this blog post. To create. I’ve not been the luckiest person as far as my health goes. I’m not going to go into all the details. Those of you that know me well, know I’m lucky to be alive.

In 2011/12 I began developing another “issue” but this time it was with my hands. It was becoming increasingly difficult to paint and draw without putting myself through a lot of pain. I deal with pain on a daily basis. Most of the time you’d never know it. I’m a fighter. I keep going. But this was proving to be a challenge. My time in the studio slowed to a crawl. I was depressed. All I wanted to do was create.

Artist Amanda MakepeaceThen I bought a Wacom Intuos 4 Small and my world changed. Painting and drawing with the tablet is far less strenuous on my hand. But what I never expected was the effect it would have on my creativity and imagination. It was as if the flood gates had opened. I’m not painting anything now that I couldn’t also paint in oils or watercolors, but something broke free when I changed mediums–something I’d always kept under lock and key. If they found a cure for all my disorders tomorrow, I wouldn’t stop painting digitally. I’m a happier person and a more content artist, for letting go of my insecurities and letting my passion be set free.

Limited Edition Prints can be purchased from my shop:

http://amandamakepeace.com/shop/

Little Things Mean A Lot, Don’t They?

A strange thing happened to me on the way to work this morning. Normally along my route I pass any number of police cars. I’m not sure whether this is due as much to the recent (months ago) change in speed or if it is just good “hunting ground” for all manner of traffic violators. Regardless, I passed one of the 2 today (it is 11 miles to work and I have passed as many as 5 in my trips to and from work so I know better than to speed) and suddenly found myself being pulled over.

cop_car_crop380w

And for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what it could have been for. When he actually got behind me I was at a dead stop… in my old car I’d been pulled over for a faulty taillight, so maybe…

Expired tags. That’s why he pulled me over.

Except, had I the money, I would have bet him tons of money that my tags were not expired (my birthday is in January, so this would be 2 1/2 months overdue). I could see, in my mind’s eye, me placing the new decal onto my plate. No doubt in my mind.

Of course, I might have been in a different kind of trouble had I broached that aspect with him. Still he double checked, and as the ticket in my hand states: Expired Tag.

How in the world did this happen? My wife and I are pretty good about dealing with the various bills that come with the not-so-fun aspects of being an adult. And in this case it’ll cost me probably a couple of hundred dollars to “learn this lesson”.

Not the best way to start your day.

The thing is, there are so many distractions in my (everyone’s lives) that something as “small” as making sure I have the right decal on my car slipped through the cracks. We got so caught up in LIFE that we allowed this mistake to happen.

***

When I’m reading books or comics or watching movies the big bold moments are the things that we all remember and all come back to, but sometimes it is the smaller things, the subtle things that make the bigger difference in a scene.

One of my favorite moments in all of the Christopher Reeve’s Superman movies is a moment where he has made up his mind to tell Lois that he’s Superman (of course, in this second, I can’t recall if it is Superman 1 or 2, but that doesn’t matter as much). She has her back turned to him and he takes off his glasses, stands up straighter, and that awkward Clark Kent is suddenly gone and in his place is Kal-El. But it is only for a couple of beats before he chickens out, puts the glasses back on and BAM, there’s Clark again.

Christopher-Reeve-Superman-1

It’s probably the only moment in the Superman mythos where I bought into the idea that Superman could hide in plain sight right beside Lois and her not realize Clark and Kal were the same being.

And it was one small moment.

***

What if I had gone to work thirty minutes earlier? Would the cop still have been there? Would he have noticed my tag from his position on the side of the road or would it have been blocked by another car? Could I have gone a whole year without paying, maybe not realizing it until it was time to deal with taxes next year (or possibly when I got my 2016 Decal and saw that I only had a 2014 one on my car)?

CHAOS_THEORY_wallpaper_style1_1152x864

Not trying to over analyze via the Butterfly Effect or anything. Really this is going to make this month tighter on the wallet than the wife and I would have liked, but in the grand scheme of things my life isn’t going to be fundamentally changed by this thing.

***

I’m a little scattered today/tonight, dealing with the aftermath of my little moment. Hence this blog feels a little scattered, and yet there is a connection in there somewhere. At least I think there is.

And I know that tomorrow is going to have some other little moment that I may not even notice, but it’ll be there. But what does it take? When do the little things become the big things? How can you tell?

I’m not even sure what answer I’m looking for. Maybe I’m not writing the right question?

We shall see…

***

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.

Three Badass TV Shows (From a guy who never watches TV)

CroMagSkull

 

 

 I’ve been slacking. No skulls for several weeks now. I must be losing my touch.

This week’s skull is symbolic. He’s a Cro-Magnon, this guy, and damn handsome if you ask me. He lived tens of thousands of years ago, and in a way I identify with him. Like me, he didn’t catch much TV. He didn’t have cable. He never got to watch his favorite shows. Such was life in the Ice Age. He probably had a wicked DVD collection, but also like me, couldn’t watch it because his Xbox had long since died. Must’ve sucked some days being a prehistoric guy.

Before we get too deep, I’ve a disclaimer: I strongly dislike TV. I haven’t watched a show regularly in decades. I don’t know who’s hot, what’s funny, what awesome new song came out, or who in the business got caught banging who. When my friends talk to me about Breaking Bad or Timothy Olyphant or Doctor Who or Desperate Housewives of Tijuana, I lose all sense of the conversation. I’m Cro-Magnon in my ignorance. I’m an imposter nerd, so desperately out of touch with all things hip culture.  I’m a wolf in sheep’s clothing, wandering in circles infinitely more TV-savvy than I’ll ever be. Thank goodness for that.

That said

 It so happens that even without a clue, I stumble onto the ocassional show. Whether by accident, being at a house party with a tv on in the background, or by virtue of no football, baseball, MMA, or halfway-decent porn occupying the ole’ boob-tube, I’ve chanced onto a few programs. Most lists on the internet are five, ten, or a hundred long, but not this one. Three is all you’re gonna get. I reckon if these three can shake a savage like me off the TV-hating mountain, chances are they’re pretty good.

