Kickstart the Comic – Sorghum & Spear – Book One

Every couple of weeks I journey to my local comic book store, pick up an ever-growing stack of comics, rinse and repeat. I have to keep reminding myself as an independent comic writer, that there are others struggling to get their voices and stories heard. Many of them have turned to Kickstarter to do that. So I am challenging myself to keep a look out for any comic books that catch my eye.

This week is one I’ve been looking forward to for a little while.

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Sorghum & Spear Book One

From Greene County Creative

Dedren Snead – Writer/Creator

Timothy Geathers – Art Director

Welinthon Nommo – Exterior Art and Concept Design

Kickstarter campaign ends on Monday, April 17, 2017, at 7:00 PM EDT.

 

The Pitch:

When I first started researching this project, I imagined my mighty warrior goddess, Namazzi, holding a spear high to inspire her people as they charged into battle. As I created the mythos of the Eternal Realm and the first arc began to take shape, I wanted to relate my world with something that was symbolic to much of the story; something analogous but not obvious.

I liked the idea that sorghum is an ancient and powerful thing that originated from Africa; a gift that was shared with the world. The ability of sorghum to not just survive outside of its homelands but to thrive in other cultures and civilizations, eventually becoming an integral part of their legacies unveiled a mystical attribute I saw not just of this indigenous crop, but of the indigenous people it represented as well.

The “recipe” of Sorghum & Spear is that every character in our tale is growing and blossoming into something new.

The Story:

Sorghum & Spear is a fantasy saga that follows a group of amazing young girls who are called upon in a time of war to become the last line of defense against the SPORA; a pantheon of demons bent on destroying their people and conquering the Eternal Realm.

John’s Thoughts:

I first heard about Sorghum & Spear about 4 months ago when the creator, Dedren Snead, sat in on a Terminus Media writing afternoon. He had all these beautiful images of these powerful African women holding swords and bows and weird staffs with skulls adorning the tops. There’s magic and there are demons.

I don’t remember if I peppered him with tons of questions or just waited until he gave out little bits and pieces of information. Either way, I was hooked on the idea. Of course, then he broke the news to me that an actual comic book I could buy off of him right then and there did not actually exist… yet. He’d been building up to it, hoping to release a Kickstarter in the Spring of 2017 and… well, look what time it is.

The Rewards:

This Kickstarter is for the first issue of the comic book. In addition to some of the more standard reward levels (screen savers, pdfs and print copies of the book, as well as an 11×17 Glossy art poster), this Kickstarter has a couple of interesting ties to its origins with one level getting you 50 Heirloom Sorghum Stalk seeds and another providing you with a Namakula Wrist Bracelet showing you have contributed to Project Have Hope (who provides sustainable support and economic freedom to women in Uganda by offering their handcrafted jewelry on their behalf).

At some of the higher levels, there is also the opportunity to have your likeness drawn into the book as an “official Marduri villager”. And for those wanting a little bit more information about the world itself, at the $75 level you can get a 22-page print copy of Marlannah’s Hand Journal… really allowing you to immerse yourself in the world and the upcoming storylines.

Do you dare read the book?

The Verdict:

I was a day one contributor. It’s my hope that not only does this Kickstarter fund, but that it drives Dedren and Timothy and Welinthon and everyone else over there at Greene County Creative to put out more issues and, dare I say it, that Animated Series he’s teasing.

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For more information on Sorghum & Spear – Book One, check out their Facebook Page here.

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John McGuire

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

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

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

 

Kickstart the Comic – Delilah Blast #1

Every couple of weeks I journey to my local comic book store, pick up an ever-growing stack of comics, rinse and repeat. I have to keep reminding myself as an independent comic writer, that there are others struggling to get their voices and stories heard. Many of them have turned to Kickstarter to do that. So I am challenging myself to keep a look out for any comic books that catch my eye.

After a few light weeks, I’m ready to see what might be available.

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Delilah Blast #1

From Evoluzione Publishing

Marcel Dupree – Writer/Publisher

Joel Cotejar -Artist

Ramon Burge – Colorist

Marco “ETDollman” Della Verde – Letters/Production/Edits

Kickstarter campaign ends on Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 9:52 AM EDT.

 

The Pitch:

I came up with Delilah Blast in 2010 after listening to a Do Something by Britney Spears and Science by System of a Down. Once the idea was sparked, I spent a lot of time to develop the character because I felt like at the time there was a huge lack of strong female characters that depended mainly on their wits. After I mapped out the story, I wanted to make it all ages because at the time there weren’t many all ageas comics besides Tony Titans and Billy Batson and Power of Shazaam.

I met Joel on Digital Webbing, he agreed with my feelings. The 2 of us talked and spent time crafting a world that has elements of steampunk, 50’s scifi and post apocalyptic genres.

The Story:

Science runs the world and the Earth is governed by the E.S.A, the Earth’s Science Association. Everyone is allowed to join the organization on their sixteenth birthday, but unfortunately for Deliah Blast she oversleeps, missing the entrance exams and putting her dream in jeopardy. However, when another opportunity to achieve her dream presents itself, Delilah is more than willing and ready to take it, even if it means going to a dangerous alien planet to retrieve obscure technology that could change the world and Earth forever.

Artwork from Delilah Blast by Joel Cotejar

John’s Thoughts:

I’m constantly lamenting the fact that there aren’t enough people wanting to put all-ages comic books out there. I recall a Heroes Con a couple of years ago where I had to tell various parents with their younger kids that my table just didn’t have anything “age appropriate” for them. And while I’m sure they appreciated my honesty, I came away from that con wanting to find a way to do a comic for those fans.

