Hollow Empire – Free Chapter – Cassidy

Hollow Empire exists as this experiment between Jeremy and myself to see if we could build this medieval post-apocalyptic world together in a serialized format. And I think the set up of him choosing a pair of characters and me doing much the same worked really well. It is a story and characters I’d like to get back to soon. In fact, I have part of what could be Episode 9 completed (assuming my co-writer doesn’t drop another chapter before then.

But, in order to get in the right mind-frame, I need to go back and reread… so here’s my second chapter from Season 1 (and if you want to read the very first chapter featuring my other Point of View character, you can get that here):

 

Cassidy

 

 

 

What once had been two living, breathing men now swung in the soft breeze. Though this area along the road did not possess much foliage, the outlaws had chosen one of the larger oak trees with its thick branches to support the display. Stripped of clothing, the dead skin baked under an autumn sun. A trio of crows roosted on the two bodies and pecked at the exposed flesh. It would only be a matter of time before they picked the corpses clean.

Cassidy rode closer to the bodies, and the air turned sour with death and decay. His stomach seized and contracted, but he fought the urge to vomit. When he was within an arm’s length of the once-men, he shooed the black birds away. They had devoured three of the four eyes thus far, but it was not enough to obscure the men’s identities.

“Damnit.”

“Is it Hadrian?”

Isidora’s voice broke through the stench. Though her horse seemed to have reservations about being so close to the dead, Isidora trotted up alongside Cassidy and studied the deceased men’s faces.

Cassidy shook his head. “No, it was Darius. Didn’t realize he’d been put on this hunt as well.”

Isidora guided her steed over to the other swinging corpse. She reached out with her gloved hand and spun him around.

“Wasn’t this one of their men?”

Cassidy looked up. “Lichy, maybe?”

She continued to twirl him, the rope tightening with each revolution. “No sores, no blackness along the fingertips, and no bleeding gums. He’s clean.”

“You think he wore out his welcome? Though, I suppose finding anyone other than Hadrian is welcome news. Perhaps he’s managed to remain in their good graces.”

Turning back to his corpse, Cassidy rotated Darius one more time. Aside from the battle scars, and a few bruises, the man might have been in good shape, other than being deceased. As he pulled back from the body, he caught sight of the scar. The mark of an eye, no larger than the width of a finger, rested on the inside of Darius’s wrist.

“He has the Brand.”

She backed her horse away and twisted in the saddle to scan the hills around them. “A warning then.”

“For who?”

“Us. Our kind.”

“Lovely thought. And here I figured they didn’t make us in Tolem.”

“Obviously your ability to maintain a low profile could use some work.”

Cassidy ignored the comment and pulled a folded map from his pack. He marked their position with one finger and then traced the long black line, the King’s Road, with his other. Ahead, the line wove between the foothills before turning northward to skirt the mountains. A series of small scratchings along the road indicated the occasional village.

Isidora dropped down from her horse, took a few light steps away from the execution site, and squatted. Cassidy had observed her perform this bit of artistry more times than he could count. She studied the rocks, the dirt, and the very dust, nothing lost before her vision. He had watched her pick up the barest of markings after a rain. It was rumored that she might have been the finest tracker in all of Othis. They were wrong. She was better than they could imagine.

“We’re close now,” she told him. “Tracks no more than a day old and they lead east.”

“Old Welkwood is nearby. Maybe two or three miles ahead along the road.” He marked the sun’s progress in the sky. “We ride hard, we can make it prior to dusk.”

He nudged his steed forward on the road. Isidora remounted and flanked him. Then without a word, she put her heels into her mount and charged off ahead.

* * *

Cassidy looked down over the shell of a village. From their vantage point along a small rise in the ground, it stretched out in front of them. In its prime Welkwood might have been a proper town. The King’s Road cut through its center, lined with what would have been a blacksmith’s forge, a stable, a tavern, or any number of other businesses. Now those same positions were marked by decaying framework or the occasional stone wall. A large statue still stood in the center of town; though weeds and vines threatened to overtake it. He suspected it was one of Lord Rowan’s visages. At the statue, the road split and divided, and from that point, everything radiated outward along a pair of smaller roads. Four larger buildings, more stone than wood, flanked the midpoint.

He glanced at Isidora. “Looks as though those four are in the best condition. One might be an inn or larger tavern. Seems as good a spot as any for them to hole up in. Can you take a look?”