And so

bigbangtheory

# 3. Big Bang Theory

My first mildly-liked show is probably ancient history for you, but new for me. I don’t care that it’s about nerds who remind me of dudes I knew in high school. It’s not important that Penny is somewhat cutish. The reasons I like Big Bang Theory are its brevity, its punch-and-run brand of funny, and it’s brutal sarcasm (or in Sheldon’s case, the lack thereof). If ever I’m in need of 27 minutes of commercially-interrupted stupid, I watch this show. It’s usually good for a laugh or twenty.

 

 

game-of-thrones-iron-throne

 

#2. Game of Thrones

Ok. Admit it. You saw this one coming. On the low-low, I stopped reading near the end of book four. Mr. Martin’s fiction is a lot too sluggish for me, and that’s saying something for a guy (me) who writes Tolkien-length epic novels. But the show, ah…the show. It’s just long enough, and despite my bitching, tends to hit all the major plot points with a nice, sharp edge. Now, it’s true I haven’t seen any of Season 4 (see the aforementioned lack of cable) but I will, and that says a lot. In the realm of television shows, I seek out almost nothing. But for GOT’s brand of death, murder, and betrayal (all of done with swords instead of guns) I will journey out of my cave long enough to watch. My list of characters I’d like to see dead: Cersei, Sam, Margaery, Jaime, Dany….ok pretty much all of them except Arya and the Others. Did I mention I like bad guys?

 

Cosmos

#1. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

First, ever notice how the Cosmos main logo looks a bit Sauron-y? I mean; that’s reason enough to love it right there. But ok, the real reason: Neil deGrasse Tyson is a modern day science rock god. Is it possible someday someone will prove his assertions incorrect? Yes. Entirely. But does he knock home run after home run regarding the truth as we now know it? Yes. Absolutely. I love his use-a-scalpel-not-a-hammer approach to explaining science. Being somewhat a space-dork myself, I’m mostly familiar with much of what Cosmos has to say. Doesn’t matter. It’s all in the presentation. Elegant. Vivid. Gutsy. And most importantly, true! If you haven’t watched this show yet, get on it. Cancel your hot date. Give your kids a sedative (or better yet, make ’em watch it with you). Shows like this remind me just how crappy most other programming is. Thank you, maker of Family Guy, for making something I can actually show my son.

So there. Likely my only television-related post ever. Time to get back to skulls, books, and general gloom and doom. To disavow today’s nerdiness, I’m punishing myself with a few hundred chin-ups, and I’m chasing it with a giant slab of angel food cake. And yes…I’m completely serious.

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

One Artist’s Zen Time

What does an artist, who also loves books, comics, Loki, horror movies, dragons, Game of Thrones, do in their free time? I take a ton of photographs. I call it my zen time. It gets me out of the studio and flips a switch in my brain. My zen time is nearly always the perfect remedy if I’m stuck on a painting. But my crazy brand of photography is not the norm. My specialty, if you can call it that, is what I refer to as Super Macro Photography. I shoot nearly everything with my iPhone and attached Macro lens. It creates a very specific effect. When I’m out taking photographs I’m less concerned with accuracy and more worried about essence. Here are some of my favorite shots from the last few years. The first image is a photograph I took yesterday at the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia.

You can see more at my Flickr account: https://www.flickr.com/photos/makepeaceart/

He’ll See Me On The Flipside

I’m 7-years old. The kid across from me has issued a challenge to me. We’re both to submit to the Sissy Test. We take our erasers and rub the skin on the back of our hands. Back and forth until the skin is raw. The first one to be in too much pain is the loser.

I won.

Office-pink-erasers

****

I’m 38-years old typing this blog and take a look at the mark on my left hand. The tattoo of my own making. It is the second reward for winning the Sissy Test.

****

I’m 7-years old and my mother is whipping me for being stupid enough to scar myself. This is my first reward.

****

In my defense, the act of rubbing the skin with the eraser never actually hurt. Once the other kid bailed I kept going for a little bit longer, surprised by the lack of pain. It wasn’t until one of the kids surrounding us told me to spit on it.

Then the pain came.

time_travel

It’s a strange thing, the past. The person you were and the person you currently are never get to meet. There is a younger version of you who has made every decision in your life. Every decision that may still affect you now. The so-called dominoes of our lives.

****

I’m 18-years old. In front of me is my acceptance letter to the Georgia Institute of Technology to study Computer Science.

****

I’m 19-years old and after 3 quarters at Ga. Tech I’m finally given authorization to change my major to Civil Engineering. Somewhere in my brain I have decided that my true goal is to design a bridge.

Thru-Truss-Bridge-drawing

Prior to this, Civil Engineering was pretty much an industry that I picked out of thin air. Really. I’m still not sure why exactly that major was the one I went with.

****

I’m 38-years old and I have designed plenty of roads and highways and interstates, but I have never designed a bridge.

****

I’m 24-years old and I have to decide which offer to choose. What job will be my first to set my course by? Maybe this will be a situation where this is the company I’m with until I retire many years from now.

I end up making my choice mostly on the basis of starting salary.

****

These aren’t decisions that I worry about so much. I genuinely like my day job (90% of the time), which makes me one of the lucky ones. But it doesn’t change the fact that a guy, fresh out of high school, made a major life decision for me. Then again, a fresh out of college guy is choosing where I’m going to go to work.  I’m wondering if either were even qualified to make such huge choices…

One of my best friends in the world shared a video with me yesterday from a camping trip a group of us took in 1996. Maybe that’s why my brain has become transfixed with these images of the past. Some key moments, others I just want to dwell in for a little while. I watch and see this 20-year old me with his friends, talking about nothing , but we all seem happy to be there in that moment together.

I wish we had recorded more of that evening. Even if utter nonsense flowed from our mouths, even if the jokes told were not fit for mixed company, every second reminds me of a time before responsibilities of  life crept in. Before friends moved away to pursue their own dreams.

Years later it seems like I’m chasing the weekends, wondering when I might find the time to see a friend, talk on the phone, or just hang out. Some of the people on the video I haven’t talked to face to face in a long time, and it makes me sad. But there is another part of me that is happy to know, to see that time when we were all together. That we have that shared experience with one another, and while memories may fade through time, bits and pieces of that weekend will always bind us.

