Tales From the Loop – Thoughts About the Best Game I Played At GenCon

Check out John McGuire’s The Gilded Age steampunk graphic novel on Kickstarter!

I’m not burying the lead on this one. Heck, I put it right there in the title. Tales from the Loop was the best game experience I had at Gen Con. To the point that I talked about the game session to my wife like I was telling her about some awesome movie I’d seen (ask her about my retelling of How to Train Your Dragon – the rated R version – now full of lots of swearing!). I told my sister, a nut for everything 80s, because the game does a great job at delivering on a premise.

So what is Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the 80s that never was?

Think about your favorite kid led movies from the 1980s. Do you have a list in your head?

Goonies?

Flight of the Navigator?

E.T.?

Stand by Me?

Monster Squad?

Explorers?

Cloak and Dagger?

Short Circuit?

D.A.R.Y.L.?

These are the movies just before you get to the John Hughes films in your mid-teens. These are the movies where the kids are the heroes. Where they aren’t treated as dummies just because they aren’t the adults. If anything, the adults are normally the clueless ones who have no idea that a bigger world exists around the next corner, but their kids know it all too well.

This is the feeling Tales from the Loop taps into the nostalgia of that time when you both couldn’t wait to grow up, but also began to understand that it was pretty cool to be a kid sometimes. When you created adventures with your friends, when you bike was your gateway to the larger world, and when the woods were a sanctuary from whatever bothered you.

Tales is a game that takes that premise and puts it into a world very much like our own (or any of the worlds from those movies) but uses the backdrop of artist Simon Stålenhag’s paintings where fantastical machines are becoming more and more commonplace. From the Kickstarter page:

In 1954, the Swedish government ordered the construction of the world’s largest particle accelerator. The facility was complete in 1969, located deep below the pastoral countryside of Mälaröarna. The local population called this marvel of technology The Loop.

While it is a Swedish game, one of the stretch goals set up an American counterpart Loop in Boulder City, Colorado. Again, the thing is you could set this game in the town you grew up in. Those memories of growing up on the coast or in the mountains or playing in the creek or riding your bike through the subdivisions are what the game evokes within the players. It becomes easy to play because you’re tapping into a piece of you from Before you got old(er) and had adult responsibilities.

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When Egg mentioned adding Tales from the Loop to our game schedule, I had no idea what he was talking about. I just smiled and said, “Yeah, whatever. I’m just glad to be going.” Later I looked up the game’s Kickstarter and thought, “Interesting. A game where you play kids in a 1980s style setting.”

Then promptly forgot about it again until the Friday night of GenCon.

Egg was unable to attend the session as he was Cubical 7’s guest at the Ennie Awards. So Lee and I made our way to the room where the game was to take place. After a few minutes our Game Master, Bill Carter, appeared, having hustled from another game. For a while, it was just the three of us. Lucky for us that Alan Precourt and David Cochran decided to swing by and see how things were going. Bill “convinced” them to join in the game, realizing that 4 would probably be better than 2. And off we went into character creation.

Many games we played during the weekend were pregenerated. They had their own stats and histories and connections to the other pregenerated characters. So it can be a bit of a crap-shoot as you’re never 100% on how they are going to work, especially if you’ve never played the system.

However, Bill had us create characters for this game, and I’m especially glad he did.

You pick out an archetype: The Loner, The Jock, The Computer Nerd, etc. in order to have a little bit of framework for your character. But the thing is, you’re a kid, you’re not going to be great at 100 different things like some games. You have 4 main attributes: Body, Tech, Heart, and Mind. You’ll divide up your character points here among those.

Oh, how many character points do you get? How old is your character? Pick a starting age between 10 and 15. Got it? That’s how many points you have to divide.

Pretty cool, right?

Art by Simon Stålenhag

Ah, but there is a catch. There is one other main stat: Luck. Much like other games, using a Luck point lets you reroll a failed roll. So how many Luck points do you get? 15 minus your age. So the younger you are, the luckier you are, but the fewer Build points you’ll have.

The thing that any roleplayer will tell you is that your stats are only part of the story for your character. The story… who you are… what are you afraid of… what do you aspire to be? These are the keys to not only your character but will potentially inform your relationships with the other kids. And that may be the biggest piece of this game. Your kids are going to be friends and it’s really up to the players to figure out why.

In our particular game, I chose the Rocker. A bit of a clumsy, still growing into himself, an 11-year-old kid whose brother had passed away maybe a year or so prior. His parents rode him – trying to have him live up to be his brother, but in his grief, he found his brother’s old guitar and something clicked.

So, I had a background, but how to tie it into the other characters. Why are you friends?

Well… what if the Computer Nerd was helping me actually record something?

What if the Skater-Jock was just big enough to protect the Computer Nerd from the school bully?

And what if the Hick and the Rocker had found friendship in the older brother’s death?

Sounds like we’ve got some friendships going.

And just like that, we were ready to play.

I don’t want to give away the details in case Bill wants to run it again (or maybe publish it at some point). Suffice to say, our four kids immediately noticed something was wrong while at school. You might say that Strange(r) Things were afoot… and it was up to us to figure out why the world seemed to blink or why the robots were acting strange or why- seriously, I probably should stop.

Our attempt at Taunting the missing Egg Embry

***

After the game, Lee and I met back up with Egg and proceeded to talk his ear off about the session, about the people we’d played with, and just the joy of the session. I’m sure he was tired of hearing about it by the time we went to bed that night. The next morning we made a b-line to the Modiphius booth where I snagged a hard copy of the game (when we swung back by later that afternoon, they were sold out).

The book comes with all the rules needed to play as well as 4 adventures to get everyone started. So far I haven’t had a chance to bust the game out and play, but I did look to see if they were running any adventures at Dragon Con a couple of weeks later (if they were, I didn’t see any). Regardless, I’m looking forward to jumping into that world!

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For more information about Tales from the Loop, check out the Modiphius Entertainment site 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 novellas Theft & Therapy and 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.

Steampunk Fridays – Kickstart the Comic – The Invention of E.J. Whitaker

Check out John McGuire’s The Gilded Age steampunk graphic novel on Kickstarter!

Women kicking ass. That’s one of my wife’s favorite things to ask about any kind of media. Conversations normally go like this:

“Does it feature women kicking ass?”

“Yes.”

“Then I’m in.”

The following comic spotlight feels like it is going to be just that: A woman who is forced to outfox those who would try to do her wrong. However, unlike the normal Kickstart the Comic, this Kickstarter actually finished up at the end of last year (check it out here). Still, the comic is due out in a few short months (you can order your copy here), so I thought I’d give it a write-up.

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The Invention of E.J. Whitaker

The Gibbs Sisters – Writers/Creators

Mark Hernandez – Penciler/Inker

Hasani Mcintosh – Colorist

Earl Womack – Cover Artist

Starline Hodge – E.J. Whitaker Emblem Designer

***

Pitch:

When Ada Turner, a young Inventor’s apprentice, creates a flying machine in 1901, she’s introduced to the dangerous side of the Industrial Age.

The Invention of E.J. Whitaker is a combination of science, adventure, romance, and transformation that we have been starving to see visualized since our teenage years gobbling up series after series by Octavia Butler and later Tananarive Due. It was in part developed because of our appreciation and passion for telling classic stories featuring smart, aspirational, and diverse female characters.

The Story:

At the turn of the century, in America’s great Industrial Age, Tuskegee University student Ada Turner is a brilliant and charming inventor with dozens of patents to prove it but she’s got one big strike against her: She’s a woman…and…well, frankly put, she’s got more than a few strikes going on. So in an effort to have her work taken seriously, she comes up with her best invention yet: the pseudonym of E.J. Whitaker…

When “E.J’s” patent for a wondrous flying machine begins garnering national attention, Ada finds herself relentlessly pursued by William, a mysterious young businessman, and his colleague, Samuel. Ada must keep her identity and popular invention under wraps but can she, as more and more powerful people set sights on EJ Whitaker…? People with intentions to use the inventions for their own financial gain and get Ada out of the picture.

(artwork from Pinterest site for The Invention of E.J. Whitaker)

John’s Thoughts:

First off, I like the idea behind the story. Steampunkish espionage. While everyone else is chasing Tesla or Edison, E.J. Whitaker seems to be carving her own path through the world. From the Kickstarter, it describes the sisters’ background in “indie comic book and animation”, which you can definitely see from the concept art they have posted on their website.

(Concept art featured at www.ejwhitaker.com)

Speaking of the art, I love the mixture of engineering patents mixed in with their artwork. I’m not sure if they are all real or not, but it is a nice touch.

The Rewards:

This would be the part where I would tell you about the various rewards, but sadly I (we) missed the Kickstarter.

But you can still order a digital copy of issue #1 for $10 here!

The Verdict:

After some delays, it appears that the comic book is set to come out Winter, 2017. After that, they have designs on doing additional issues leading up to a full trade. Seems like an excellent time to support an indy book to me.