She nodded and closed her eyes. Each breath steadied into a rhythmic pattern. Her body swayed from side to side, threatening to tip over at a moment’s notice. Cassidy made no move to steady her; he did not dare interrupt her gift. Just below her neck, the faint, telltale glow of her Brand began. He looked at her face and saw her eyes rolled up into the back of her head, her eyelids flickering.

A survivor of the Lichy, she was one of the so-called lucky ones. When the madness of the times came, her parents left her on the doorsteps of the church. The priests and sisters found her; the dark heart of the disease clutched her to its breast. This frail little form, barely strong enough to lift her head for the soup they provided to her. She was given a day, no more than two, before she would expire. Yet on the following day, she could talk. On the second day, she stood without any assistance. By the time a week passed, she showed no signs of the plague, save for the small crescent scar on her lower neck.

Not one out of the hundreds who found themselves with the Lichy sores survived. Entire towns ceased to exist over the course of a few weeks. Yet this small girl survived, with only a mark to distinguish her from every other person, a lingering reminder that she was now the stronger breed.

It was only later she learned about the other aspect the disease left. She’d been blessed with the gift of second sight, or perhaps cursed with it. Cassidy never knew what she saw; she only gave him enough information to accomplish whatever task lay directly before them. Still, her foreknowledge saved his skin more times than he could count.

Isidora gasped for air beside him and rolled onto her side. Her body shook like a spastic ragdoll on the grass-patched dirt carpet. He instinctively reached out and placed his hand on her side to keep her from injuring herself while the shaking occurred. Her dark hair, usually shorn close to her head, had begun to grow out, a consequence of the hunt. He pressed a cloth to her forehead and blotted the beads of sweat. A small amount of blood leaked from her mouth.

Her tongue will be sore on the morrow.

He blotted her cheeks as well.

Soon the shaking subsided, though her eyes had not yet reopened. They still danced underneath their lids.

Cassidy never knew if his presence helped to bring her back to the present, but it made him feel better. Not that he would ever voice it to her, but in these moments after she used her gift, the intensity and the scowl, which normally accompanied her face, disappeared. In those moments, she seemed at peace with herself, with the world, and with him.

He pressed his canteen to her lips, and she drank as if it were the last drop in all of Othis.

He whispered, “Did you see how many there were? Do you know if Hadrian is still alive?”

Even with the water, her voice scratched and strained, “You need to go into their lair. You must confront them. It is the only way.”

“Very well, we will hold here until your strength has returned. Then when you are ready-”

“No, you don’t understand. You must do this. Only you… alone. I will have the horses ready for a swift ride back to the capital once it is done.” Her eyes pierced the darkness. “But you are to do this alone.”

* * *

The half-moon’s light illuminated the abandoned trail as Cassidy crept down to the outer structures of Old Welkwood. No potential sentries roamed this portion of the fallen town. At the bottom of the slope, he pressed himself against the broken stone wall and peered around its edge before sprinting along to the next barrier.

Now, in the middle of it, he saw the signs. Once it might have been a thriving burg, yet when the first infected showed up, many chose sanctuary in the larger cities. They hoped the abundance of doctors and apothecaries might spare them. Families left sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, and even children behind. They flooded to the largest churches and prayed to God to spare them, as if a change of scenery would have made any difference.

They were left wanting.

He turned his focus back on the ruined town. Everywhere he saw the marks of the Lichy, and suspected it had run through this place like wildfire. Mounds of ash and bone on the west side of the town marked the last remnants of the doomed, revealing how little time the citizens had to put the dead in the ground. Up close, he could see that the buildings were not simply abandoned or destroyed by the wind and rain, but put to the fire a long time ago. A choice made to head off the plague before it consumed them all.

Glancing back up the hill to their perch, he saw no sign of Isidora. He only hoped that he would have the opportunity to make his way back out to her. He trusted her gift, and the glimpses she saw of things to come.

Cassidy weaved through the buildings’ husks towards the town’s center. Charred and blackened frames surrounded the main street. A small church sat in ruin, the holy spire long since collapsed, spearing the remains of the structure below. Slowly, nature had begun to reclaim her land. Vines climbed and squeezed a few of the standing walls, threatening to pull each down to the earth.