Sadly, I haven’t managed to do that just yet, but it seems that Marcel Dupree and Joel Cotejar decided to take matters in their own hands!

The Rewards:

This Kickstarter is for the first issue of the comic book. As such, there are the standard pdf version of the comic as well as the physical copy for those more tactile inclined. T-shirts, wallpaper, and trading cards also make an appearance with each increase.

One of the things that I really like is as you go up the Rewards ladder, there includes an “Ultimate Edition” where you not only get the regular issue and backup story, but you also get to see the scripts and layouts. As someone who likes to see how the sausage is made, this often allows the reader in on some of the things which don’t make it to the page.

As you continue up the path, a couple of options stuck out to me, at $90 you get some Delilah Blast goggles – always a cool idea for Steampunk related cosplay. But the big one, the breakout, might be the $100 Best Friend level, where in addition to physical and digital versions (audio as well!), you get a “hand made Tikki Plushy”. That is a little bit of genius.

A plush toy of this guy. How cool is that? Artwork from Delilah Blast by Joel Cotejar

The Verdict:

These guys seem to be doing something to not only reach out to the younger comic readers, but also have some clever ways to potentially push their product down the line. And this is a great chance to get in on the ground floor!

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For more information on Delilah Blast #1, check out their Facebook Page here.

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John McGuire

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

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

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

Kickstart the Comic – Vessels #2: The Traitor and the Bear

Every couple of weeks I journey to my local comic book store, pick up an ever-growing stack of comics, rinse and repeat. I have to keep reminding myself as an independent comic writer, that there are others struggling to get their voices and stories heard. Many of them have turned to Kickstarter to do that. So I am challenging myself to keep a look out for any comic books that catch my eye.

The great thing about these Kickstarter projects is that many times even if you missed issue #1, they make it very easy to catch up.

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Vessel #2: The Traitor and the Bear

From Card Shark Comics

Dave Cook – Creator/Writer/Publisher

Rafael Desquitado Jr. – Artist

Dennis Lehmann – Colors

Micah Myers – Letters

Kickstarter campaign ends on Sunday, March 5, 2017 at 8:19 AM EST.

The Pitch:

Vessels is the brainchild of comic writer and multi award-winning video game critic Dave Cook AKA Car Shark Comics, and is a love letter to RPG gaming – most notably the From Software series Dark Souls.

It stars Wake, a gifted warrior with the ability to enter the realm of dreams and bend it to her will. She and her comrades G’Dala (a skilled mage) and Marillon (a master thief with a motor mouth – like Deadpool!) and tank-class D’Saahl set off to halt the imminent death of their world.

However, the laws of reality are breaking down as the Veil seeps into the waking world. Logic, physics and time are becoming convoluted, with weird and deadly effects, such as the giant teddy above which falls from the sky in issue #2.

The Story:

Our hero – a legendary warrior named Wake – and her companions G’Dala and Marillon must travel the land to halt the decay of reality itself, and unravel the mystery of the Vessels – five bloodthirsty knights hell-bent on stopping Wake from completing her goal.

John’s Thoughts:

One thing the regular comics scene doesn’t do very much of is fantasy based comics. I’m finding that sub-genre is certainly finding its footing through Kickstarter related projects. Vessels looks as if it is following a bit into Dark Tower territory with the idea of a more fantasy world suddenly coming into contact with very strange objects (see: a giant teddy bear). A world in transition with our heroes trying to save the day… or at the very least trying to let the world that they know hold on for a little bit more. And of course the enemies who will do everything in their power to ensure there will be no happy endings.

One other nice thing is you get a little sampler of the first four pages of Vessels #2 linked on the Kickstarter page.

The Rewards:

This is the Kickstarter for the second issue of the comic book. However, they make it very easy for you to immediately catch up with the series by offering reward levels containing pdfs or physical copies of Vessels #1 & #2. In addition, there are opportunities to get some prints… one of which is the excellent throwback to the 8-bit era showing our heroes as old-school video game characters. Lastly there is the opportunity to also sample a couple of their other series: Bust and Comichaus as add-ons to your Vessels orders.

The Verdict:

I love the opportunity to see how others world build (or maybe in this case it is world destroy). Fantasy settings offer all sorts of opportunities to shake up the genre and make sure you leave the readers guessing at what your next move might or might not be. Again, having a giant teddy bear drop out of the sky ensures this reader that things are going to be different from what you think.

And that is a very good thing. I look forward to reading it.

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For more information on Vessels #2 and Card Shark Comics, check out their Facebook Page here.

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John McGuire

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

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

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

Kickstart the Comic – Grinidon: A Fantasy Graphic Novel Vol 2

Every couple of weeks I journey to my local comic book store, pick up an ever-growing stack of comics, rinse and repeat. I have to keep reminding myself as an independent comic writer, that there are others struggling to get their voices and stories heard. Many of them have turned to Kickstarter to do that. So I am challenging myself to keep a look out for any comic books that catch my eye.

There are hidden gems running around out there, they only need to be uncovered and enjoyed!

Artwork from Grinidon by Erwin Arroza

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Grinidon: A Fantasy Graphic Novel Vol 2

from Grinidon

J. Miles Dunn – Writer, Publisher

Erwin Arroza – Artist

Kickstarter campaign ends on Sunday, January 22, 2017 at 5:21 PM EST.