Time moves fast and it moves slow. It’s like it has a mind of its own. I could say that the last 18 years have passed by in the blink of an eye, but that would be a lie. The memories which make us who we are get compiled day by day. And yet, we put things on a calendar to look forward to them and then forget to enjoy them when we are there, in that moment.

I acknowledge this and I am still guilty as I pen a portion of this blog on scrap pieces of paper at work. I’m counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds until it is time to go home.

****

I’m 11-years old and my new friend Lee has pushed a weird novel across a cluster of desks.

“Read this”, he says.

“I don’t read books.”

“Read it.”

On a Pale Horse

****

I’m 38-years old and tell my wife that all I’d really like to do this weekend is read.

****

I’m 34-years old and the company that I work for has just informed me I’ve been laid off. I stifle the tears while I’m speaking with my boss. Not only would crying be “unmanly”, but probably not the most professional. Though I’m not sure why that would matter in the moment, I try my best to exude a calmness. The peaceful exterior lasts until I make it outside of the building and am alone. I dial the numbers and then breakdown when my wife answers the phone.

****

I’m 34-years old and I’m talking to my wife about story idea 100476.

“You should just write it. You’ve got the time.”

“But I don’t know anything about it other than what I’ve told you.”

“Write it.”

****

I’m 20-years old in the video and see that the girl beside me is the woman who will become my wife in a few years time. I may not remember every thought he had, but I remember knowing that this was the girl I would marry. She was the one.

****

I’m 34-years old and the words pour out of me onto the computer screen filling the white with the black ants under each keystroke. The house is dark and quiet and the words continue to flow.

****

I’m 17-years old and the girl I’ve worked with for over a year at Kroger has agreed to go out with me. I’m nervous beyond belief.

****

I’m 37-years old and my wife’s hand is resting in mine, both our fingers ready to click the publish button on my first book.

It’s a new world.

***

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.

m.

Summer is coming. Baseball is here.

MLB-Logo-90

You know Easter and Vesak and Samhain and Diwalli,
MLK, Purim and Christmas with holly.
But I would trade them all,
For my most favorite holiday of all…

Today is Opening Day.

The first day of the Major League Baseball season.

It is a day of tradition, ritual, excitement, and anxiety.

And, above all else, it is a day of hope.

Every team starts with a blank slate, no wins, no losses, with the World Series open to anyone other than the Mets or the Astros. It is the first day you get to see your team in its entirety, with your best pitcher on the mound and the strongest (healthy) position players in the field. It is the day your faith in your team is renewed, convinced that this is THE year. Every year is THE year.

Until it’s not.

Today is Game #1 of a 162 game season. The marathon begins.

I’m not here to espouse the merits of baseball. Some people don’t love it. That’s okay. I mean, they’re dirty communist ignorant shit-pigs, but it’s still okay. Most baseball fans, at least those of the hardcore variety, feel a deep-seeded love of the game that they themselves struggle to explain. I won’t go so far as to call it a religion, although others have. It certainly feels like it at times. And, if it is, then today is its High Holy Day.

How to I celebrate this most hallowed of days?

Well…

phillips-barehand-grab-tribe-2012-apjpg-6720abb402b918c5logovotto

You see, I have a team. I’m not a believer in rooting for multiple clubs. My family and friends are mostly Atlanta Braves fans and, while I find myself pulling for them for their sakes, I am definitely not a fan. At best I can be called a “Braves sympathizer”.

f893e41452d64ac28729de52e8d79ee0-d5d18510fcf146699a33ce7700ef561b-2My team has been so as long as I can remember. I grew up in eastern Ohio, on the opposite side of the state from the Queen City, but my father and maternal grandfather passed down to me (baseball team loyalty is usually either hereditary or geographical in its cause) an allegiance to the Cincinnati Reds that I will take with me to the grave.

Anyone who knows me in real life knows this. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows this. During the season, it is the single biggest thing on my mind outside of work and family, although sometimes it does surpass those. It certainly does today.

Because today is Opening Day. I do not work on Opening Day. I do not venture outside of the house. I only leave the couch to get food or go to the bathroom. I don’t answer phone calls. I make no attempt to be productive. I am all-consumed by the return of my favorite sport.

Holy shit. It’s Opening Day.

GABP-117I’m am not what you would call a superstitious man. That implies believing in supernatural forces and I really don’t do that. But baseball players and fans are very superstitious and I am more than happy to play along. Therefore, I do have Opening Day traditions that I follow every year. Like hiding dyed eggs or lighting the menorah, my holiday isn’t complete without the following:

 hatlacesshirt

GEAR. Before the beginning of every season I buy a new Reds hat. I wear it for the first time on Opening Day. I usually go for a throwback cap, something from the Cooperstown Collection, a replica based on what teams wore in the past. I’ve worn caps originating anywhere from the 1860’s to the 1970’s. This year, though, I’ve gone with a 2014 On-Field Road Cap (size 7 3/8). It’s the same hat the players will be wearing when they travel. Some of my friends have their “lucky cap” that they wear every year, no matter what disgusting state it is in, but to me each year brings with it a new team and deserves a new cap. Until, of course, the Reds when the World Series, then that year’s cap will become my lucky cap for life. I try to ride out each hat for the full season but have been known to switch at the All-Star Break if I don’t like the way my team played the first half.

Also on Opening Day, I string up my best pair of Chucks with bright red laces from Journeys. I only wear them during the season, returning to boring old white after the Reds are no longer in contention.

The shirt above is not new; I got it last year. But it is of my all-time favorite Red, the great Eric Davis, who, if it weren’t for multiple injuries that sidetracked his career, would almost certainly be in the Hall of Fame. I love this shirt. And I refuse to think it brings bad luck.

Not pictured: my socks and boxer briefs. You can probably guess what color they are, too.

 franks bunsjacks

FOOD. I don’t really like hot dogs. They’re pretty gross. Deformed little imitators of their much grander cousin, the sausage. I avoid them at all costs, except for 5-6 days a year: The Fourth of July, the 3-4 Reds games I get to see live every season living out here on the West Coast, and Opening Day. Last night I went to Safeway and got a pack of hot dogs, a pack of buns, a white onion, a jar of relish, and made sure I was stocked up on ketchup and plain yellow mustard. Throughout the day, I will throw hotdogs on the Foreman, dress them up, and devour them. They will be my breakfast, lunch, and probably dinner. At the end of the day I will feel gross and bloated. But the smell of them in the air, the combination of mustard and onions and bread and relish and nitrates in my mouth, it all makes me feel very baseball-y.