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For more information on The Invention of E.J. Whitaker, check out their webpage 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 novellas Theft & Therapy and 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 – Frankenstein, Texas

The weather is beginning to turn a bit cooler. Soon enough the calendar will change from September to my favorite month: October. A whole month where it is ok to bask in the idea of the horror genre. A whole month dedicated to experiencing as many scares as possible.

Let’s get a jumpstart on it.

***

Frankenstein, Texas – a 48-page western horror graphic novel

From Dan Whitehead

Dan Whitehead – Writer

David Hitchcock – Artist

Kickstarter campaign ends on Wednesday, October 18, 2017, at 10:36 AM EDT.

The Pitch:

What if Mary Shelley’s famous gothic novel was a lie? What if Victor Frankenstein paid Captain Walton to announce both he and his creation had perished and vanished in the Arctic? What if instead, the pair headed west, across Europe, to Ireland and from there to the new world? To America?

The Story:

This is a tale of action and adventure, but also a story that explores ideas of damnation and salvation, of fresh starts and bitter ends, and what it takes to atone for the deadliest of sins.

At the heart of the story is the complex relationship between Frankenstein and his creation. The man, constantly wrestling with the knowledge that he created life from death, and the monster, heartbroken by the violence that rages inside him and determined to prevent his “father” from repeating the mistakes of the past.

Page 1 – Art by David Hitchcock

John’s Thoughts:

This is a 48-page graphic novel of Frankenstein in the Old West… it’s one of those ideas that I’m both scratching my head about and also wondering – why didn’t I think of that? What better place for the Doctor and his Monster to lose themselves than in the untamed frontier of America far from their birthplaces?

The Rewards:

Fairly cheap for the digital version of the basic graphic novel ($4), but the printed copy is also very reasonable ($14). Sadly for those coming onboard at this point, the $68 Wanted Dead or Alive level is all gone, and with it your chance to make a cameo in the comic. As to some of the higher end options – the Saloon Decorator ($204) allows you access to an original page of artwork (9 spots are left at the time of this writing). Or the Town Marshall ($272) gets you an original commission of your choosing by the artist (5 spots left).

The Verdict:

The artwork on the page and the core idea tell me to back the comic book. They’ve launched at a perfect time of year for such a story, and I’m looking forward to seeing the finished book.

Art by David Hitchcock

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For more information on Frankenstein, Texas, 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 novellas Theft & Therapy and 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.

Dragon Con 2017 Recap

Dragon Con always feels a bit like coming home. Even when the numbers of attendees keep going up and up, even when more hotels are added, and even when we take over more and more of downtown, there is just something about Dragon Con that makes it feel different. Long before Georgia became Hollywood South, this was the place for those actors on the shows and movies we all loved would come by for a visit. They would gather us all around and tell their stories to all who would listen.

And for a little while, the gulf between our lives and their lives disappeared.

I hadn’t thought about it much before Friday night, but I’ve been coming to Dragon Con since 1993 when Chad Shonk’s father dropped us off at the entrance to the hotel and we made our way to see Todd McFarlane.

I still have my signed Amazing Spider-Man 300.

It was my first convention. Heck, it was pretty much my first idea that such things even existed. You mean creators of the Funny Books I love to read are coming to my town? I’m sold.

About 10 years ago I convinced my wife to come to Dragon Con for a day. Serenity either had just come out or was coming out, so virtually the entire cast was going to be there. She went, had a great time, and while it took a couple of years before she would be a regular, it has become our little vacation in the city for Labor Day Weekend.

2017

My big take aways for this year were:

  • Standing in lines is not a lot of fun.
  • Standing in lines and not getting into the panel you wanted is really no fun.
  • Being in the overflow room for a panel and then having the feed cut out is just right out.
  • Avoid the dealer’s room on Saturday if at all possible.
  • There are a lot of people in Downtown Atlanta on Labor Day weekend!
  • It never gets old to see the people coming in for the Chic-fil-a Kickoff Classic (college football game for those who don’t know) have confused looks on their faces at the various costumes running around.
  • The costumes continue to impress me year after year. I stand in awe to those people’s dedication to their craft.
  • I love listening to the actors when they are passionate about their work.
  • Catching up with friends might be the single best part.

This year took a different turn when the day before we were to go downtown, Courtney found a hotel room available within 2 blocks of the Hyatt. And we could get it for only Friday and Saturday night. Since we normally don’t go down until Friday and almost never go on Monday, this worked out perfectly.

Throughout the course of the weekend, we’re always amazed at the level of costumes and the creativity everyone has. Whether it is the Zoltar machine from the movie BIG to a robot controlled Stewie from Family Guy, people continue to push the boundaries for the next cool thing. Which is awesome to see, even if I don’t envy the amount of time it might take them to create.

Friday

Somehow on Friday morning, even after getting there at 9:30 for a 10:00 panel, we were forced to the overflow for Nathan Fillion. No biggie. He’s honestly entertaining enough that after a few minutes I mostly forgot he wasn’t in the room… until the Feed cut out for about 10 minutes, and then when they got the audio back, it was probably another 5 before we got the visual. Not anything crushing, but not the way we want to start things off. After seeing him, I realized we’re not doing our due diligence having not seen Con Men (though it was on this weekend, so I have them recorded).

After an aborted attempt to see Wallace Shawn (Inconceivable!) and a decision not to try to fight my way into the Stan Lee panel (they started lining up 2+ hours early), we decided to venture over to the dealer’s room in an attempt to see the wares before the craziness of the weekend really kicked into gear. Last year there was a line to get in by about 2:30, so we made sure we showed up closer to when it opened at 1.

Here’s the thing about the Dealer’s room that I’ll never understand: why is it people stand in the middle of the aisles and talk to each other? I don’t mean the “hey, let’s go this way” but full conversations. Given how packed the room gets, I’d think you’d want to do such things in an area where you wouldn’t be obstructing traffic.

While Friday’s trip was more about identifying potential buys on Sunday, Egg had put me on the look out for Kevin Hearne‘s Iron Druid Chronicles which my wife pointed out after about 2 minutes in the room. I ended up speaking with Kevin for a few minutes and grabbed a couple of copies of the comic.

The final panel attempt on Friday was one for the Gilmore Girls featuring Sean Gunn. Apparently, a room which holds 350 people is not enough by about 50 people and superfan that my wife is – was shut out.

I feel like this is the second time we’ve missed out on a Gilmore Girls/Sean Gunn panel… but maybe it’s just a false feeling of Deja vu?

We dropped in on TesseraGuild’s own Amanda Makepeace (and daughter) who was busy holding down her table in the art area. Prints were flying off her table and, spoiler alert, she ended up winning the “Best Space Scene” at the Dragon Con Art Show!

War for Jupiter

Saturday

Waking up on Saturday with an extra hour of sleep (due to not having to drive into downtown) was nice. I also realized that the 10 AM panels don’t necessarily fill up (unless you’re Nathan Fillion, I guess). There was no line, the Con could let you right into the room.

John Cusack was interesting as he’d never been to Dragon Con before, but he also wasn’t there to actively promote a project. So it really became a series of questions from the audience about all of his movies. I wasn’t sure if he just wasn’t as comfortable in such a setting or what. You could tell when he was really engaged with a question based solely on the length of his responses. Possibly because he’d answered the question a million time previously, some of his answers ended up being slightly longer Yes/No responses.

Though, I don’t want it to seem like it was a bad panel, far from it. Just that many times on these type question/answer sessions the worry is always “how many questions can we get them to answer?” and this was a bit more like “I’m going to get through all the questions.”

The highlight question was:

“Do you ever get stopped in real life by someone who wants 2 dollars?”

A laugh. “Every day… every day.”

The Flash panel reminded me that it is beyond cool that John Wesley Shipp is a part of the cast. To have that link to the old show and to see how much he respects these actors and the work they put in… it’s amazing. Danielle Panabaker was definitely the star of the panel as the majority of the questions went to her (many with the questions centered around her Killer Frost alter-ego).

The highlight of the evening was supposed to be The Barrowman Show. As soon as we saw such a thing existed we were set ongoing. Apparently, everyone else at Dragon Con had the same idea and it filled up completely. I can only imagine the craziness that went on behind closed doors.

Sunday

On Sunday, we began with another DC Universe panel: Arrow.

One thing about the highly entertaining Arrow panel or as it came to be called: Game of Arrow. Thea (Willa Holland) was/is clearly obsessed with the show. She had theories, she had thoughts about the end of the season. It was hilarious how she’d get going on a rant before the moderator tried to steer things back to Arrow. And then one of the others would push her to keep talking about it.

She says she wants to guest on a podcast to talk about it. I think you could do far worse than her. Plus she clearly knows her stuff. At the very least she’d bring a passion about the show!

Then it was onto a fan run panel about LEGION. If you haven’t seen the show, you can check out my review here. Lots of theories and thoughts were thrown out. I even supplied my own thoughts about the show – how maybe the reason we’re not sure of when exactly takes place is that just like any memories you have – we’re always wrong about when they take place. I mean, how many times have you thought a movie was only 5 years old when it came out over a decade ago?