At the very center of the town was the old Rowan statue. One arm outstretched in each direction, a symbol of the vastness of the empire Lord Rowan had amassed all those years ago. This one no longer had either of its limbs. The head was only a partial head, storms or vandals having ripped the missing pieces from it many years earlier. Here again, the vines and weeds worked their way upward, tying themselves into knots around the legs, up the torso, before finishing around his neck like the hangman’s noose. Flames from a small fire cast shadows up and down Rowan as it spat and seized, threatening to expire.

No one tending it.

He crouched behind the last of the stone remains and waited. To his left, he could hear the whinny of their horses. He counted to one hundred before he felt sure no sentries were patrolling.

No one is mad enough to enter this area, even if they didn’t know who was here.

Across from him stood the one building not in complete disrepair, and from his vantage point, he could see a soft light coming from inside the lower level. Cassidy darted across the street and positioned himself just outside the entrance. An ancient sign of a woodpecker drinking from a mug creaked in the wind above his head. Coming from inside the shell of a building, he heard grumbling and shouting. A quick glance showed him six… no, seven men.

He unslung the crossbow from his back and loaded a quarrel. Cassidy exhaled and swung the door open.

“I’m here for Hadrian.”

The entire crew halted their drinking, their card games. One fellow even paused his pissing in mid-stream. They all took a long look at him. One of them rubbed his eyes to make sure the man before them was not a drunken vision, which presented as a dirty, unkempt, and road-weary Cassidy before them. One of the card players pushed himself away from the table and stood, his skin tanned from many years on the road. His patchy beard matched his shaggy dark hair. A toothy grin escaped from his lips and he cocked his head from one side to the other doing his best to analyze the situation before him.

“And what business do you have with Hadrian?”

Cassidy held the loaded crossbow out in front of him so that all could see. “For crimes against the King, I have been authorized to bring him back to Othis to await judgment.”

“Is that so?” The man turned to look at his men and chuckled. They all joined in. “Well, I’m afraid that you will have to wait for your King’s business.”

“Do you have Hadrian or not?”

Another laugh, full of anger, erupted from the man. “I am in possession of Hadrian. Well, me and the boys in this room.”

“I have been charged to bring Hadrian back to Othis to stand trial. I have tracked him to you and yours. Will you turn him over to me?”

The man moved over towards the partially standing bar and snagged a canteen. He downed the contents in one swift drink, only a small amount of foam leaking at the edges. With a hand, he wiped his beard clean.

“Sadly that is not possible. Hadrian is also accused of crimes against me and mine. And I prefer him where he sits.”

He pointed to the back corner where a little man, who looked like he would have been more suited for scribe work, sat. The top of his head bore small nicks and cuts from where they would shave him. The clothes he wore looked four sizes too large for him, hanging from his body like loose skin. At the mention of his name, Hadrian looked up and Cassidy saw the weariness in his eyes. A defeated look, which said that he had no fight left in him. He would not run or attempt escape. Cassidy doubted he would get very far with the shackles around his legs and the manacles on his wrists.

“Perhaps when his flesh is flayed from his bones we shall let you collect. By what right do you have to take him?”

Cassidy reached under his cloak and revealed the metal disk pinned to his armor. Though faded, it remained easy enough to see the falcon wings crossed by a pair of lightning bolts. “By the law of this land-”

One of the card players shouted, “He’s a Walker.”

His tablemate joined in. “Didja not see the gift we made of the last one of yours who came here? Are you so eager to feel the rope burn your neck as well? Alric, it looks to be another hanging!”

“This place, Walker, this place is ours. Your kingdom no longer exists for the likes of us. We are a free people who want for nothing. We drink, we fight, and when we find women, we screw. We live by our own code here. That one,” their leader, Alric, pointed to Hadrian, “that one is a rodent of the worst kind. He possesses no honor, no code, and the limit of his depravity begins and ends when the coin stops flowing. So by what authority do you think to take that which is rightfully ours? For yours, in this room, is severely lacking.”

Cassidy studied the room. He did not miss the various movements of his opponents throughout the exchange, subtle as they attempted to be. Five feet in front of him, the two at the card table had relieved their blades from the sheaths at their feet. The pissing man in the back now stood near the other side of the bar, his hands below the crest. Two of the men he had first thought too drunk to stand held gnarled clubs in their hands, waiting on his right. The third drunk Cassidy had pegged correctly; his head had not risen from the table near the middle of the room.