Crackerjacks, despite being sung about during every Seventh Inning Stretch, aren’t as easy to find as you’d think. Which is okay because I’m not sure I like them either. If I can get hold of a box, I do. If not, I’m more than satisfied to rely on a big bag of whole peanuts to snack on between dogs.

figuresjunkcards

TOTEMS. Think of this as my nativity scene. I bring out my figures of Reds greats Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench as well as current-Red superstar Joey Votto, alongside a few other useless trinkets. My printed-autograph ball from the mid-eighties team. A Votto bobblehead. Pez dispenser. Mr. Potato Red. And a jar of home plate dirt from last year’s season opener that my cousin Phil sent me. I lay these things out on my entertainment center, my coffee table. Just for the day. Then they go back to where they belong, displayed in my office.

I also buy baseball cards. I’m not a collector of them, at least not anymore, but before and throughout the season I buy a pack here and there, hoping to find a Red or two in them. This year so far I’ve gotten really lucky with my haul: seven Reds before the season has even started. I’ll still grab a few more packs, though, before the year is done. I use the non-Reds cards as bookmarks and other sundry things, unless they are members of the St. Louis Cardinals. In that case, they must be destroyed.

burn

Did you think I was kidding?

(If anyone has a Topps 2014 Aroldis Chapman, Brandon Phillips, or Mat Latos, I’ll gladly take them off your hands.)

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INPUT. (JOHNNY-5 VOICE:) IN-PUUUUUT. This is not really an Opening Day thing but a Whole Season Thing. The ways I prefer to experience baseball are ranked as followed: 1) At the Ballpark 2) On the Radio 3) On TV 4) Digital Play-by-Play. The MLB At Bat app for iOS and Android is my best friend during the season. Twenty bucks for the whole season, both regular and post, it’s a one-stop location for everything MLB. News, scores, standing, stats, schedules, video highlights, a graphical pitch-by-pitch tracker that takes you through every play of the game in real-time. But far and away my favorite function of At Bat is the ability to listen to the radio broadcast of every game, every day, using either the home or away broadcasts.

This is huge for me. I live over 2000 miles away from my team’s home ballpark. I only get to see them in person when they come to California (I’ve seen them at San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco). I rarely get them on television and I obviously don’t get the local radio broadcasts. But with At Bat, I do. I can hear Cincinnati broadcasters Marty Brennaman and Jeff Brantley call all 162 games of the year; I listen to 120 of them at least. It makes me feel like I’m there. Part of the fan base. And, like I said above, I’d rather listen to a baseball game than watch it on TV. I’m not sure why that is but it just is. Maybe it’s the purist in me. Faux nostalgia for a time in which I never lived. I don’t know. But it really is the best.

Not to say I don’t want to see video. The MLB app provides video highlights as the game is being played and I do watch the Reds on the rare occasion they’re on national TV (although I usually mute the game and listen to Cincinnati radio instead). And then there’s the MLB Network. There are three channels in my cable package that I consciously pay more money to have: HBO, Showtime, and the MLB Network. I generally dislike sports media these days, “The Dan Patrick Show” excluded, and sometimes the MLB Network flirts dangerously close to the ‘men yelling at each other about useless shit’ model that has made ESPN unwatchable. But during “MLB Tonight”, their biggest show that runs in prime time nearly every evening, it’s pure baseball bliss. A combination of journalists and former ballplayers talk you through the day’s slate of games. Not entirely in retrospective highlights, but with live look-ins to all of the games currently being played. I may only have one team that I cheer for, but I am interested in all of them. I don’t just love Reds baseball; I love all baseball. I’m addicted to it. And “MLB Tonight” mainlines it into my veins every night to feed the monkey.

*****

I don’t think any of these things -the clothes, the food, the totems- actually help the Reds win games. Again, I’m only pretending to be superstitious. But it’s fun to pretend and imagine that I actually have a spiritual hand in the fate of my team. Either way, like the traditions and rituals of most holidays, I find comfort and peace in the familiarity. Buying a new cap means BASEBALL IS COMING. Downloading the MLB app onto my phone means BASEBALL IS COMING. Biting into a gross but full-loaded hotdog means BASEBALL IS BACK.

If you don’t share my love of baseball, I’m sure this all seems utterly ridiculous.

But I know a few friends of mine will understand completely.

bruceSo at the very moment this is posting, Monday March 31st, at 1:10 pm, PST, the first pitch of the Reds’ season is being thrown in their home, Great American Ballpark, against the evil, foul, disgusting, dirty baby-eaters known as the St. Louis Cardinals. Will the Redlegs make it to the Series this year? Just like with every team, the odds are against it. Will they run away with their division or will they be out of it by the All Star Break? Or are we in for a crazy last couple weeks where every game, every out, every pitch is a factor in their survival? Who will break out as a star? Whose skills will start to decline? Will the pitching staff stay healthy? Does our new manager have what it takes?

Outside of the Reds, what other drama will the season bring?  Will the Sox return strong after their World Series win? Will the Yankees rise to the challenge and send their Captain off with one last ring? Will teams like Washington, Anaheim and, yes, Cincinnati, bounce back after disappointing years and play like the contenders that so many think they should be? How many no-hitters will we see? Will there be a perfect game?

I have no damn idea.

Some things are about the journey. Some things are about the destination.

For me, the epic marathon that is the Major League Baseball season is equally both.

And I can’t believe it’s finally here.

Now. Let’s play some fucking ball.

Amanda’s Top Six Video Games of All Time

Skyrim Aurora

I’ve never been what you’d call a gamer, but I’ve been playing video games since the days of Atari, back before Nintendo shook up the market. I have my favorites, but I’m not obsessed. This week marked my 38th birthday and I’m still playing games when I have the time (Steam and Xbox360). After reading J Edward‘s post on his Top 6 Video Games, I felt compelled to take a walk down memory lane with my own top six list. The games on my list are those that turned me into a follower, buying up version after version.