In what has become a staple at Dragon Con over the last few years, I end up closing out things in the Venture Bros panel. Regardless of whether the show has a season ongoing or about to come out or nowhere near debuting… things are going to be funny and weird. This year the panel was made up of many of the voices from the show (including Dr. Venture and Wide Whale). Sadly, Doc Hammer and Jackson Public weren’t able to be there – apparently hard at work on the next season!

So I suppose I forgive them.

They showed off a book of artwork, sketches, character designs, etc. coming out in late Fall from Dark Horse which looked very cool (and something I need to add to the old wishlist). The trailer is here.

We capped off the evening with dinner with a couple of friends where we occupied that poor server’s table for far too long, but it had been far too long since we’d seen John and Jeane, so we didn’t have much of a choice!

I also attended a writing workshop session (as well as another writing related panel – at this point I couldn’t tell you what days they were actually held!) run by Michael Stackpole: 21 Days to a Novel. I still need to transcribe my notes, but I’m interested in giving the technique a proper try on my next project.

As we made our drive back, a little of the con depression began to creep in, but considering my month of Gen Con and then this convention that might have been exhaustion more than anything else.

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list to learn about the upcoming The Gilded Age Kickstarter.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

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

 

IT movie review

(Disclaimer: no major spoilers appear in this article. Minor thematic and a few vague plot details are discussed.)

*

I knew what I was getting myself into when I settled into my seat on a chilly Friday evening.

Twenty-seven years ago, on an eve not so different, I watched the original IT. Starring Tim Curry, it promised vast horror, and yet it only partly delivered. Tim Curry’s performance was of course flawless, but the disjointed flashbacks and clunky pacing didn’t deliver in the ways they could’ve.

After all, we’re talking about IT here.

Evil shape-changing Cthulu-esque clown invades small American city to devour children and consume oceans of human fear?

This kind of plot needs a better movie.

And perhaps IT 2017 is it.

As any good movie-goer knows, the key to setting a horror movie’s tone is to make us care about the characters. Anything less, and the most one can hope for is B-grade cheap scares and campy, gory death scenes. Fortunately, character-wise, IT 2017 delivers in a way most horror films just don’t. From the opening scene onward, we care about young (and stuttering) Bill (played by Jaeden Lieberher.) He’s vulnerable, yet strong in ways we can’t yet see. And so it goes for nearly all of the young, mostly unknown cast of ‘kids.’ Bev (Sophia Lillis) and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) stand out in the gang of seven Losers. We meet the young gang in their early teens, and they behave exactly like teenagers. They’re funny, sarcastic, and not yet sure of themselves.

Just like we all were.

And not only are the kids believable, they’re nuanced. No cookie-cutter fears here, folks. Each young’un deals with terror in a different way…and each one has a separate reason for fearing death at the hands of Pennywise, the Dancing Clown. Best of luck to the adults who have to follow this young cast up in IT – Chapter Two (rumored to hit theaters in 2019.) These kids will be a tough act to follow.

Speaking of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) he’s as creepy as we can hope for. I won’t compare him to Tim Curry (not really a fair fight) but Skarsgard delivers a solid performance. Modern special effects help Pennywise go over-the-top in ways 1990’s IT couldn’t. He’s not the most subtle villain, but likely one of the most powerful…and diabolical ever to hit the big screen.

Side-note: being a movie-geek and a lover of HP Lovecraft, I recommend this wiki explaining the Cthulu-esque origins of Pennywise. (Hint – IT isn’t just a clown.) Beware of spoilers.

Who wants to float?

Now…let’s be honest. The adults in IT are afterthoughts. Bev’s father (Stephen Bogaert) is appropriately creepy, while young hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) has a mom (Mollie Atkinson) who’s pretty much the most overbearing helicopter parent ever. And then there’s bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) whose dad (Stuart Hughes) shows up just long enough to make us hate him. But that’s it in terms of adult, non-Pennywise roles.

And that’s just fine.

This movie isn’t about the adults, but instead the impacts they’ve had on their children.

Now then…

It’s safe to say that an hour in, I cared plenty about all seven kids, but wanted more monster. IT runs pretty long (more than two hours) and I’ll admit at times I craved a slightly faster pace. But that’s just the thing. To really build anticipation, and to avoid some pretty common horror tropes, IT needed space to breathe. Meaning, if you’re looking for an in-and-out gorefest or a quick slasher horror flick, this isn’t your film. The expectation here is that movie-goers will be patient. After all, this film is just part one of two. It’s basically the Lord of the Rings of horror flicks.

IT is what Dark Tower was supposed to be, but failed to live up to.

Other notes:

The special effects? They’re good, but not obnoxious.

The music? Subtle, but not intrusive.

Jump scares? Only a handful, thanks to director Andy Muschietti. If you’re looking to be completely terrified, this isn’t necessarily the movie for you.

Adherence to Stephen King’s novel? Well….not exactly. I didn’t mind the deviations. Although, to really appreciate the bottomless depth of IT’s evil, one really needs to read the book (or at least hope the second movie dives headlong into the monster’s true nature.)

Ultimately, IT is a solid film. It’s not just a horror flick, but a character piece and reflective of several of humanity’s real-life fears. It’s sometimes slow, sometimes perfectly-paced, but mostly very good.

For me (and for most of you, I’m betting) the measures of a good film are:

A. Would I see IT again? The answer is yes…pun intended.

B. Am I itching to see the sequel? Yes. IT can’t come out fast enough. Pun intended again.

In other words, go see IT.

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For my other movie reviews, go here.

To get into something just as scary (but not nearly as long) go here.

J Edward Neill

Gen Con 2017 Recap – Part Two

You can read Part One Here.

Day 1 Continued

The thing no one realizes is that navigating the Dealer’s Room requires a commitment of time. As it turned out, we had about an hour and a half before the room closed on the day. The goal became see as much as possible while also visiting with some contacts and old friends.

While not the largest Dealers’ Room I’ve been in (New York Comic Con takes that prize), Gen Con doesn’t short change you on the options. Who knew there were so many board, roleplaying, and card games being developed and played?

We immediately ran into David Rodriguez, of Skylanders, Destiny, IDW’s First Strike comic series, and about a billion other things that I’m forgetting right now. I met David many years ago (through Egg) when we roomed together at Chicago Comic Con. It’s always nice to see the successes he’s had over the years, and it led to one of my favorite conversations ever:

Egg – So what are you working on these days?

David – Destiny.

Egg – … um, what’s Destiny?

Yes, Egg doesn’t know what Destiny is. I thought we were going to have to pull David off of him. Luckily, calmer minds prevailed.

After our examining of 5% of the Dealer’s Room, it was on to the game library inside of Lucas Oil Stadium. I’m not sure I’m ever going to be in Indianapolis for a football game, so it was cool to be on the field in an empty stadium.

The Game Library was pretty extensive. So extensive that after our failed attempt to play Arkham House (I’d suggest if you are going to play really complicated games that you get someone who has played the game previously to be around to assist). As it was we spent over an hour setting the game up, played a bit, realized we were playing wrong, still couldn’t figure out how the good guys might end up winning, and put the game away.

At this point, we were saved from our own indecision by Ben. Ben was just looking to game and luckily had bought a copy of Hero Realms earlier that day. It was a fun game (I ended up winning our 4 player game). Pretty easy to teach the rules, and seemed like it had a fair amount of replay value. After the game, though, it was nearly 2 in the morning and time to get back to the hotel and catch some sleep.

Day 2

Friday was a tale of 2 different games: Call of Cthulhu and Tales from the Loop.

Call of Cthulhu is one of those games I often read about. People love Lovecraft and to hear it spoken about in such high regard made it one of those games we had to check out. It also helped that Danny O’Neil was our GM for the session (this was just Egg, Lee, and myself). Egg had contributed to the Dread House Kickstarter, so we were interested to see how it played. Luckily the scenario wasn’t the one he wrote for.

It felt like CoC was very much a Roleplaying game vs. a Roll-playing game. Yes, there are dice rolls, but much of the beginning session was spent gathering clues, talking to NPCs, and interacting in character with each other. When the weirdness began and Sanity checks were called for, it was almost more fun when you failed a check. What did that mean for your character? How would you react to the next bit of oddness? And would you have anything left when it was finished (my character’s answer was a NO, as he failed nearly all of his checks)?

I had a great time. Danny was an excellent GM. It would definitely end up as one I’d like to play again next year.

Tales from the Loop was the second game we played. It was just Lee and I as Egg was the Ebay high bid to be the guest of Cubicle 7 at the Ennies. And from what I understand, he had a great time. But I still feel a little bad for him, because after playing Tales from the Loop we proceeded to talk about it for the rest of the weekend.

There is a reason it won Game of the Year.

I want to write more about it, so I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about the session (in a forthcoming post). What I will say is that all those 80’s kids movies where all sorts of crazy nonsense seem to happen when the parents are away: Goonies, Explorers, Monster Squad, etc., well, that’s what this game is. It takes the best of that genre and lets you play as a kid.