Alric, for his part, leaned against the bar to Cassidy’s left, his anger replaced by calmness. He had made no move to secure a weapon. That worried Cassidy more than anything else he saw. Even on his best night, with no road weariness, he would not be able to take on the other five. He might fell three before he finally succumbed to their superior numbers.

The math did not add up.

I trust Isidora’s gift, my Lord. I place myself in your hands.

He turned his crossbow and leveled it at the man behind the bar. The bolt whistled through the air before it buried in his throat. Cassidy let the device slip from his grasp, replacing it with his sword. The two card players came at Cassidy and he darted between them, his sword parrying each of their first attacks with ease. Steel clashed with steel, the small fire casting a shadow of the combat onto the far wall.

He observed their techniques, which were rudimentary. They used brute strength and superior numbers more than any real tactics. He slowed his breathing, slowed his mind, and watched their movements.

Anticipate the next blow, move your enemy, make them strike where you are not.

Another blade imbedded in a nearby table, barely missing Cassidy’s sword arm. With his enemy exposed, he severed the bond between sword and man at the wrist. A scream followed, and the man crumpled to the ground, his hand dangling, held on by only bits of sinew and splintered bone.

A bolt slammed into Cassidy’s chest and he stumbled backwards. While the leather took the brunt of the impact, he would have a hell of a bruise on the morrow. Alric stood on the backside of the bar loading the next shot into the crossbow. When he raised it again, Cassidy reached out to the first card player and spun him around to act as a shield. The man’s eyes grew wide in conjunction with the sickening thud as Alric struck true, just late.

Cassidy’s instincts told him to roll to the ground. Sure enough, a gnarled club occupied the air where his head had been. He kicked out and the man’s knee buckled under the impact. Above him the other club-bearing beast of a man stood, his weapon ready to crack Cassidy’s skull.

The whistle of an arrow’s flight broke the silence and hit the man square in the chest. He took a step back, unsure where this new threat came from. Two more arrows embedded themselves in his stomach. He staggered, blood oozing from his lips, before toppling over, his strength no longer able to support his great form.

Cassidy sprung to a crouch and scanned the area before he spotted her at the rear of the room beside Hadrian. Isidora notched another arrow and let it fly at Alric. Again and again, she fired on his position never allowing him to gain an opportunity to respond. Cassidy sprinted to the back of the building, leaving the wounded and dead.

Isidora motioned to Hadrian. “Grab him and let’s be gone from this place. There is an entrance behind me. I’ll be right behind.”

Cassidy nodded and grunted as he lifted the prisoner and tossed him over his shoulder. Outside he found three horses: his, Isidora’s, and a third, stolen from the outlaws. He loaded Hadrian onto the back of the last one before he mounted his own. A moment later, Isidora rushed out of the building and vaulted onto the back of her horse.

The two of them shouted at the horses in unison, “Go!”

* * *

The three rode as hard as they dared under the moonlight for the next hour. It was only when heavy clouds began to obscure the orb’s radiance that they slowed the pace. Cassidy watched for any signs of pursuit.

“How far behind do you think?”

Isidora cocked her head to the side as if doing calculations in her head. “Hard to know. What survivors there are will have to locate their horses. I stole one and scattered the rest to the night.”

“Beautiful.”

She continued, “Most are injured or dead. My guess is that unless they have more we did not see, they won’t have the will to give chase.”

Cassidy nudged Hadrian. “How many are there?”

He coughed. “Water, please.”

Cassidy retrieved his canteen and held it just out of reach from his prisoner. “How many?”

“You don’t want to know the answer to that.”

Cassidy leaned in closer, so that he could look into the man’s eyes, “How many?”

“Fifty.”

 

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Hollow Empire – Free Chapter – Vadim

Hollow Empire exists as this experiment between Jeremy and myself to see if we could build this medieval post-apocalyptic world together in a serialized format. And I think the set up of him choosing a pair of characters and me doing much the same worked really well. It is a story and characters I’d like to get back to soon. In fact, I have part of what could be Episode 9 completed (assuming my co-writer doesn’t drop another chapter before then.