 

The Pitch:

Before beginning Volume 1, J. Miles Dunn spent more than twenty-years developing the story and characters of Grinidon. He wanted to create a world with depth and history to make the experience as rich and authentic as possible. Each character and faction has their own story and motivation, and as you read the series, you continuously discover new and interesting things to explore.

The Story:

Carnasus, the capital of the southern kingdom, lies in wait of its destruction. They know they cannot defeat the northern army that marches to destroy them, so if they do not find some way to prevent this attack from happening, these will be the final days of their long and bitter war.

In secret, and against the wishes of the city’s Regent, a disgraced knight has been tasked to lead a group of companions to assassinate the king of their advancing rival.

Artwork from Grinidon by Erwin Arroza

Meanwhile, far away to the north at the camp of Carnasus’ enemy, Prince Demetrius prepares the army for the arrival of his father – and begins a countdown to his own end, as well.

Artwork from Grinidon by Erwin Arroza

John’s Thoughts:

Sometimes the best part about missing out on the very first Kickstarter they did for Volume 1 is that you don’t have to wait to get some piece(s) of the story (assuming you’re looking at a digital version of the book). So it is with Grinidon.

More than that, what’s amazing is how Erwin Arroza manages to do so much with light and shadows in the preview pages. Every image conveys some level of importance with no panel out of place or unnecessary. It doesn’t matter if he’s showing us a storm on top of a mountain, or a fleet of ships with the sun at their backs. This world is immense. There is heart and soul in every shot.

From Dunn’s own backstory, TWENTY YEARS working on this story, I’m fully expecting an epic tale where the story pushes at every boundary a comic has to offer. To have the fortitude to not give up his dream at some point along the way (20!), it helps those of us struggling with getting our own projects out there something to aspire to.

The Rewards:

Whether you supported the first volume or are showing up only now, there are an assortment of potential reward levels to either scratch your digital or physical itches. At some of the higher dollar levels, $250 and up, you also have the opportunity to get your likeness used as a recurring character. Definitely a cool idea for those looking to possibly spend a little more in order to have this book see the light of day.

Scrolling down you get to see various images they are providing as 11×17 prints. Everything from the book’s logo to Volume One’s cover to an alternate print (“by popular demand”).

Something I really like is that among all of the other images from the comic, of t-shirts, and extremely cool acrylics, is a couple of pictures showing how your physical copy will be shipped. I don’t know if that type thing would sway anyone, but it is certainly a nice final touch. And it shows a level of detail that you might not always find with other Kickstarters.

One last bit of information… “Beginning now through February 14th, we are accepting submissions from our fans to create an alternate cover for Volume 1 of our series!”

While it might not directly impact the Kickstarter, I believe it could be another way of spreading the word in these last few days. And if you are an artist, it could be a way to help yourself out with a bit of exposure and potential art credit.

The Verdict:

These guys clearly know what they are doing as they’ve past their original goal of $8,000 with 5 days left to go. I’m excited to contribute to the project and can’t wait to read these two volumes!

 

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For more information on Grinidon: A Fantasy Graphic Novel Vol. 2, check out their website here.

For the full information on the Fan Art Competition, check out their Facebook Page here.

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John McGuire

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

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

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

SHORT FILM: THE BIRCH

The Birch movie poster

The Birch movie poster

Happy 2017!

In the tradition of Amanda Makepeace’s short film reviews, I am sharing and reviewing:

The Birch (2016) – Horror Short Film

Sword and sorcery speaks to me. Those never-existed fantasy worlds and characters speak to me. In my regular blog series, I write about my quest to buy a resume that will elevate me from a tabletop role-playing game wanna-lancer to freelancer. I want to enter that field because I have sword and sorcery stories that I want to tell.

Where does The Birch fit into that? [SPOILER WARNING – The film is linked below so skip ahead, watch the short and then come back for my thoughts.] The movie takes place in the modern-day UK so you have to squint just a bit to see it as fantasy sword and sorcery. If you squint you’ll see a spellbook and magic and an elemental and the enemy uses a knife and the final battle takes place in the woods. Sword and sorcery veiled by modern clothing and backpacks and streets and a bedroom.

In D&D* terms, The Birch is about a young wizard who is given a spellbook by his dying mother in order to protect him. He is being bullied and she cannot save him but she knows a secret that can. After studying the spellbook, he uses magic to summon an earth elemental to be his protector and surrogate mother.

The Birch

The Birch

If this were D&D, it would be an excellent backstory of what drove a character to become a wizard. It delves into the origin of their spellbook, their mystical lineage, what motivated them to cast their first spell and why they can never turn back from that path.

This origin story leaves open future campaign plot points. Did the boy get away with the murder? What happened to the birch? Does it still obey the wizard or is there a darker, more tragic end to their relationship. The deepest reach might be, what killed mother? There are worlds of possibilities generated by 4 minutes and 31 seconds of story. Need a bit of horror magic for the New Year? I recommend:

The Birch (2016) – Horror Short Film
Directed by Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton
Written by Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton and Cliff Wallace
Full credits and production details at BloodyCuts and at IMDb.

4 minutes and 31 seconds of horror:

*For sword and sorcery, Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) provide so much of the glossary.

Review my deep, dark fantasy – Nether Kingdom

I’m hunting for honest reviews of my deepest, darkest fantasy novel yet, Nether Kingdom.

At the world’s edge, Andelusia awakens to the terrible realization that all her dreams have come to nothing. No matter that her father, the warlock, has fallen into exile. No matter that the enemies of mankind have retreated into darkness. When the shadows in her heart cause the seasons to change and deadly storms to sweep across Thillria, she knows what will come:

Nether Kingdom

Click here to buy and review!

netherkingdomweblg

Nether Kingdom is the third and final book in the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy.