Do yourself a favor and check out the game.

Day 3

Lesson Learned from Gen Con: don’t schedule things at 8 in the morning. That is waaaaay too early. You will skip it.

So it was that Mouse Guard was our first session. I really like the comics, so I was interested to see how the system worked. The basic setup was our group of Mouse Guard needed to find a snake’s nest and deal with the eggs we found there. Using pre-gens, each character had a few roleplaying style traits that they could appeal to during the course of play. Say that you often put other’s needs above your own – you might get a bonus dice to help with that particular skill check. In addition, if someone wanted to assist another character with a check, they could as long as they were willing to accept a condition (tired, injured, etc.) if the roll backfired.

The bigger question I had about the system was more that one of your Skills was your Mouse Nature. You could use this skill when nothing else seemed to fit (or pretty much whenever it might make sense – which could be nearly every time you checked something). As my character’s Nature was probably his best stat, I wasn’t so sure why I would ever use anything else. Perhaps it works itself out in longer campaigns?

The final Boss battle was very different. Basically, you could choose one of 4 different tactics (Defense, Feint, Attack, and Maneuver) as did the GM and then one by one you would almost play a game of Paper Rock Scissors where however the cards came up different things happened. In the end, the Guard was trying to reduce the enemy to 0 before they were reduced to 0 (this was a team determined score). A very interesting idea, but for some of the characters, there wasn’t much to decide. If you were primarily a defensive character, you should probably go with your strengths, but this would leave your combat turns more or less the same. Again, in a longer campaign, I could see a metagame forming as the DM tries to anticipate your moves based off previous battles.

The evening saw us play 7th Sea. Egg and I had supported the 2nd edition Kickstarter and now have more pdfs than I could read in a hundred lifetimes (seriously, it is the gift that keeps on giving). In regards to the session itself…

The successes (known as Raises) work well enough, but my problem is things don’t always feel balanced. The number of Raises you get basically helps to determine the number of things you can accomplish in a round (# of actions you get). Multiple times I saw people get 5 and 6 Raises to my 2 or 3, which meant that they were getting to just do more things. Over a short combat this is less of an issue, but as the rounds increase, the difference of 2 additional “things” means one of the players just isn’t able to do as much.

So while the over the top play was fun, the actual rules didn’t sit well with me.

Day 4

Did I mention not to schedule things at 8 AM?

In the morning.

When you should be sleeping?

Because we didn’t make that session either.

Since this was get-away day, we tried to do the remainder of the Dealer’s Room (you know, that last 95%). I’m proud to say that I think I saw nearly everything, even if it was a drive-by. One of the stand-outs was Shadows of Esteren, a series of RPG books that I nearly bought just to look at the beautiful artwork. It’s definitely one I’m going to keep my eye on for possibly adding to my pdf collection.

As to purchases, I did get a copy of Tales from the Loop (I told you I really liked the game) and a card game called Brass Empire (go figure a Steampunk game MIGHT appeal to me). Still, haven’t busted either of them out to play, but I’m looking forward to doing so.

Wrap Up

Would I go back? Absolutely.There are so many things that I would have liked to do. I’d never roleplayed at a convention before, so this was an eye-opening experience to that. There were tons of games and systems I would have liked to

There are so many things that I would have liked to do. I’d never roleplayed at a convention before, so this was an eye-opening experience to that. There were tons of games and systems I would have liked to play, so those would go to the top of the list.

So did the Convention live up to what I had in my head? Yes and then some.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list to learn about the upcoming The Gilded Age Kickstarter.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

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

 

Gen Con 2017 Recap – Part One

You can read Part Two Here.

Before

For as long as I can remember, for as soon as we learned of its existence, there was talk among my gaming crew about going to Gen Con.

“More games than you can imagine.”

“Artists all over the place.”

“Play games until you can’t see anymore. Then wake up and do it again.”

Yet, it might as well have been El Dorado or some other bit of myth. When you are in Georgia, Wisconsin or Indiana or wherever the convention was being held (“somewhere in the Midwest, right?”), that might as well be on the other side of the globe. Add to the fact that none of us had any money at this point.

A pipe dream. And like most pipe dreams it lingered for a while. Random mentions of it throughout our college years, but no one was ever serious. Heck, we had Dragon Con for all of that “stuff” right in our back yard.

Then as our college days faded and with it all the extra time we seem to have in our youth… well, now we had money, but no time to go do it. And even though we still got together from time to time, many of us had moved away, got married, etc.

You know, the adult stuff.

But it was an itch for one of my friends, Lee. He had always been the one to bring it up. Sometimes out of the blue, always trying to gauge potential interest. Even as people wearied of Dragon Con embracing other “stuff”, he continued to look north.

Last year he was convinced. Sort of a now or never some 25+ years since originally bringing it up. Egg Embry joined him and off to Indiana they went.

I must admit I was jealous. I had the opportunity, but after the trip to Alaska at the beginning of summer, a trip to Indiana didn’t seem the best decision.

When they got back the talk had changed. It was no longer something they wanted to do again… at some point in the future, but they were already planning for 2017. And there was no reason for me not to crash their party this time.

Who would have thought the nerds and geeks would need to take over the football stadium. Awesome!

Day 0

As a comic writer, I’ve done a few conventions over the years, but aside from Dragon Con and New York Comic Con, nothing else compares to the size of Gen Con. They took over Lucas Oil Stadium (where the Colts play) this year because the Convention Center didn’t have enough room. 4-day badges sold out. 60,000+ people.

And every one of them either want to play games, buy games, sell games, or maybe just soak it all up.

We arrived on Wednesday night, managed to get checked into our hotel room, and then headed out to see what trouble we could get into, maybe grab a bite to eat, get the lay of the land.

Indianapolis is flat.

And after a few hours of walking around, I was extremely happy with this situation.

We’d already planned out our gaming sessions back in May/June. The goal was to play about 7 different gaming systems. You see, we’ve been pretty much Dungeons and Dragons players most of our gaming lives. We’ve dabbled in the White Wolf Vampire/Werewolf games. There were at least one West End Games Star Wars campaigns. Even a bunch of one-offs with Palladium’s Rifts and Macros sessions. But this was an opportunity to play different things, branch out a little bit, maybe even figure out that the might be *gasp* a better system than D&D.

Day 1

Vampire 5th edition was held at 10 AM on Thursday, which also coincides with the actual “start” of the convention (basically when the dealer room actually opens). What this really means is a mass of people – and by mass of people I mean thousands of people – are lined up in the convention center waiting to be let in. It was so packed in that area there was enough room for two people to walk past each other if you sucked in your gut and possibly leaned into the other people pressed against the wall.

So it would reason our game was at the far end of this area. If only we had Fezik to clear a path… drowning in the sea of people we somehow pushed, slipped, sidestepped, and probably pissed off a handful of people who thought we were trying to cut in line, we made it to the room and a short time after we started the game.

This was actually a playtest. Whether you’d played Vampire back in the day or not, they were making tweaks to the rules (a good thing for me because all I remembered of the system was that I rolled a lot of 10-sided dice). For the adventure, we were provided pre-generated characters. They had their various stats right there as well as a brief background and desires. Well, I say brief, but it was two pages worth of information before you even reached the stats.

The story was one of a drug deal gone sideways. Personally one of the best moments of the session was when the Game Master said to us “yeah, you’re pretty much off script at this point”. In my head, it was like we had figured out a loophole in the story – and since this was a playtest, it kind of meant we actually were contributing to making the adventure better down the road.

As to the system itself – I enjoyed that when you’re playing a vampire the Hunger is always present. Mechanically they simulated that by having one of your die a different color (red anyone?) and if you rolled a 10 on the special die then things could get… messy.

I did see something in this game that would come up again and again in other games we ended up playing over the weekend. Playing non-combat focused characters works really well in a campaign as there will be plenty of places to really roleplay your abilities, but in a four-hour session where you’ll never play that particular character again… well, it makes things a bit more awkward once combat actually breaks out. It’s not so much that I mind other players being able to do cool things in battle, but more that I wasn’t sure how I might contribute with sub par physical stats.

Lil’ Egg Embry Reporting…

After the game, we rushed out to meet Dan Davenport and his wife, Lisa, for lunch (both extremely nice people who made the wait for our food all the more bearable) (check out Dan’s Blog here). Egg had connected with him online, so this became a great opportunity to put a face to each other. Of course, I’m not sure they knew what they signed up for as Egg peppered the two of them for a complete history of their gaming days. I kept waiting for him to say”Egg Embry, press corps, follow up question on my previous question about the

“Egg Embry, press corps, follow up question on my previous question about the aforementioned item…”

When lunch was finished, we made our way back to the convention center and dove into the Dealer’s room…

***

Hope you enjoyed Part 1, Part 2 will be up next week.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list to learn about the upcoming The Gilded Age Kickstarter.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

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

Steampunk Fridays – Imaginary Voyages of Edgar Allan Poe #1 KS Exclusive Edition

Check out John McGuire’s The Gilded Age steampunk graphic novel on Kickstarter!