Wizardry for NES

#6 Wizardry

Have you ever played a game that annoyed you so much you became obsessed with it’s annihilation? For reasons I cannot fully fathom I played this game until our system kicked the bucket. It had a tendency to freeze up right in the middle of my progress too, but I kept playing.

After the NES left us, I went on to play Wizardry on our computer. MS-DOS. The days of Wizardry are long gone, but there’s a newish game on Steam that has the feel of the old dungeon crawlers but with updated graphics–The Legend of Grimrock. Yes, I play it too.

 


Knights of the Old Republic#5 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

I do have a soft spot for games where your character’s evolution is guided by the choices you make in game. But let’s be honest, I have a soft spot for Star Wars in general. Star Wars was a massive influence on my childhood. I don’t think I knew any other girls with as many Star Wars toys as I had. I’ve been replaying this game on Steam, but I’ve also played other Star Wars games on the first Xbox and the Xbox 360. I’m currently in the middle of The Force Unleashed II.


Doom#4 Doom

I’ve been playing Doom since the days of DOS. I’m sure someone introduced me to the game, but the memory escapes me. This was (and is) a game I can play for hours. I’ve played Doom, Doom 2, Final Doom, Doom 64, Doom 3 and now I own Doom 3 BFG Edition for Xbox 360 (includes Doom and Doom 2). For some it might be embarrassing, but I have zero issue revealing that I also played mobile editions of the game. Yeah. I love this game.

There’s been some rumors/announcements about a Doom 4, but I have yet to see any promotional material from id Software. Before anyone asks, no I haven’t played Rage but it’s on my wishlist.


Resident Evil 5#3 Resident Evil

Here’s another game I’ve been playing for ages. I can’t even recall which game I started with (before Resident Evil 4) but I can tell you how unbelievably terrified I was of this game. I’ve always been a horror fan, but this game took it to a new level. Mindless zombies are one thing, but zombies with wits, biological experiments, monsters, abominations… You can’t reload your gun fast enough.

 


Skyrim Nightingale Armor#2 Skyrim

Skyrim made it to my top list, partly because I’m an Elder Scrolls fan and partly just for the amazing beauty of the world. I agree with J Edward on the characters (Too epic not to be included, but damn so many of its characters for being cardboard.) but I just don’t care. I still laugh when I hear the sweetroll comment or the arrow in the knee comment, because all I can focus on is the amazing scenery. The auroras alone. Wow. Riding my horse across the Giant lands. Slaying dragons.

Dovah Kiin!

It also doesn’t hurt that Skyim is inspired by the Vikings. My character is a Nord named Brynn. My daughter, playing the Dark Elf Alythrae, thinks that’s boring.


Zelda#1 Zelda

On this, J Edward and I are on the same page. I have played every single incarnation of this game, even the Gameboy and DS versions. All, except Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. My daughter is playing it first on her 2DS. Without a doubt, Twilight Princess was extraordinary but The Ocarina of Time for Nintendo 64 will always have a special place in my heart.

Before the Nintendo 64 version (1998) we had Link’s Awakening in 1993 (Gameboy) and A Link to the Past in 1991 (Super Nintendo). When I first saw The Ocarina of Time I was dumbfounded by the leap in graphics and storytelling. It blew my mind. No other Zelda game has done that. Yes, Twilight Princess was beautiful–but expected.

Honorable Mentions and Forthcoming:

All of the Lego games. They are just too much fun. I especially love the Star Wars collection.

Tomb Raider — the newest game by Square Enix. I’ve only played this game a bit. It’s my daughter’s game and I’ve watched her play it from start to finish. Amazing! Another extraordinary achievement. You feel as if you’re part of the game. Stunning graphics and story.

Alien Isolation — This game isn’t out yet, but I have a feeling it will make this list a year from now. I’ve been waiting my entire life for an Alien game of this caliber. I’m so excited!! I’ve been having everyone watch the trailer….

And the character’s name is Amanda. This game was made for me.

High School Never Ends…

“This is what husbands gear up for.”

Those are the words I said to my wife after she relayed the news of her Dad’s sudden passing over the weekend. I don’t say those words glibly as I fully believe that I have one important task in the days and weeks to come:

To let her know that it is going to be ok.

And that’s why I want to share this little story about how no matter how old you are or think you are some things never change…

Flashback to about 6 or 7 years ago. My wife, Courtney, loves softball (I do as well) and had been recruited by one of our friends to play on their coed team. And it just so happened that Court’s Dad was in town staying with us for a couple of nights. So we all piled into the car and off we went to the softball fields.

Courtney went out onto the field to assume her normal position (catcher), and her Dad and I journeyed over to the bleachers to find a seat.

Well, I went to find a seat. He already had his seat. You see, a few years prior he had gotten hurt in an auto accident and so used a wheelchair and walker to move around the house. But when it was time to venture into the bigger world his weapon of choice was a scooter.

Scooter

No, not that Scooter.

Professor X wishes he had it so good!

So there we were, the two of us, me on the edge of the bleachers and him right beside me getting ready to watch Courtney hopefully kick some ass on the ball field and have a nice Summer night in Georgia.

The game got started, but after a few moments the pitcher got a weird look on his face. Like maybe he’d seen something that was distracting him. I craned my neck looking behind me, trying to follow his eye-line to see if I could figure out whatever it was. I didn’t see anything and he must have been able to block it as he went back to pitching.

Another minute or so passed, and suddenly the 2nd base umpire threw his hands up (signaling time-out) and pointed towards the fence and the bleachers where we were sitting.

“What in the world is going on?” I kept looking around to try and figure out what was distracting (annoying?) them. The home plate ump took a few steps towards him and conferred for the briefest of meetings. He then walked over to the fence, just opposite of where Court’s Dad and I were sitting.

“Sir, could you please turn off your hazard and front lights? It is distracting for the players on the field.”

Everything moved in slow motion. I rotated in my spot and looked down at my Father-in-law and saw that, yes, his lights were on. How did I miss that? As he turned knobs and flicked levers to try and get everything powered down I started to look around…

And saw that everyone was staring at us.