It can be read as a standalone novel.

Books I and II are here:

Soul Orb New DDP Cover Second Try Dark_Moon_Daughter-InitialCover

J Edward Neill

Master of sci-fi and fantasy

Creator of Coffee Table Philosophy

Kickstart the Comic – Quest for the Last Tree

Every couple of weeks I journey to my local comic book store, pick up an ever-growing stack of comics, rinse and repeat. I have to keep reminding myself as an independent comic writer, that there are others struggling to get their voices and stories heard. Many of them have turned to Kickstarter to do that. So I am challenging myself to keep a look out for any comic books that catch my eye.

Plus, should I ever run a Kickstarter for The Gilded Age, maybe I can see what worked or what didn’t work and apply those lessons.

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quest-for-the-last-tree1

Cover to Issue #0 by Noor Rahman

Quest for the Last Tree

from Conflux Comix

David Seropian – Writer, Letterer, Publisher

Noor Rahman – Artist, Graphic Designer

Kickstarter campaign ends on Thursday, November 17th, 2016 at 12:14 AM EST.

 

 

 

 

The Pitch:

QUEST FOR THE LAST TREE issues #1 and #2 introduce a unique pair of heroes: Lucine and Asterion. She’s a teenage warrior priestess who shines with light. He’s a very hungry minotaur who lurks in the shadows. Together, they’re a “beauty & the beast” team like nothing you’ve seen before!

The Story:

A thousand years from now, Earth is shrouded in eternal darkness: an endless winter’s night. In this post-apocalyptic future where science and sorcery meet, a girl named Lucine grows up in a hidden monastery, home to a sisterhood of women dedicated to the service of the goddess Gaia. Trained from childhood to become a warrior priestess, Lucine comes of age and travels to a far off village to take her first lover. There she falls for the wolfishly handsome Moki, who seems to be kind – but in this savage world, can any man be trusted?

John’s Thoughts:

Egg Embry and I always lament that there aren’t more fantasy comics out there. Growing up on the Dungeons and Dragons cartoons and then the various Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms books… it was always a little odd that the genre didn’t cross over into the comic book format more often. So here’s a ready to read fantasy style story, so we’re part of the way there.

The kicker (forgive the pun) is that they have the first seven (7!) pages of issue #1 to try out. This is a wonderful idea, as so many times the backers don’t always know exactly what to expect from the actual story being presented. Here the preview shows much of Lucine’s backstory, from being raised in the monastery to receiving her Mark of Sisterhood.

The thing is, you can have a great story, but if the artwork doesn’t feel right or just doesn’t match, then it doesn’t much matter.

Lucky then that Noor Rahman is extremely skilled in the art department. And showing me those pages only helps to reinforce that aspect.

But who am I kidding here? You had me at a girl and her Minotaur.

quest-for-the-last-tree2

Covers for Issue #1 & #2 by Noor Rahman

The Rewards:

From the small amount of research that I did, it appears earlier this year issue #1 came out, so with the $5 first level (normally a “Thank You” level) you not only get the Thank You, but also a PDF of that issue. At $10 you get digital versions of both issues. Print versions of both appear at the $25 level.

One interesting idea mixed into their rewards is the Kickstarter exclusive issue #0, which is a fancy way to give us a combo print copy of the first 2 issues, an all-new cover, and 8 additional pages of concept art. I know many people who back projects love things that are exclusive, as it let’s them feel even more a part of the process (and let’s the creators provide them with something that is fairly unique to that particular moment in time as another kind of thanks). This seems like a slam-dunk idea here. It shows up in the $50 level.

Looking over their unlocked stretch goals, they include a pdf of issue #0 for everyone at the $10 level and up and signed print copies.

The only locked stretch goal is to Meet the Makers (available to those backers of $100 or more), which allows offers a 30-minute video conference with at least one of the creators (and possibly both).

The Verdict:

I only wish I’d found this one a few days earlier as we are closing in on the last day. Lucky for me, they are above their original goal of $6,050 and on their way to funded.

This is a obvious “Yes” for me.

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For more information on Quest for the Last Tree, check out their website here.

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John McGuire

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

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

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

A Quick Guide to Rating Books (1-5 stars) on Amazon

This game sucked – One star review

This widget did exactly what the description said it would do – Five star review

My new windshield wipers arrived late – One star review

This shirt is red. And it fits – Five star review

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See where I’m going with this?

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For 99% of the products sold on Amazon (or any site where reviews are gathered) rating things is a fairly straightforward process. If a product doesn’t work, doesn’t match its description, or showed up a billion years late, the result is usually BOOM – bad review. If a product works, fits its description, or basically doesn’t fall apart within five minutes, BOOM – good review. It’s easy. It’s simple. It’s a formula that applies to most consumer goods, from clothing, tools, toys, jewelry, et cetera.

But for books…whoa.

Totally different process.

But it’s no problem. Not at all. Simply refer to my handy guide on deciding how many stars to rate a book on Amazon.

Now let’s start at the bottom:

one

 

One Star Reviews

To be used only when a book is awful, unreadable trash, the one star review should seldom be applied. I reserve it only for those books that have awful editing, a truly atrocious grasp of storytelling, or a first chapter so dull and uninspiring I couldn’t get past the first few pages. When thinking about one star reviews, consider that if you finish the entire book, it’s probably not a one star book. If you enjoy even some small part of it, it’s probably not a one star book. But if it’s so wretched you feel ill after a chapter, then maybe, just maybe, you can go ahead and kill it with the old single star.