Is Edgar Allan Poe Steampunk?

We mostly know him from his horror side of things. Whether it is burying people alive or being driven mad by the guilty thoughts of our minds, Poe had a stranglehold on that part of his reader’s minds. But Steampunk? I honestly didn’t know. So I consulted the all-powerful internet for the answer and came across this article from Tor.com: Was Poe Steampunk?

That’s good enough for me!

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Imaginary Voyages of Edgar Allan Poe #1 KS Exclusive Edition

Dwight MacPherson – Writer

Luis Czerniawski – Artist

Kickstarter campaign ends on Wednesday, August 30, 2017 at 8:51 AM EDT.

 

The Pitch:

I’ve often described this story as “Alice in Wonderland meets The Lord of the Rings.” And for those who are fans of classic literature like myself, I would describe it as “Homer’s Odysseymeets Dante’s Divine Comedy.” 

The Story:

Edgar Allan Poe has lost everyone he ever loved and now he is losing his mind. Haunted by his wife’s ghost and his many literary failures, the poet tumbles into a fantastical world created by his genius…and his madness. This world called Terra Somnium is a nightmare region that merges his macabre literary creations and mythological gods and monsters of old, all hell-bent on stopping him from escaping the land of dreams.

John’s Thoughts:

As a writer, there are many times when you might want the things you write about to actually come true. It would be great to become the hero of some epic fantasy who slays the dragon and takes the throne. Then again, it is less fun thinking about it when you are writing about very horrific ideas.

And then watch them not only come true but pretty much try to kill you? That is right up there with Writer’s Block!

The Rewards:

The interesting thing about this Kickstarter is that there are only 3 Rewards: Digital copies ($5), KS exclusive printed edition with a pair of prints ($15), and the print book with a t-shirt ($25). So many times the talk is about appealing to as many people as possible with the rewards, but here MacPherson boils it down to the core… and as of this writing (with roughly 7 days to go) he’s more than tripled his asking goal ($3000+ vs $1000).

Perhaps the lesson is less is more?

The Verdict:

You get on the ground floor of issue 1 of the comics. The art is a nice mixture of cartoony and horrific… a perfect fit for this time of story.

If you are a lover of Poe then this seems like a complete no brainer.

***

For more information on Imaginary Voyages of Edgar Allan Poe #1 KS Exclusive Edition and Hocus Pocus Comics, check out their Facebook Page here.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list to learn about the upcoming The Gilded Age Kickstarter.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

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

Kickstart the Comic – The Owl Tribe

I love it when creators find a spot of history that very few people have decided to set up in and really make it their own. Here’s a book that not only does that but uses one of those pieces of North American history that doesn’t always get looked at in general, which creates a potential goldmine of ideas for the right person.

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The Owl Tribe

Lukasz Wnuczek – Story, Dialogues, and Art

Luke Cartwright – Dialogues and Edits

Kickstarter campaign ends on Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 1:39 AM EDT.

 

The Pitch:

Precolumbian America… The worlds of Vikings and natives collide in this full-color graphic novel.

The Story:

The Owl Tribe contains a single complete story which revolves around a hunt for a beast straight out of the native (and Norse!) legends. It is set in the time of Viking exploration of pre-Columbian America and features fantastic characters borrowed from the lore of native tribes while also drawing from Norse tales.

John’s Thoughts:

Years ago there was a movie called Pathfinder which dealt with Vikings coming to the New World. It’s one of those ideas that just clicks for me. So when I read the initial pitch for The Owl Tribe and it mentioned Vikings and the New World… well, that’s something I’ve got to see.

The level of detail in some of the drawings, the weapons or equipment… not only am I pretty sure those took some effort to do, but they really sell me on the realism side of things. These are people who are clearly passionate about this story and want to make it as authentic as possible.

The Rewards:

There are both the print and digital options to start. Then some art prints (which you should go to the Kickstarter Page to check out those if you do nothing else). However, for those who would rather make an appearance within the comic book, there is both a Single Appearance opportunity ($137 Level) and a chance to become a Secondary Character in one of the scenes ($242 Level).

But the one that is unique is the Art Commission where it appears you can have a One-Page story drawn up in this style. That’s a very cool opportunity that I’ve not seen in other Kickstarters ($320 level).

The Owl Tribe – Page 16

 

The Verdict:

One of the biggest things going for this project (aside from the material, obviously) is that this has already been completed. Especially with something of this scale: 100 page graphic novel with 56 of that being the story, that’s a good thing (nobody likes to wait for months and months if they don’t have to).

More than that, this book just looks like one you know you’ll get drawn into… or, at least, I know I will.

***

For more information on The Owl Tribe, 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 novellas Theft & Therapy and 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.

Steampunk Fridays – Space: 1889

Check out John McGuire’s The Gilded Age steampunk graphic novel on Kickstarter!

I remember seeing ads for a different kind of roleplaying game in some of my issues of Dragon Magazine.  It claimed it was “Science Fiction Roleplaying in a more Civilized Time”. This was years before I would even hear the term Steampunk, and my gaming friends were content to keep any Science Fiction related roleplaying in the Star Wars universe. Another game, with a new system to learn, would have been asking a lot.

So I never delved into Space: 1889 to see if it was something I might have liked.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, Egg Embry sends me the link to a few odds and ends which might work well with this “Steampunk Fridays” blog series I want to do. Among them is a link to the Space: 1889 FREE Quickstart Rules. So what the heck… I dove in and started reading.

So what is it?

Take the best parts of John Carter, Warlord of Mars, a mix of the crazy-fun science fiction of Jules Verne and HG Wells, and top it off with some of the pulp stories from the 30’s and 40’s about adventures on other planets (before pesky real science ruined it for everyone). The Imperial nations of Europe decided to look to the stars to appease their appetites for materials for Queen and Country (or Kaiser and Country as the case may be).

The Quickstart Rules provide the brief overview of the history of the settings. Then they give a breakdown of the various stats before unveiling an adventure to start things off.

The Rules

The first thing that really jumped out at me was the use of Dice Pools. Now, I’ve played the Vampire/Werewolf (White Wolf) games in the past where you roll a number of dice and each one higher than the number to beat is a “success”. The more successes the better chance you have to accomplish some task.

However, Space: 1889 takes it in a different direction. It isn’t a value you are trying to beat, but instead, you can use any dice as long as they have an even number of sides. When you roll, you are looking for how many EVEN numbers you rolled in order to determine your level of success.

It is an interesting idea, effectively making it so every dice is a straight up 50/50 chance of being a success (and makes it very easy to know your successes in any situation).

For those familiar with Dungeons and Dragons attributes, you’ll find a similar breakdown of Intelligence/Dexterity/Strength/Charisma/Body (Constitution)/Willpower (Wisdom).

The other piece that I really liked was Style Points:

“Style points are used to help a character boost their abilities and skills when their current ability is just no sufficient.”

Which is another way of saying you can use these Style points (which you gain by roleplaying) in order to possibly upping your chance of successes by 1 dice per Style point or reduce damage against your character. I’ve seen this in other games, but the differing costs for their use feel like an interesting idea. Maybe you save them to more for protection against being hurt if you are down to your last few levels of health. Or do you burn through them quickly in order to end a fight (or another challenge) that much quicker?

And while this is only an overview of the rules, it also includes a handful of pregenerated character sheets at the back of the PDF (Tracker, Inventor, Officer, Discoverer, and Xeno-Archaeologist). There you get an idea of other potential abilities your characters may have as well as Combat Maneuvers you can perform (ranging from “Aim” which increases your Attack at the expense of being able to move to “Total Defense” which increases your Defense at the expense of not being able to attack).

Possible storylines

Like I mentioned above, the guide comes with a brief adventure to help get your group immediately immersed into the setting. From the Quickstart:

“The player characters are recruited on Mars by renowned archaeologist Professor Charles Dyer. He organizes an expedition to explore the abandoned monastery of Tasharvan that stands between Dioscuria and Cydonia.”

From there you have aspects of an Indian Jones type story where you are not just there for treasure, but to really survey the ruins.

For ongoing campaigns, you have a number of exotic settings: the deserts of Mars, the jungles (and lizardmen) of Venus, the middle section of Mercury, caught between eternal night and eternal darkness, Luna, and even the Asteroid Belt, a place filled with the potential for ruins and smugglers and pirates.

There are battles to be fought with Martians, areas that have yet to have mankind explore, and seedy places best left off maps for fear of what you might find.

***

For more information about Space: 1889 and the other supplements available, check out Clockwork Publishing.

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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 novellas Theft & Therapy and 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 – Standstill #1

Post-apocalyptic stories come in all shapes and sizes, but what they truly are about is the survivors. Like any good science fiction, they force the reader to ask questions: What if it was me who lived? What would I do to survive? At what point might it all no longer be worth it?

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Standstill #1

From Justin Gray

Justin Gray – Writer

Brox – Artist

Kickstarter campaign ends on Thursday, July 20, 2017, at 10:08 AM EDT.