And in that instant I was 15 years old again. It’s that age-old feeling that every single person who has been in a public place with their parents where they secretly (or not so secretly in some cases) prayed that none of their friends saw them “hanging out with their parent”. It is a silly feeling to be sure; though being silly doesn’t lessen its effect. But I was sure, certain even, that with my own high school years long behind me, this feeling could be placed in the deep recesses of my mind never to be heard from again.

And suddenly it was back with a vengeance.

I believe it may be a moral imperative of parents to do this to their kids from time to time to teach them lessons about life. I like the thought that somewhere in their primal brains that a parent has that natural ability to take their own awkward moments and include their children in them.

far side

With this one, I’m not sure if my Father-in-law felt any of the embarrassment. I actually hope he didn’t. He just went about fixing the problem and let the game continue onward.

Lucky for me, the difference between me at 15 and me at 32 was that the 32 year old’s embarrassment lasted all of 10 seconds while the the 15 year old might have needed counselling (ok, maybe not that). Now it has become one of those funny stories Courtney and I joke about.

And maybe, just maybe, it brought a smile to her face during a tough time.

 

***

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.

A little something happened on the way to the Convention

This week’s blog was going to be a convention report on Anachrocon, the steampunk con I went to over the weekend. The same con where I was to sit in as a speaker on my first panels ever. I could talk about how the panels went (really well, I actually got invited to sit in on another one, but had to decline due to day job commitments). Or talk about the people I met and talked to. Or even about the other guys and gals on the panels I sat in on.

Yes, it was all planned out and would be the easiest blog post of all time. The words would flow like… well like wine or water or soda or whatever you might drink.

Then this happened…

window smashed

 

Apparently a book bag sitting in the back seat is too much of an inviting target for some people… though they left the comic box also sitting back there. I was annoyed, mostly because I felt put out because my day at the con was now over. Suddenly I get to deal with some real world problems as opposed to trying to have conversations with people. However, what they got was a couple of comics, a Square card reader, some pens for signing comics, and some laptop power cords (though the laptop was not inside the book bag). As I thought about it more it seemed that the bag probably was worth more than anything within it.

Today it occurred to me that there was one other item in the bag which I had forgotten about. There would be no reason to contact the officer to add this thing to the police report, but it is priceless to me.

I had placed my notebook in the bag before I left the house.

My notebook that I use to jot down any number of wild and crazy ideas. The notebook that houses many a random line of dialogue that I might overhear as I got about my life. When inspiration strikes, it gets written down in that notebook.

And it is gone.

On Sunday, while I was talking on one of the panels, a question arose from the crowd asking about ideas and what you do with them, how do you ensure that you don’t forget that random idea at either 3 in the morning or 1 in the afternoon. I talked about writing it on scratch paper and then compiling all of them at the end of the week.

messy-desk_final

This is a what my wife has to deal with taking over the desk every week.

But I also mentioned the notebook. I never know when a moment of inspiration might strike me. Half the time I hear some scenario on the radio and I take it one step further and suddenly an idea appears. And I have to write them down. Far too many of those moments get lost in the Ether way too much during the course of a day. And while I didn’t have the notebook with me at all times, it traveled with me just enough to get some decent stuff.

Luckily I tend to be one of those people who constantly hits the save button, and the best way to do this with those scraps of paper is to put it into the notebook or type it into the computer. So probably about 1/2 of the notebook exists on my computer in half-finished ideas.

But there are still some of them that are now lost forever.

Now I’m saying that any of them are Steven King/ JK Rowling ideas which will cause me to start a book empire, but there are things in there that my brain came up with… no one else could have invented those words in just that way. And you/me/whomever never knows exactly what might or might not work. Maybe some of them need a little more seasoning.

But they are mine, and now…

Gone. Lost.

 

400px-Lost_main_title.svg

Not this type of Lost.

I wish I had some kind of nice ribbon to put on top of this story, and maybe one day someone will return it to me (I believe it has my address/email/phone number inside it). I’m not holding my breath exactly, but I will hope a little bit for that day where I’ll hold it in my hands like I’m Indiana Jones just before the Rock Trap is triggered. My fingers will tingle and I’ll be able to, for a moment at least, travel backwards in time to see what a younger version of me wrote down.

And say “This guy can’t even write!” 🙂

Hey, a guy can dream.

 

Longing for Rain

Rain

 

 

 

 There’s a place I want to be.

 Let me try that again. There’s a place I intend to go.

As I gaze from my office window on this cold, grey winter morning, I am compelled by what I feel. My door is shut. A melancholic soundtrack thrums against my walls. The sky is the color of slate, the clouds are seamless, the skeletal trees swaying, and the branches shivering in the wind. I am almost alone. If such a thing as genetic memory exists, this is the kind of day my ancestors must have walked beneath. My blood lived on the smallest island off the northeastern coast of Ireland, and I have to imagine this is what the sky looked like so much more often than here in north Georgia.  

If I close my eyes, I can almost go there. Not northern Ireland. Out there. Beyond my window. Beneath the clouds.

I long for the rain. However strange it might sound, the clouds, the trees, the wind, and the rain shape my most powerful memories. Not only the memories of childhood, but all the way to this very morning. I remember an early spring day during the second grade. I walked home through a cornfield having forgotten my little blue umbrella. The sky looked the same as it does today, only gloomier. The rain made a mess of me, and I loved it. I remember my first season in Georgia. In the dead of summer, for what felt like a fortnight, the clouds never departed. Storms roamed the sky at all hours, and the rain tore the earth ragged. Back then, I lived virtually alone in my house. After breakfast each morn, I wandered into the forest beyond the backyard and didn’t return until the rain had soaked me to my bones. The streams in the forest were swollen. The trees wept. The world had no colors beyond green and brown and grey. I was utterly alone, and I loved it.

A large part of me never returned from the woods, the cornfield, or the myriad grey skies I walked beneath. When I dream, and especially when I’m awake, most of me is still out there, still shadowed by the trees, still alone, and still happy.