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two

 

Two Star Reviews

Now is where it gets a little trickier. Did you get halfway through a book, but you couldn’t finish it due to a sudden, moronic plot twist spoiling everything? Did the book have a few interesting characters and events, but crappy grammar throughout? Was a book ok, but wayyyy too short or wayyyy too long to really reach out and grab your interest? These are a few of the reasons to hit a book with two stars. Once again, if you can finish an entire book without throwing it at the wall, it’s generally not a good idea to cripple it with two stars.  Although a book might be two star worthy if you find yourself slogging through it just to say you finished it.

Useful side-note: if you stop reading a book due to something going on in your life (as opposed to the book sucking) consider a three star review instead.

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three

 

Three Star Reviews

In theory, this is what most books should be rated. Three stars for average. Three stars for good, but not great. Three stars for readable, but not gripping.

Did you finish a book, but found yourself struggling near the end due to poor plot management? Did you enjoy a novel, but hated a character or two because they were badly, unrealistically written? Was the story pretty darn awesome, but the editing or grammar spotty? Now we’re talking three star material. Three stars is for solid, readable material written competently, but not written masterfully. If something was pretty good, but just a bit too long or short, it’s probably three stars. If it had a decent, but not super compelling story, it’s probably (you guessed it) three stars.

The three star review is underused. Consider adding it to your arsenal.

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four

Four Star Reviews

Now we’re getting somewhere. The four star review is where most good books (should) reside.

If a book has solid grammar, tight editing, and a story that makes you want to read just one more chapter before going to bed, it might be four star worthy. If after you finish, you can’t stop thinking about that one cool plot twist or awesome chapter, it might be a four star book. If I’m an author (and I am) I’m happy beyond measure with four stars. It means I entertained the reader. It means I made them love some of my characters (and maybe hate some others.)

Think of it this way: if right after you finish a book, you’re hoping for the sequel, you’ve probably got a four star story on your hands. If you itch to recommend it to your friends or maybe even re-read it the very next night, we’re talking four stars all the way.

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five

Five Star Reviews

Ah, five star reviews. Perhaps the most overused and misunderstood star cluster in the universe. No author will complain about getting a five star shot in the face, but let’s face it, most of the books a person reads in their lives probably aren’t five stars…even if they review ’em that way.

Five star books should be at least one of the following:

  • Among the best literature you’ve ever read
  • Something that stirs deep thoughts in you for days after you’re finished reading it
  • A book that ignites a new passion in you
  • Something you just can’t put down. It’s so good, you’re willing to lose sleep (and possibly friends) in order to finish it

If a book isn’t really, really good or it doesn’t possess a unique quality compared to other books, it might not be five star worthy. But if it grabs you, scares you, makes you fall in love, or lights up your intellect, that’s when we’re talking five stars.

Five stars should be reserved for the best of the best. If you love-love-loved a book, that’s when you take a dive for five.

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I hope you enjoyed this quick and dirty star-guide.

For even more interesting content, check out the hundreds of articles on Tessera Guild.

Love,

J Edward Neill

If you feel like reviewing some good fiction, try this.

If you prefer non-fiction, go here.

 

 

 

 

 

Slayer, Anthrax, and a sleepy pit in Atlanta

If you’re a fan of thrash, speed metal, or any of the hard, fast, deadly metal bands from the 80’s all the way up to the modern era, it could be said:

  • You haven’t really lived until you’ve seen Slayer perform live
  • You’ve stood in a thrash metal pit and soaked up the abuse love of your fellow concert-mates
  • You’ve gone home in a haze of sweat and Jack Daniels with your ears ringing and your throat sore

These are things I know to be true.

Oct 5th, 2016 was one such formidable night. I was lucky enough to attend a mid-week show at Atlanta’s legendary Tabernacle theater. Slayer headlined, preceded by thrash metal pioneers Anthrax and Death Angel. The evening was cool outside, while the Tabernacle was as smoky and crowded as I remember from ages past.

It had all the promise of an epic night.

And for the most part, it delivered.

First, I have an admission. I arrived late to the show, missing opening act Death Angel completely. Like any sprawling city, Atlanta’s traffic is simply awful. One mishap on any of a dozen major roads shuts the whole scene down. I had every intention of arriving in time to catch every minute of each act, but the highways had a different plan in mind. So…… After two hours in traffic, I showed up just in time to grab two double Jack Daniel cocktails and plant my boots near stage-left, where Anthrax was already taking the stage.

Interesting note: just for kicks, Anthrax allowed the guy who plays Daryl on the show The Walking Dead to crash the stage just before their first song. I don’t know a damn thing about Daryl or his show, but the girls in the crowd did, and when Daryl picked up a bass guitar and pretended to jam, they soaked it up.

And then, boom. Anthrax started thrashing. (Or is it ‘thraxing’?)

anthrax_story_

Scott Ian (right) and Joey Belladonna (left) of Anthrax.

Now it’s true; Anthrax is a much different band than Slayer, so their inclusion on this part of Slayer’s US tour was an interesting choice. Singer Joey Belladonna belts out songs more in line with 80’s hair-bands, only with slightly more ferocity. Some might perceive them as not being as ‘heavy’ or ‘gritty’ as Slayer and other deathier bands. But as for my view, Anthrax’s spot in the metal pantheon is secure.