The Pitch:

At its core, Standstill is the bastard love child of the Americana survival horror genre and a romantic Greek tragedy. The dramatic table is set here in the opening chapter when you are introduced to Mason and Luna, two young people very much in love, but that love is going to be tested under unimaginable circumstances over the course of their story. I say their story because Standstill is big enough to sustain multiple storylines over time and that’s how I’ve been writing it. As it progresses from chapter to chapter, the story is visceral, emotional, and, in some cases, not for the faint of heart.

The Story:

Over 7 billion people live on planet Earth. What if 6 billion of them suddenly and inexplicably stopped moving – like toys that ran out of batteries. What would happen if the world came to a… Standstill.

John’s Thoughts:

The little blurb on the back of the book. The little bit of text where you have to put the idea out there enough so that it will catch someone’s eye. Simple, concise… everything I look for in a story. On the surface, it is the type of idea which could have just as easily worked in a novel format… but as a lover of comics, I’ll happily take what Justin Gray and Brox are putting out there.

Art by Brox. Standstill Issue 1, Page 1

The Rewards:

A couple of things popped out to me:

The digital comic is very reasonable at $3 and you get a copy of the script which, as a writer, is never a bad thing to know a little more about someone else’s process.

The physical copy at $5. Many comics end up charging far more than that even before shipping.

The ability to add a digital ad to the digital version of the comic at the $8 level. At the time of this writing, a small amount of money could get you in front of at least 225 backers where maybe something you write in your pitch becomes the thing which drives them to your story.

Art by Brox. Standstill Issue 1, Page 2

The Verdict:

Justin talks about the idea coming to him if he woke up and everyone else was paralyzed, waiting to die.

That is some messed up thinking… a man after my own heart. I don’t know where the story may end up going, or what the long-term ideas he may have already mapped out, but at least in the initial issue, I am all aboard to see what happens next.

***

For more information on Standstill or Justin’s other comic projects, check out his 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 novellas Theft & Therapy and 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 – Angelica Reigns #1

Sometimes it is about the story, sometimes it is about the art, sometimes it is about the promotion, and sometimes it is about the whole package. The Angelica Reigns has a little bit of each… a comic I can enjoy and a Kickstarter campaign I can take notes from… sign me up!

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Angelica Reigns #1

From SFC

Brian Hawkins – Writer

Federico Sabbatini – Artist

Chiara Miriade – Colorist

Brant Fowler – Letters

Kickstarter campaign ends on Thursday, June 29, 2017 at 1:05 PM EDT.

 

 

The Pitch:

Angelica Reigns is the first solo series of the SFC Comics line. SFC is a world of super powered sports entertainment. These solo series are a chance to get to know the characters outside of the ring.

The Story:

Angelica is trying to establish a life outside of the shadow of her mother’s cult and Qakare’s power. She’s a young woman in a new city making new connections. All of that is put on hold when she becomes prey to a secret society called, The Faith. They are a faceless, timeless, and secret organization with roots that go back to the crusades. Their mission is to bring purity back to this world. They have ways to track and monitor dark magic. 

John’s Thoughts:

This one has the feel of maybe a Buffy style of story for Angelica. A young girl, fighting against supernatural forces bigger than herself, and, from the looks of it, has a couple of friends to help her on her travels. Consider me intrigued by the overall idea.

In addition, the work Federico Sabbatini is doing on the various images they’ve shown on the Kickstarter page are very nice, almost as if someone took a series of animated cells from a tv show or movie and put them on the page.

From Angelica Reigns #1 – Art by Federico Sabbatini & Colors by Chiara Miriade

The Rewards:

A couple of things they are offering that are a little above and beyond what you normally might expect at such lower levels is a 30 minute Google Hangout with the writer of the series ($30 Level). I could see that being not only an interesting conversation to pick his brain for a bit, but maybe even gain some insight on further learning the craft of writing comics (if one was so inclined). At the $150 level in addition to print versions of the books, you get a 1 hour Google Hangout.

Many of the comic Kickstarters have the idea of “putting you in the comic”, but Angelica Reigns might be the first one to make you “a major character in Angelica Reigns 2-4” ($500 Level). I’m thinking that if you ever wanted to be the villain, but didn’t want to deal with all the jail time… this might be your chance!

From Angelica Reigns #1 – Art by Federico Sabbatini, Colors by Chiara Miriade & Letters by Brant Fowler

The Verdict:

Looking over the Facebook page, they’ve hit upon some interesting cross-promotion with a couple of other Kickstarters (The Untold and Knight), both of which are holding their own Kickstarter campaigns right now. I love the idea of Indy creators banding together to raise all boats as opposed to treating each other as competition. Let’s get those stories out there and told!

***

For more information on Angelica Reigns or the rest of SFC 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 novellas Theft & Therapy and 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.

 

200 Word RPG – Memories

In my experiment to jump from tabletop RPG wanna-lancer to freelancer, there are games and games and games that need to be read and played. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Every new game is a chance to learn or a chance to be awed. Today’s inspirational game is a find from the 200 Word RPG Challenge. Since 2015, the 200 Word RPG Challenge solicits game designers to create a full RPG using only 200 words. For the uninitiated, most RPGs can’t get across their full rules in 200 pages. Putting a hard limit on the number of words you can use to describe the game rules, and setting that number lower than a post-bankruptcy credit score, makes this difficult in the extreme. To design any coherent game with that word limit is an amazing accomplishment. Santiago Eximeno’s Memories doesn’t just answer the challenge, it offers a game that is an emotional roller coaster. That’s delivering so much in so small a package that I had to share this game and take my hat off to the creator’s accomplishment.

Santiago Eximeno‘s Memories, reprinted in its entirety under the CC-BY-4.0 License.

Memories • 2017rpgwinner

Santiago Eximeno • www.eximeno.com

You are elderly people in a Nursing home. No one comes to see you anymore. You want to talk with others, tell them about your life, your dreams, and your memories.

Sit around a table. Get nine matches and an ashtray. Cut a paper sheet in nine pieces and write a word in each piece. These words are your conversation topics.

CHILD  LOVE  SPOUSE  WORK  FRIEND  GAME  TRAVEL  GRANDCHILD  HOME

One of you take a piece of paper and begins to talk about the topic in it. While speaking he lights a match and set fire to the paper in the ashtray. All of you talk about the proposed topic until the paper is consumed. Then a new elder takes another piece of paper and proceeds in the same way, but all of you have forgotten your memories related to the previous topic. You cannot use them in the new conversation. If the memories are necessary (for example, you must have CHILD in order to have GRANDCHILD), you must justify it in another way.

Finish when the nine pieces of paper have been burned —and, with them, all your memories.

 

200 Word RPG Challenge judge Brent Newhall called this game a “gut punch”. I’ve never played a game that crafts this amount of emotion through the rules. I’ve had emotional gaming sessions but the rules rarely drove the sentiment. The flames and the burning of memories while you are trying to maintain a coherent character and personality is a challenge that calls for a special kind of player. The frustration that the player experiences as they realize that they cannot use that prior memory because it’s gone evokes the exact atmosphere this game dwells in. Memories is a well-considered and realized approach to gaming in 200 words. It proves that amazing games are not just found in thick tomes, that the execution of the concept is what matters. Clearly, this would not be an easy game to play from an emotional point of view but one that may generate a lasting memory.

Santiago Eximeno’s website is here and find Memories on his website here. The 200 Word RPG Challenge, with more free entries to play, can be found here.

 

 

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My Tessera Guild-mate, Robert (Route 3) Jeffrey II, is still running his Kickstarter as is my friend and publisher, Michael (Grond) Phillips. I cannot recommend checking out these Kickstarters enough!

Route 3

Route 3 by Robert Jeffrey II and Sean Damien Hill
Ends on .

“Centuries old prophecies. Shadowy government conspiracies. Super heroic action. Just a typical day for teenager Sean Anderson. Route 3.”

Check out the Kickstarter here – Route 3

Grond 3

Grond #3 by Michael Phillips
Ends on .

“Grond is now Kallok. Obberoth is dead. Valara’s fate is decided by Ugreth. Oublar is close to getting what he desires, being Mok’Dar.”

Catch up on the back issues and support the creation of the current issue on Kickstarter here – Grond #3

 

 

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Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt or wall clock or ice tea glass!

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Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

How to react when hit with bad reviews

It’s no longer debatable.

Self-published authors are a force to be reckoned with in the publishing world.

As of June, 2017, more than 45% of all new published works are from non-Big Five, non-publishing house writers. And while a majority of readers’ money is still used to purchase traditionally-published works, indies  consume an ever-growing piece of the pie.

This is the world we live in. This is the new face of books, writing, and marketing.  Perhaps one day the pendulum will swing in another direction. Or…perhaps not.

The device that changed everything…

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And yet, behind the scenes of the indie revolution, there’s a battle brewing. The most coveted resource of the modern writer isn’t always money, recognition, or even literary success.

It’s reviews.