This is the place I long for. I’d give up almost everything to return to it. I’d forsake football, tv, video games, movies, computers, and cell phones for it. I’d trade in my truck for a dinghy. I’d turn over my neatly-trimmed lawn to the wilderness. I’d set aside dinners at fancy restaurants, slugs of ancient scotch, and long stretches of hot, sunny, beautiful Georgia weather. It’s not a specific location I desire, nor a vague, fantastical, unrealistic dream. The rain is a state of mind I need. I need it. I need the clouds. I need the thunder. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) isn’t something I suffer from. Give me long stretches of sunless sky, and you’ll see a happier J Edward than ever you knew. Actually, you probably won’t see me at all, but you can rest assured what my state of mind will be.

I know I’m not alone in this. Perhaps my waking dream is somewhat more all-consuming that yours, but no matter. Close your eyes and dwell in silence for a short while, and maybe you’ll see the forest, the house, the sandy shore, the mountains, or the people you wish you could return to. Where your desire lives is not nearly as important as how you intend to get back to it. It’s a feeling more than a place, an emotion more than a fixed point in time.

There’s a place I intend to go. Perhaps not today or tomorrow. I’ve a child to raise and bills to pay. I’ve resources to gather, plans to perfect, books to finish, and research to do. But no matter how long it takes, I’ll get there. It’s a bucket list of one. It’s more sacred to me than writing or possessions. Honestly, if I get where I want to be, I won’t need half of what I have now, and my writing will likely improve tenfold. Who needs entertainment when one has imagination? All I want to do is look out my window across a vast, grey, rainswept woodland, and then walk out my door.

Maybe next week we’ll get back to skulls, medieval warfare, and world-burning warlocks. For now I think I’ll kick back and look out the window for a while. Out there lies inspiration. Out there is the rain. It’s near. I can smell it.

J Edward Neill

 

Romantic Movies That Won’t Rot Your Teeth

eternal2

Are you one of those dicks who hates Valentine’s Day? Do you recoil in horror the moment Walgreens’ seasonal aisle explodes in an inescapable barrage of red and pink? Do you scoff and say “You should express your love 365 days a year!”? Do you refuse to be a slave to the greeting card-candy-flowers industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about? Do you think it’s a dumb celebration made up by the evil empire known as Hallmark?

Yeah, me too.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t like romance and I most definitely love a good romantic film. And, since V-Day falls on a Friday this year (this Friday in fact. what fortuitous timing!) I figure that between dinner and gifts and romantic walks and… you know… that some folks may also want to snuggle under the covers this year and watch a movie, especially if you’re trapped in one of the forty million snowstorms that are blanketing the US right now.

So I’m going to recommend some modern romantic films that should appeal to both the cynic and the romantic in your relationship. They are not “everything is shiny and cute and funny” romantic comedies, nor are they “sap disguising itself as sentimental sincerity” dramas. None of them are based on Nicholas Sparks novels. Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Gosling, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts: nowhere to be seen.

I find the films listed below much more in touch with the idea of love and relationships than the fantasies created by so many “romantic” films. But they are also not “fuck love” films. No Blue Valentines or Revolutionary Roads here. If I had to settle on a single word to tie them all together, I think that word would be “bittersweet”. Which is not only a type of chocolate but also the adjective that best describes many of the most romantic storylines in my life.

If you’ve seen these movies, then cool. If not, check them out. Hell, at the very least, maybe it will keep you from having to watch The Notebook, Notting Hill, The Empire Strikes Back (very romantic to some), Titanic, or the 85 hour Colin-Firth-porn-disguised-as-miniseries version of Pride & Prejudice.

(And, since I am recommending these films for you to watch, I will do my best not to spoil anything. But be warned: setting up the premise, mentioning something that takes place in the first 15 minutes of a film, is not a spoiler. It’s simply a description.)

Let’s start off with an easy one:

eternal

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (Michel Gondry, 2004)

Eternal Sunshine is already regarded as a classic. And rightly so. Charlie Kaufman, the most original screenwriting voice of perhaps all time, coupled with Michel Gondry, visually gifted French auteur. Jim Carrey in his greatest performance. Kate Winslet in one of hers (but honestly she has so many it’s impossible to rank them). A great supporting cast. It call comes together in what is the first of three films on this list that I consider true “21st Century” romances.

The IMDB logline: “A couple undergo a procedure to erase each other from their memories when their relationship turns sour, but it is only through the process of loss that they discover what they had to begin with.”

This beautiful piece is, like the last film on this list, a work of science-fiction, but that element is only used as a device that Kaufman uses to navigate through the story he wants to tell. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a heartbreaking masterpiece about love, loss, memory, sex, relationships, and fate, all wrapped up in a story and mood and style uniquely its own.

I’d probably be wasting words dishing out praise here. You’ve most likely already seen Eternal Sunshine. But if you haven’t, do. If you have, watch it again. I just gets more and more rewarding.

Now, on to something you maybe haven’t seen:

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mood

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000)

Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-Wai is my favorite living director. I toyed with recommending 1994’s Chungking Express, but I think In the Mood for Love, which many consider his best film (a point hard to argue), better fits the theme of this list.

The IMDB logline: “A man and a woman move in to neighboring Hong Kong apartments and form a bond when they both suspect their spouses of extramarital activities.”

An accurate description, yes, but there are words missing: sumptuous, gorgeous, moody, atmospheric, mesmerizing, elegant, transcendent. A million more. This period piece, set in 1960’s Hong Kong, is a buffet of unbelievable costumes (especially the cheongsam dresses that will make Maggie Cheung haunt your dreams, no matter which sex you fancy), pitch-perfect production design, and masterful cinematorgraphy by Christopher Doyle.

At the center of it, though, are the performances by two actors who are as talented as they are easy on the eyes, Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung, as the wronged spouses, whose unique ways of dealing with their common problem will break your heart. After watching this film, you will want to find more work by these actors. And you should. They are phenomenal and have made a lot of great movies. But they are never better, as beautiful, or as perfect as they are here.

If you like In the Mood for Love, check out the film’s predecessor, Days of Being Wild, and its sequel, 2046. I would also recommend David Lean’s Brief Encounter, a film I believe was an inspiration for Kar-Wai’s.

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THE “BEFORE” SERIES (Richard Linklater, 1995, 2004, 2013… 2022, 2029, 2038, 2047?)