  • They played a viciously tight set
  • They showed no signs of aging. Scott Ian, rhythm guitar god, looked shredded, as did the other members
  • Belladonna’s voice was as crisp and powerful as ever

Anthrax’s set was maybe 45-minutes long. As one of the few ‘singer-only’ guys in the industry (most metal lead singers also play bass guitar) Belladonna hammed it up with the crowd between hooks. The set-list was energetic, especially when crowd-favorite Scott Ian took center stage and chugged through several awesome riffs. One noteworthy thing: Anthax’s style has always been kinda anthemic and sing-along, which is cool. One other noteworthy thing: despite their best efforts, the Tabernacle crowd just wasn’t biting. (More on that later.)

As my first Anthrax viewing (compared to at least six Slayer viewings) I was mightily impressed. Hair-band thrash isn’t exactly my thing, but ‘Thrax did it perhaps better than anyone. In the future, I’d like to see a show they headline.

After Anthrax went silent, and after another Daryl the dude from The Walking Dead sighting, the curtain fell over the main stage. Someone (bravely) had scrawled a bloody ‘Slayer’ logo on the otherwise pristine white curtain, which the crowd appreciated.

And so I drank.

And milled about the crowd.

And drank.

And again I noticed that despite the promise of Slayer, most mighty of all thrash-metal bands, the crowd was…sleepy.

And then…

…with a rumble, a few drum smashes, and a growling bass, the white curtain lifted and Slayer emerged. The crowd erupted (kind of) and the world shook. Tom Araya opened with the title track from ‘Repentless,’ and it get better with each song. Compared to my previous experiences with Slayer (including a show at the Tabernacle back in the early 2000’s) I can say without a doubt Tom, Kerry, Paul, and Jeff Hanneman’s stand-in Gary Holt are still every bit the gods of death. While no one will ever truly replace Hanneman, Gary Holt is more than capable. His solos rattled the Tabernacle, ditto for Tom Araya’s ageless howls and Paul Bostoph’s percussive blasts.

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King, Holt, Bostoph, and Araya

In case you care, here’s the setlist. (I’ve dropped an asterisk to the highlights of the night.)

Repentless

The Antichrist * A fine, fine choice for the first ‘oldie’ of the night.

Disciple

Postmortem * Probably the tightest, most energizing song in the setlist.

Hate Worldwide

War Ensemble

When the Stillness Comes

You Against You

Mandatory Suicide

Fight Till Death

Dead Skin Mask * The only time Tom Araya addressed the crowd was to explain how Dead Skin Mask is a Slayer ‘love song.’

Born of Fire

Pride in Prejudice

Vices

Seasons in the Abyss * Personally, I think this is Slayer’s best song ever. Played live, it’s twice as good.

Hell Awaits * I’d never heard this one live before this show. Completely worth the wait!

South of Heaven

Raining Blood

Angel of Death * Slayer almost always closes shows with this one. And for the last two shows I’ve seen them, they also dropped a tribute banner for Jeff Hanneman just for this song.

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The very cool tribute banner to fallen guitar god, Jeff Hanneman.

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Other highlights:

  • The main banner behind the stage was a massive, crimson glow-in-the-dark monstrosity depicting Jesus with thorns in his scalp and other terrifying images. It. Was. Awesome.
  • The average ‘down’ time between each Slayer song: 1.5 seconds. These guys don’t slow down. Ever.
  • This was the first Slayer show I’d ever been to in which no girls stripped off their shirts.

All of this brings me to one little thing that bothered me about the show.

It had nothing to do with the bands. They were beyond good.

It had to do with the Tabernacle crowd. More specifically, the Atlanta crowd. I’ve seen Slayer in several different cities, and yet every time I see them (or any band) in Atlanta, there’s always something about the crowds. It bothers me a little bit, their sleepiness, their reluctance to form a pit and start thrashing, their strange indifference to transcendent guitar play and machine-gun drumming. And on this night, I think Slayer and Anthrax felt the same. Surely the bands noticed the lack of moshing, the high volume of people gazing at their cellphones, and the general malaise pervading the masses.

Are we getting too old for this? I mean…I know I’m not, but are other people?

Is a Wednesday night a tough draw for heavy metal?

Or is there something about Atlanta, something about the specific mix of concert-goers making shows a little less uninhibited? It feels possible, given that I (an old dude) was one of only three people in a mass of several hundred in Tabernacle’s lower area willing to go into heavy-metal convulsions.

   Despite Atlanta’s passive approach to headbanging, the show was awesome and the venue as perfect as it’s always been. If and when Slayer or Anthrax return, I’m all in. Maybe I’ll bring a few rowdy friends for good measure.

Next up…Carcass, aka the gods of grindcore.

Thanks for reading.

J Edward Neill

Fantasy/Sci-Fi Author and Dark Artist Extraordinaire

 

Book Review – The Dagger and the Coin Series

This is what happens when you are waiting for a new Game of Thrones novel. You expand the search a little bit.

Here’s the thing: I love the Fantasy genre. When I began reading, the second series I read was Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. Not long after that I dove into Dragonlance novels and Forgotten Realms novels… However, I stayed away from the giants of their craft – Brooks, Jordan, Eddings, etc. For some reason I didn’t want to make that leap into some world I had no connection to (unlike all the D&D related books where I at least had some passing interest in those worlds having played in my fair share of campaigns). Those others though, I just couldn’t pull the trigger.