Wander the social media accounts of most self-published writers, and you’ll find one thing in common: requests for reviews. New and established authors alike believe the key to getting noticed on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and Smashwords is having reviews…and plenty of them. This is true for any product, but perhaps doubly so in the minds of the self-published. The perception, if not the reality, is that a pile of four and five-star reviews will earn authors more clicks, and thus more buys.

And while it’s a common theme amongst indies to state, “We’re not in competition with each other – we’re all allies here,” it’s simply not the case. Savvy and successful self-published writers know full well that all resources are limited, that readers aren’t in never-ending supply, and that while good reviews are little chunks of gold, not everyone cares to write them.

Trouble is; while in search of reviews, many authors are in the habit of shooting themselves in the foot.

Here’s just a few of the negative behaviors exhibited:

  • Authors spend more time appealing to readers’ willingness to review their books…rather than presenting appetizing stories, blurbs, and cover images
  • Authors chastise (either directly or indirectly) readers who either leave no reviews or less than favorable reviews
  • In frustration, authors publish full-length articles complaining about negative reviews
  • Authors post complaints directly to their social media accounts
  • And most grievously, authors forget their audience isn’t other writers, but readers

We all get it. We know marketing is typically the least enjoyable part of the self-publishing process. For a new (or even established) author to leap into the world of selling books is intimidating. Unfair reviewers do exist. Trolls are out there. Readers probably could help out and leave honest reviews more often than they do.

Guess what?

It doesn’t matter.

Authors new and old need to consider:

  • In self-publishing, just as in all other parts of life, no one really wants to hear complaints
  • The vast majority of people who read aren’t authors, and have no interest in the laundry list of issues self-published writers face
  • Time spent complaining online and publishing negative articles would be better spent creating, marketing, and practicing one’s writing craft
  • It doesn’t take much negativity to drive potential readers away – they’re here for the story, not a diatribe about the publishing industry

It’s almost understandable. It’s human nature to suffer frustration. The temptation to vent, complain, and commiserate is powerful.

But authors (and in fact, everyone) would do well to resist.

Truth is, a few negative reviews won’t sink a determined writer. Nor will a handful of bad reviews kill sales for a high-quality piece. If an author’s story is truly a work of art, chances are it’ll rise above the others regardless of a smattering of one-star pings. And it’s worth mentioning that authors who earn passionately negative reviews are probably authors who provoke feelings among their readership.

And that’s kind of the point.

Also…

Rather than take to the web in droves to protest negative reviews, authors would serve themselves (and their contemporaries) well to write more, write better, and to brush away the sting of readers’ disdain like so much dirt off their shoulders. The humble, self-aware author absorbs one-star hits privately. They’ll know every reader is different, that trolls and ill-intentioned people do exist, and that their book, while painstakingly created, probably isn’t a groundbreaking masterpiece beloved by every single reader in the world. Those kinds of books are rare. Most of us will write our whole lives and never create such a thing.

And so most of us will suffer bad reviews now and then.

And that’s ok.

So…

What should one do when a beloved story gets one-starred?

  • Consider whether the review has any valid points
  • If so, address them in your writing, not on Facebook
  • If not, shrug and move on with your life

You’ll be happier for it.

J Edward Neill

Author and Artist

 

The Good Place – A Review

A little show premiered last Fall, and I have to admit the only reason it initially showed up on my radar at all was because of Kristen Bell’s casting. Since my house is a decidedly Pro-Kristen Bell place, there was no debate – it was simply added to the DVR. Then we waited until it magically appeared one night and watched what unfolded.

For those that didn’t see it or can’t remember what it might have been about… I’ll help to fill you in. Mrs. Bell plays Eleanor. Eleanor is having one of those good news/bad news type of days.

The bad news is that she’s dead.

The good news is that she ended up in the Good Place (Heaven, Nirvana, Paradise, etc.).

So while things are a bit confusing, she comes to find out that The Good Place is a place where not only is everything you might have ever wanted right at your fingertips (seriously, check out the flavors of yogurt they have access to!), but you also get paired off with your legitimate soulmate.

However, the twist is that a mistake has been made – Eleanor is not the Eleanor they think she is. No, somewhere in the universal mainframe she got swapped into the spot. So now she has to figure out how to keep up the ruse that she actually is a good person so she can stay.

Because if they find out… the Bad Place awaits (and no one wants to go there).

Luckily for her, her soulmate, Chidi, is an ethics professor. Which means that he is her voice of reason when so many times she just wants to dwell in those less than admirable qualities.

Sadly for Eleanor, being good is a lot of work (and lots of reading homework).

Ted Danson plays Michael, the “architect” of the little community they’re set up in. He is great as the part angel, part community organizer, and part naive grandpa, stumbling along to help foster those people who need it the most. Yet, this is his first opportunity to create a community and for some reason things are going sideways. Sinkholes open and trash falls from the sky for seemingly no reason. We all know this is because of Eleanor’s presence. She’s “ruining” a good thing.

Somewhat simple enough premise which allows for a myriad of little stories to be told about the trials and tribulations of fighting against your own nature. I say simple, but that’s not entirely fair. With such concepts as Heaven and Hell being tossed around, the show does an excellent job with its core tenet:

Can a person really change who they are? Fundamentally do people ever change in any lasting way? And if you change for selfish reasons, do your acts mean anything in the grand scheme of things or not?

Somewhat strange for a TV show to even pose such thoughts. Most of the time shows survive based solely on their illusion of change when no real change for the characters ever really stick. Heck, something like Seinfeld was exactly that in a nutshell. Those were people who were as despicable in the last episode as they were in the first episode.

Superhero comics have this same problem. How do you write about a character for over 50, 60, 70, or even 80 years without them changing in some ways? And if you do have any big changes – will your audience accept them?

The Good Place obviously builds its central conflict around this, and as we learn more about Eleanor, the less likable her life really was. Selfish, mean-spirited, focused on herself to the detriment of anyone else. The viewer is put in a position where we want her to succeed, but in that success we are going to find ourselves without a TV program to enjoy down the line.

It’s a fun show and does well with the ideas presented on a weekly basis, ending on cliffhangers which makes it feel more like a drama than comedy. And had it not been for the big twist at the end, it would have been a show Courtney and I would have continued to watch probably without mentioning it to other people.

The end of the season changed that.

SPOILERS TO FOLLOW

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Seriously, if you are going to watch the show… don’t read anymore. If you need a little more convincing, however…:

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THE GOOD PLACE — “Everything Is Fine” Episode 101– Pictured: Kristen Bell as Eleanor — (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

As things begin to spin more and more out of control, Eleanor reveals that she is not supposed to be there to Michael. And when it is decided that a pair of our main characters will be forced to go to the Bad Place in order for Order to prevail… an argument ensues. It is then Eleanor has an epiphany:

They aren’t in the Good Place… they are in The Bad Place.

Mind… Blown.

Like I said above, the ending changed the whole show for me. It shook up everything we knew. And it made it so that the second season will be very different. If they were never in the Good Place… will there be any reason to truly be good?

I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to the answer.

***

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 – Route 3: Vol 1

Full disclosure – I might have some interest in Route 3’s Kickstarter succeeding. Robert Jeffrey is not only a collaborator on this very site, but is a writing partner and good friend. I have watched him grow into his own as a writer over the years, and I have see how much sweat and blood he’s put into Route 3. This isn’t just a comic for him. This is a story he’s been dying to tell for some time.

With this Kickstarter, he’s going to get his chance.

***

Route 3: Vol 1

From Terminus Media

Robert Jeffrey II – Writer

Sean Damien Hill – Artist

Omi Remalante Jr – Colorist

Ann Siri O’Brien – Colorist

Kickstarter campaign ends on Sunday, June 18, 2017 at 3:50 EDT.

 

The Pitch:

We are raising funds primarily to get the completed collected edition, Route 3 Vol. 1, printed.

Let me repeat this:

THE BOOK IS FINISHED. COMPLETE. IN THE CAN.

The Story:

Route 3 is a super-powered road trip from hell. A Stone Mountain, GA teens finds out he’s been granted with a set of spectacular abilities, that he knows nothing about. He’s now on the run from a wide array of folks in a sort of super powered arms race across the Southeastern United States. Explosions, gunfights, telekinetic feats of awesomeness, and a little personal growth are all thrown into the mix.

An explosive scene of action from Route 3 #3. Pencils/ inks Sean Damien Hill. Colors, Omi Remalante

John’s Thoughts:

If you look at the top of this page you’ll see Robert’s name alongside my own. If you look on the Terminus Media Facebook page you’ll no doubt see our fingerprints all over the place. I’ve known Robert now for over a decade. This project, this book, has been one he has clawed and scrapped and promoted and talked about and… this list goes on and on. This book is a piece of him. When the last issue was completed, there was a joy there that can’t quite be fully explained. It’s like finally crossing a finish line after years of hard work.