We first met Jesse and Celine in 1995′s Before Sunrise and have now checked in on them twice since, with Before Sunset in 2004 and again in this year with Before Midnight. I love these films so much. I have grown up with these two characters and, while they are smidge older than me, every time I feel like what they’re going through (Jesse in particular) reflects what’s going on in my life.

Hawke and Delpy bring their own lives with them when they shoot these films, and it shows. In the first film they were young and brash (no woman in their thirties would get off a train with a stranger like that; no man in his thirties would ask), so full of bullshit “deep” ideas and naïve passion. When we catch up to them in the second, they are wiser, less idealistic, and we see how their lives have been affected by their first meeting. It also features one of the best endings of a film I’ve ever seen. In part three we check in with them after another nine years. They have known each other for nearly two decades now. They are a touch more weary, more resigned, disappointed, but on the brink, perhaps, of coming to terms with life the way it really is.

These films are short and could easily be consumed in one night. But be warned, they are each just 90 minutes of people talking while walking around European cities. And talking. And talking.

But for me, I hope they keep talking forever. I love Jesse and Celine. I can’t wait to see where they are in another nine years.

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LOST IN TRANSLATION (Sophia Coppola, 2003)

The second film on here I consider a pure 21st Century Romance.

The IMDB logline: “A faded movie star and a neglected young woman form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo.”

Sophia Coppola’s first film, The Virgin Diaries, was a gem that not a whole lot of people saw. But that changed with her second, the Academy Award winning Lost in Translation. Coppola is the poet laureate of bored girls and women. Every one of her films to date feature a protagonist who is bored (some would say “spoiled”) with her (or in the case of Somewhere, his) current situation, whether it’s being queen of France or trapped under the thumb of oppressive parents or stuck in a hotel in Tokyo. And each chooses to alleviate that boredom in different ways: robbing the homes of the rich and famous, throwing parties so elaborate that they foment revolution, or striking up a flirtatious relationship with an aging movie star.

What really makes this film is the mood, the music, and the chemistry between the two leads. This is the first of two times Scarlet Johansson will be mentioned here, but the only time for Bill Murray. Damn is he great in this film. Torn between being this beautiful and fascinating young woman’s friend, father, or lover, he is just so… sad. But touching and real as well. It’s my favorite non-Ghostbusters version of Bill Murray.

Anyway. Watch this movie. I guarantee the end will give you chills.

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WAKING THE DEAD (Keith Gordon, 2000)

The least-known film on this list is also one of my most cherished.

The IMDB logline: “A congressional candidate questions his sanity after seeing the love of his life, presumed dead, suddenly emerge.”

The description makes it sound like a ghost story, but it’s not. Except that it is. A small film that nobody but me saw when it briefly hit theaters, it’s one that I pushed on people for years. Told with a fractured narrative, this tragic story of love, grief, politics, and hope, is a movingly flawed film by director Keith Gordon, who I wish would make more movies.

Not wanting to give away much of the story, I will discuss the real reason to see this film: the actors. At the time this film was made, Billy Crudup was unknown and Almost Famous had yet to come out. From the first shot of Waking the Dead, I was a fan. I was so sure watching this that he would become a major movie star and a world-class actor, but that never really happened. I have some inklings why, and they have nothing to do with what he can do on screen. Either way, his performance as Sterling in this movie moves me to tears every time.

This was also the film where Jennifer Connelly, the, let’s face it, most beautiful woman who ever lived, showed me she could act. This was a few years before she won the Academy Award for A Beautiful Mind and everyone else realized the same. I love her in this movie. So, so much. It’s a complicated character, one that I wasn’t sure the girl from Career Opportunities was up for playing, but boy was I wrong. Simply stunning.

Warning: this may be the film on this list most likely to make you weep.

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HER

HER (Spike Jonez, 2013)

The last film I’ll mention is also the most recent. In fact, it’s still in theaters and would make a great date this coming Friday. It is also the last of my so-called “21st Century” romances.

The IMDB logline: “A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.”

Her was my favorite film of 2013. For the purpose of laziness, I will copy/paste what I wrote on my “Best of the Year” post:

“Not only does Her rank as one of the very best films of the year, it is also the 2013 film I most wish I had made. Every year there’s one: a film I would be most proud of to have on my resume, something that aligns with my sensibilities, says what I want to say, is made the way I would want to make it. The film I love the most and am also the most jealous of. This year, it’s Spike Jonez’s amazing 21st Century romance.

Yes, it’s a film about a guy who falls in love with his computer. But it’s actually not a film about a guy who falls in love with his computer. It’s so much more than that. It’s a great romance. It’s great science-fiction. It’s a great allegory for love and relationships today, about how technology has altered that landscape forever. I mean, really, in a world of text messages and online dating and everything, is it even necessary to have a body in order to love? People are forming relationships all the time based on words on a screen; Her just takes that a step further. It is a gorgeous, sexy, smart, and thought-provoking treatise on love and loneliness and humanity that I can’t recommend enough. It is the best film of Jonez’s career, and I’ve loved all of his films.

Oh, and I’m one of those people who thought Andy Serkis should have been nominated for an Oscar for The Two Towers, and I am even more so convinced that Scarlett Johansson deserves to be as well, despite never appearing on screen. It’s not going to happen, but it should.”

Addendum: Scarlett was NOT nominated for an Oscar. Neither was Phoenix. Those are both miscarriages of fake, meaningless justice. But still.

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LINUS, SNOOPY, CHARLIE BROWN

Anyway. That’s my list of films for those who plan on watching something this coming Valentine’s Day but who don’t want to sit through something unbearable like the actual film Valentine’s Day.

And if you don’t watch any of these Friday, watch them some other time. A good romance film is good 365 days a year, not just on that commercially motivated fake-ass exploitative sexist ridiculous so-called holiday that we call–

Shit. Doing it again. Sorry.

later

chad

PS. I would be remiss to not also recommend, especially to folks between, say, 16 and 25, the wonderful indie romance Dakota Skye. It features great performances, awesome music, and a screenplay that feels like it was penned by God. Buy the DVD on Amazon here.*

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*PPS: I feel dirty now. Forgive me.