Years passed and I read other things, lamenting that I’d love to read some good fantasy at some point. Then came the TV show for Game of Thrones… and it was over. My self-imposed drought finally ended. I devoured the five books over the course of maybe two months (it might not have even been that long).

library-fantasy

And then I got to experience (and still am) the waiting (I guess this is karma for “knowing what’s going to happen”).

So the call went out again… what could I possibly fill the years with?

Miraculously, it was answered when my buddy Egg couldn’t stop raving about this fantasy series he’d been reading.

“You don’t understand, one of the main characters is a Banker. And it completely works. Like I could see Banker now being a D&D class… that’s how much this works.”

Honestly, I’m not sure if he said anything else about the series other than talk about how this author made banking cool.

Not knowing where else to possibly turn, and maybe because Book 1 went on sale, I bought it and-

Wait… that’s not entirely true. I went to Daniel Abraham’s website and decided to read one of his shorts in order to get an idea of his style (see if I liked it or not). So I read “The Cambist and Lord Iron“.

I’m not kidding about this – go and read that story right away. It’s one of those stories that I’ve reread because I loved it so much. And it effectively has a banker in it as well. And the man knows how to write bankers.

THEN I downloaded The Dragon’s Path. And devoured it. And grabbed the next one and the next one… until I reached a point in January where I’d read all 4 of the released books… and had to wait a whole 2 months until the last book in the series came out.

 

inigo - i hate waiting2

He gets it.

 

But we’re past all of that (and I realize I’ve not told you anything about the series yet).

Thousands of years ago Dragons ruled everything. And they created the races of men of specific purposes. Some were bred larger, stronger, with tusks or claws, to be their foot soldiers. Others were graceful and slight, but with higher intelligence so that they might create works of greatness. Regardless of your station, if you were human, you were a slave.

And then an uprising happened – the dragons disappeared… died out… leaving their charges to fend for themselves. Great empires rose and fell, connected by the old Dragon Roads of Jade. Countries attack each other almost seasonally, trading in more pomp and circumstance than actual real battle.

And that’s where our story innocently picks up…

daggerandcoin

With a ward of the Bank sent out in disguise to smuggle all their Bank’s wealth away prior to the combat.

With a grizzled mercenary captain who happens to be in the wrong city at the wrong time.

A noble from a lower house who is teased and picked on by the rest of the men in his regiment.

Very humble beginnings, with no guess that this place and this time will set in motion events that have been dormant for thousands of years. That there is a change coming to the land, a new magic unknown to almost everyone, and an ancient sect waiting to be discovered.

I really don’t want to give anything more away than that as Abraham does an excellent job of making seemingly unconnected things come together. Bits and pieces of world building that appears to be just that and nothing more turn out to have a purpose I wasn’t expecting.

More than that, though, is how not only the POV characters are portrayed, but the “secondary” characters as well. By being able to view them through different eyes we get a glimpse of not only how the POV characters might see them, but also how the other secondary and tertiary characters view them. And just like the greater world building ties together, so too, does the interactions between everyone.

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I’m not sure how those other Fantasy books do it. How do they deliver the stakes? Do they tell you up front and explain that if X and Y aren’t accomplished, then the end of everything will happen? Because with The Dagger and the Coin series it isn’t known what we’re fighting for (big EPIC picture-wise) until the 3rd book. And I think that is a benefit of the series. Again, looking back I see how the pieces fit together, but Abraham allowed me to get immersed in the world, in his characters, the LITTLE moments, before he revealed the true STAKES for the characters.

Well worth checking out and for you, there will be no more waiting as the series is done. Though, a little irony that I’m saddened by that aspect. What can I say, I grew to love the characters and want to know what they’ll do next.

 

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John McGuire

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

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

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

10 Good Places to Eat and get Tipsy in Atlanta

Ages ago, I moved from Chicago to Atlanta.

And now that I’ve lived here for the last thousand years or so, I’m starting to get a feel for what’s good to eat down here (and what’s not.) It’s also probably worth mentioning that I’m a foodie, a wine-lover, a cocktail fiend, and an atmosphere aficionado. I love to eat. And I love to eat out on the town.

Before we start, I’ve got a disclaimer. The following ten restaurants are NOT what I’m claiming to be Atlanta’s best food. That’s a different list. This list is exactly what the title says. Good food + good cocktails + cool atmosphere = on the list. These are all places I’d take a date, and none of them will break your bank.

In no particular order, please enjoy:

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Tannery RowTannery Row Ale House

Features – It’s all about the building. It’s literally a former tannery.

Way out in Buford (NE ‘burb of Atlanta) diners can experience classic American cuisine in a renovated tannery. The ceiling is three-stories high. The building still has remnants of its past as a full-service tannery…from 1873. The food here isn’t really the draw; it’s good, but not transcendent. It’s about the coolness of eating in a huge & open building. Tannery Row also doubles as a great event space, hosting New Years’ parties and other bashes. They can do it because they’re frickin’ huge.

Sage Woodfire TavernSage Woodfire Tavern (Two locations: Perimeter and Alpharetta)

Features – Huuuuge bar. Excellent wine list. Fantastic meat dishes.

Situated on Atlanta’s Northeast perimeter, Sage Woodfire is a meat and wine lover’s paradise. You say you want a great lamb shank, a succulent slab of pork, or a bombastic-good hamburger? This is your spot. And let’s not forget the wine list, which is big and yet somehow still refined. The wait-staff never fails to make excellent pairings. And…if you’re in the mood for a cocktail, they’ve got all the goodies. (Personally, I’m convinced they have a master-level sommelier hiding behind the bar.) Speaking of bars, Sage’s is truly massive. It’d be hard not to enjoy yourself sitting up there, soaking up the warm, oaky, and vibrant atmosphere.