However, the path of the indy comic creator is full of pot holes. Money runs out, print runs don’t happen, and you’re constantly torn between this odd thing of people devaluing your work (“It costs how much!?!”). This Kickstarter will help push the comic to a place where it can start funding itself… hopefully into an issue 4 and 5 and 6 and…

The Rewards:

The Kickstarter is for the first trade of the series which collects issues 1 through 3. There are the options to get either a pdf or the print version sent to you. At the $40 level a couple of digital prints become available. At the $75 level there is a limited opportunity to not only get Route 3, but you can also get a physical copy of Radio Free Amerika’s trade (which Robert co-wrote) (at the time of this writing there were only 7 of these left available).

If being drawn as one of the mercenaries is more your style, there is an opportunity to do just that at the $300 level.

The Verdict:

What’s that saying? The biggest no-brainer in the history of the world? Yep, that’s what this is. Not only is it Robert, so I’m supporting it, but I’m wondering if I can get him to throw in a special print or something… 🙂

Seriously though – so many comic book Kickstarters are looking for funds to even come into being. That is a different kind of crapshot as you can never be 100% sure the book is going to be completed. This is a FINISHED trade. All this money is going to print costs just so that he can get this out there and into the hands of the people.

Plus, he’s tired of the question – How can I buy the trade?

***

For more information on Route 3 or the rest of Terminus Media’s comics, check out their Facebook 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 Tale of Two Concerts

So there are two big concert experiences (with regards to song choices):

One is play only your hits. Maybe you sprinkle in some of the old stuff, the deep tracks, but you’re playing the big songs and the newest songs from your latest album in order to support it.

The other option is when maybe this is a tour where you don’t have a new album to support. Maybe you don’t have to be beholden to a strict set list. Or perhaps you are working on a new album, but nowhere near close enough on most of the songs.

This is a case where the catalog really opens up and you can truly reach back and plat those songs older fans haven’t heard in a long time and newer fans have never heard in concert.

Last week I got a taste of both…

An aside – With Pearl Jam being my favorite band, the idea of a unique set list is not strange. In fact, with their shows I’m normally the asshole who wants to hear some random track 10 from one of the lesser known albums. I want the deep cuts more prominently than the more casual fan is not going to have heard or understand.

Night One: A Perfect Circle

This is a band situated firmly in my top 5 bands, but it’s been 13 years since I’ve been to see A Perfect Circle. Life, tour dates, and them not really existing for a good portion of a decade were all contributing factors. That time they were indoors, with people hanging from the ceiling, and other oddities that are somewhat commonplace when you’re dealing with a Maynard related band.

This time around they were at the Verizon Amphitheater in Alpharetta, Georgia, where after having been to only two shows, is fast becoming a household favorite. Great sound, relatively easy to get into the venue (getting out is a little more sketchy, but so is just about every other venue I’ve ever been to), and there is just something about an outdoor show as the sun goes down.

We arrived in time to hear one song from the opening band… which I didn’t catch the name of. I normally don’t mind trying to get in a little early just to catch those bands. So many shows over the years have introduced me to some solid music.

Our seats were about 7 rows behind the general admission orchestra area (which was probably about 10 rows deep if full). Around us were a handful of empty seats… probably another symptom of not putting out music in so long. Strangely, we were told repetitively that the band did not want any pictures taken. In 2004, that might have been something you could control with cameras not installed in every phone (maybe? I honestly can’t remember), but in 2017 you can’t really put that genie back in the bottle. Still, ushers did stop a few people, and I’ve read about others being asked to leave.

We’re rule followers, so no worries there.

The show itself was amazing. APC is one of those bands where I don’t have tracks I skip. As to their set list, I use my wife as the go-by, and she commented after the show she was surprised by how many songs she recognized. Overall, they played their hits, a couple of covers (John Lennon’s Imagine making an appearance – an always welcomed addition), and even sprinkled in a pair of new songs.

The only odd thing about the new songs was the placement of one of them to close out the show. Normally I’d think you’d want something to bring down the house – a song everyone knows and has been waiting for. Instead, we get a song that maybe a handful know and the rest just get to experience. Just an odd choice.

Though, I do think once I get to hear it enough, I have no doubt it will be a quality track to use in that capacity. It certainly had that feel.

Night Two: Soundgarden

Lollapalooza 1996 is the last time I’ve seen Soundgarden. Again, helped by the dissolution of the band for over a decade, I missed the tour they did with King Animal back in 2012/2013. And I might have missed this one had it not been for the venue.

The Fox Theater brings an assortment of memories for me beginning with seeing Top Gun there with my parents and being astounded by the audience interaction with the film. Catcalls during any of the numerous guys with their shirts off scenes, cheers whenever Tom Cruise did anything great, and more clapping when the movie ended. The Theater is topped off by seeing Pearl Jam back in 1994, which I’ve talked about here.

Yet, I’ve only seen one other band at The Fox and it happens to be Soundgarden over 20 years ago. Now here was a chance to see them again in the same venue… a no brainer.

We actually arrived early enough to see The Pretty Reckless open. Given XM Radio and the Octane channel, I recognized a couple of songs. Courtney mentioned actually wanting to download some of their stuff. I’ll be interested to see how the album fills out past the release songs.

As to Soundgarden, you couldn’t ask for a more different pair of shows. Where APC’s light effects were more colors and mood based, Soundgarden is a rock band with their influences spanning from arena rock bands to DIY punk rockers – so the lights were an assault at various times throughout the show. But the biggest difference was the song choice.

Apparently, their 1st full album was rereleased in the last couple of months. It makes for a perfect excuse to dust off those old school songs. And I gotta think if you are a fan from waaaay back in the day, your song bucket list managed to get a lot shorter as they opened with 3 straight songs from that era. Which is great… except I don’t own that record. I start with Badmotorfinger and continue from there.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the hell out of the show. They pretty much hit upon everything I’d have expected them to play, but it was a little unexpected.

Though there is nothing like hearing Fell on Black Days live. It’s my favorite song of theirs no matter what form it takes.

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Two bands. Over 4 hours of live music. Great venues.

Extremely tired come Thursday morning.

Worth it.

***

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 – The Few and Cursed #3

I love Westerns, but I’m not always sure comics love them. Much like Hollywood where their heyday was long before I was born, now it is a trickle here or there. Again, it’s lucky that Kickstarter exists to allow some of these genres a little opportunity to shine.

Of course, this one might be more of a post-apocalyptic western…

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The Few and Cursed #3

From 321: Fast Comics

Felipe Cagno – Writer

Fabiano Neves – Artist

Dinei Ribeiro – Colorist

Kickstarter campaign ends on Friday, May 19, 2017 at 11:59 PM EDT.

 

The Pitch:

She has no name, no home, and no family, just a title: Curse Chaser. Water on the planet has been gone for seventy years and mankind has been reduced to a handful few perpetually living in hell.

And no hell is complete without its demons.

People will do anything to survive. When their lives, their children’s lives, when their world has no chance, that old and forgotten evil curse seems pretty reasonable, it’s just that much easier to strike a bargain with the Devil.

But not under her watch.

The Story:

The Few and Cursed is a post-apocalyptic western set in an alternate 1910 where monsters and the supernatural roam the wasteland that is now Earth. Going from town to town, crossing the oceans in horseback, the Redhead is the only variable possible of balancing the scale.

John’s Thoughts:

First, I have to be honest, the title grabbed me. Without knowing anything else, it caught my eye and made me click on the Kickstarter. From there, the setting and genre drew me in, and then the artwork finished the deal. On top of all of that I feel somewhat fortunate to have them already on issue 3 – it means that I’ll immediately have 2 issues to read once the campaign is over! And again, I have to note that it is amazing when you have the opportunity to do just that. Where missing that initial issue (or 2 in this case) isn’t the end for a potential reader.

One other thing about having those other two issues fund through Kickstarter… the 321: Fast Comics guys clearly know what they are doing. The first and second issues originally funded for about $16,000+ each. This one already reached their initial $6000 goal in the first 48 hours and looks like it will outpace those earlier campaigns.

What that really tells me is they not only provide a great product people have come back for each time.

Artwork by Fabiano Neves From The Cursed and Few #1

The Rewards:

Since you might have missed out on the first couple of issues, there is an assortment of both digital only and print + digital rewards to completely catch you up on the comic. As you move up the ladder, there is the opportunity to grab their anthology 321: Fast Comics Vol 1 & 2, a sketch book featuring Fabiano Neves’ art, or even a chase to get some of the variant prints they’ve done for all the issues.

For those with a little more money in their pocket, the $150 level offers an opportunity to get some original Redhead artwork.

The Verdict:

Given their track record with this series (and a couple of other ones as well), plus the interesting idea, and gorgeous artwork… this one is a no-brainer. And if you were on the fence at all, they provide you with an assortment of preview pages from issues #1 and #2 to help sway you completely.

I already locked in to get my digital copies of the first 3 issues!

Artwork by Fabiano Neves From The Cursed and Few #2

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For more information on The Few and Cursed or the rest of 321: Fast 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 – 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.

***

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

***

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.

***

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!

***

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

***

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.

***

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.

***

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

***

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

***

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!

 

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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

***

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

*

See where I’m going with this?

*

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.

*

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.

*

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).

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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.

 

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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…

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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