Rumis

Rumi’s Kitchen

Features – Kabobs, custom cocktails, and the best rice around

Perhaps some are intimidated by the idea of Persian cuisine. At Rumi’s there’s no need to be. The menu features an amazing selection of fresh, perfectly-spiced meats, fine sauces, and over-the-top good rice. Like chicken, lamb, salmon, or prawns? Good, because Rumi’s makes them all taste unique and yet utterly approachable. Also, and perhaps most importantly, the cocktails are absurdly good. I’d list them here, but they’re all amazing. Just. Go.

Brio Atlanta

Brio (Downtown location)

Features – Classic Italian dishes served with fine wine in an upscale setting

In a big, open room, with a wait-staff buzzing all around, patrons can still find a seat and enjoy a private (maybe even romantic) evening. In the heart of downtown (there’s also a Perimeter location) Brio is accessible, fun, and delicious. They have all the classic Italian dishes, and they do them very well. While good for dates, it’s also a great spot for larger groups, which the huge central room can easily accommodate. Once again, here’s a spot with a good (but not great) wine selection. Need some noodles and a good drink or three? Get downtown and try Brio.

Eclipse di LunaEclipse di Luna (Perimeter location)

Features – Fast-paced tapas with amazing cocktails and late-night live music

Eclipse di Luna is one of my personal favorite spots in Atlanta. Either on dates or in small, tight groups, its lively atmosphere and stunningly good beverages can make the night just happen. The menu is almost all tapas, and it’s all great. Spiced taters, hummus, smoked salmon…the list goes on and on. It’s all got a hint of Spanish flavor; nothing too spicy, nothing too tame. Every time I go here, a pitcher of a little sumthin’ sumthin’ (usually mojitos) finds its way to my table. If you want a nice and loud night, this is your spot. (And afterward, head over to Café Intermezzo for coffee and cake.)

AntebellumAntebellum

Features – Small, focused menu. Top shelf cocktails. Wonderful staff.

Now let’s head out of the city. Way up in Flowery Branch (practice home of the Atlanta Falcons) one can find a true Southern gem. With a tight menu (usually 6-8 entrees) Antebellum’s focus is to make each bite life-changing good. They feature contemporary Southern cuisine, such as wild scallops & shrimp, braised duck, and mouth-watering short ribs. And let’s not forget the small but formidable wine list, perfectly paired to the seasonal menu. The bar is tiny, and yet…if you can find a seat there…you might not want to leave.

CincoCinco

Features – Straight up Mex and Tex-Mex entrees. Heavenly margaritas.

In sunny Suwanee, one can find Cinco, a somewhat upscale take on Mexican and Southwestern cuisine. Want sizzling hot fajitas? Go here. Want some choice tacos? Yep. Right here. Cinco isn’t super fancy, but it’ll fill you up with some damn good (and super fresh) food. Featured on Cinco’s menu are its margaritas, all of which are sharp, strong, and deeeeelicious. If you’re staying out late, Cinco also has a secondary bar attached to the restaurant. It’s called Cinco After 5. It’s great for people-watching (and eavesdropping) while sipping on top-notch cocktails.

Atlantic seafood

Atlantic Seafood Company

Features – Super fresh seafood paired with excellent service

Up in Alpharetta, we find Atlantic Seafood Company. As far as variety and quality of seafood options, there might be no better location in Atlanta. They’ve got everything…and they’ll prepare it any way you please. If you want classic and fresh-off-the-boat crustaceans or fish, they’re yours. And if you’ve got a taste for fresh oysters, look no further. Not to be outdone, ASC’s staff is fast, courteous, and professional. I’ve been there dozens of times, and I’ve yet to have a sub-par experience. Plus, like most of the restaurants on this list, Atlantic Seafood has superior craft cocktails.


Scope

Kaleidoscope

Features – Craft beers, excellent daily specials, and specialty pizzas.

A personal favorite of mine, Kaleidoscope is both a quality spot (to haunt and people-watch) and a solid choice for dinner and a loud conversation. Situated in the heart of Brookhaven, it features a huge long-table in its heart, surrounded by smaller, cozier tables. The bartending game is strong, with weekly craft beer specials and a tasty core of tending-toward-strong cocktails. They’ve recently added a pizza oven, which only adds to an already wonderful menu. Aside from the food and spirits, KScope has some of the liveliest late-night crowds in town. Pick a spot and sip the night away, people.

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Marlow’s Tavern 

Features – Mega-friendly staff. Monthly menu specials. Superior atmosphere.

With a sprinkling of locations in and around metro Atlanta, Marlow’s has quickly become a dining/drinking hot spot. The M (as they call it) specializes in its super, super, super friendly staff. Seriously, the M team is as professional and courteous as they come. Even better, as someone who’s been to the M hundreds of times, I attest I’ve never had a bad meal there. Gumbo, pork chops, salmon, crème brulee…it’s all solid. While not boasting a massive beer or wine selection, their cocktails are top notch, especially the famous New Fashioned. Forget your average sports bar. Hit up the M.

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Headed to Atlanta for the weekend? Lived here for ages and looking for someplace new?  Try one of these. You’ll not regret it.

And when you’re done eating (and maybe getting tipsy) entertain your guests at home with some quality Coffee Table Philosophy.

Love,

J Edward Neill

Author of the new novella, A Door Never Dreamed Of

Prolific painter of giant canvasses

Dark fiction novelist extraordinaire