But, in order to get in the right mind-frame, I need to go back and reread… so here’s my first chapter from Season 1:

Vadim

 

 

The splintering door shattered Vadim’s peaceful sleep. A booming voice ripped through the early morning tranquility.

“You slept with my wife!”

His instincts took over, and he threw himself to the floor beside the bed in an effort to avoid the oncoming blow… that never came. Furniture exploded, a man roared again, and yet Vadim’s room lay seemingly undisturbed. Daring himself to peek at the carnage, he raised his head up so that his eyes were above the lip of the bed, just over the edge of the sheets.

And saw only his guest from the previous evening…

Hilda? Rayne?

She met his blue-eyed gaze, “Is there something amiss, milord?”

“I thought…,” Vadim caught a glimpse of himself in the full-length mirror along the wall beside him and observed his predicament; his manhood exposed and him cowering on the floor. No way for one of the King’s Men to behave. He stood up allowing his six-foot frame to come to its full height. It was not the nudity that brought awkwardness, but his stumbling and fumbling about on the floor. In fact, he never had any complaints about his appearance. The other Long Riders often teased him for his boyish grin, his bright, blue eyes, and his shaggy blonde hair. All of which resided on an untouched face, somehow free of any scars or wounds in his years journeying the Circuit. “This is rather embarrassing. I thought perhaps that which is happening next door was instead being visited upon the two of us. It’s not occurring in this room though, is it?”

“No, milord, it is not.” The freckled young woman stifled a giggle and ran her hands through her long blonde hair attempting to excise any tangles she found there. Vadim paused and stared into her deep green eyes trying to light a candle, which would be her name.

The wall behind the bed shuddered. Pieces of the ceiling flaked off and fell to the floor. Next door, a woman screamed.

Vadim searched for his trousers and found them tangled with his tunic and his consort’s skirt and blouse, all of it abandoned in a pile the night before. As he pulled up his trousers, he heard another crash, this time away from their shared wall. Then came more shouting from the hall and additional voices joined the chorus with the first.

Vadim glanced at… Sara? Trianna? and raised a finger. “One moment.”

Tightening his belt, he moved towards the door. Through the wood, he heard the shouting continue. There were calls for blood, pain, and then a slur of unmentionable deeds described by someone who must have been the original injured party. Vadim ran fingers through his blonde hair before gripping the handle. Preparing himself for the carnage, he took a deep breath.

When the door opened, he bore witness to sheer chaos. How the inn’s hallway could support the volume of patrons who watched, cheered, and shouted at the two combatants, he could not be sure. They crowded each end of the corridor, some stood just inside their open doorways, but all wanted to see these combatants duel. However, the word duel invoked images of two men squaring off in agreed-upon combat. This stank of something else entirely.

Vadim caught glimpses of the two men, flashes between arms and legs of the mob until he made himself a place in the crowd. It was only then that he could see the fight for what it was. Spittle erupted through the barrel chested man’s full black beard with each roar. A giant of a man, but not one someone might call attractive. His eyes appeared a bit too close to each other while his forehead seemed to slope until it gave way to a receding hairline. He appeared to have a full foot on his opponent giving him the reach advantage, but it seemed the smaller was adept at using his quickness to slip under the devastating blows. The two stumbled, the sea of bodies parted, and they crashed to the floor in front of Vadim.

“Jericho, how goes your morning? Rest well?” Vadim shouted above the din of the crowd hoping to catch his oldest friend’s attention.

Jericho looked up from his assailant. His red hair clung to the side of his face. Blood leaked from various cuts and lacerations on his head. In fact, red appeared to be the only thing that covered him.

Vadim smirked and shouted again. “Did you notice you don’t have any pants on?”

Jericho struggled to keep the large man’s blows from colliding with his body. “Perhaps you’d like to lend a bit of help?

His assailant bellowed, slamming a fist into the floor, just missing Jericho’s head, denting the wooden planks. “My wife!”

The two twisted and scrapped, each trying to gain some kind of advantage. Jericho managed to regain his feet and pushed away.

“He says you slept with his wife. Is that true?” Vadim asked the question through the din of noise, but did not give Jericho time to answer, “Tsk, tsk.”

A wild swing and another dodge.

“Vadim! I promise you, that was never my intention.”

“This gentleman would beg to differ on that point.”

“She never spoke anything of having a husband,” he spoke first to Vadim and then shouted it again at the large man, “I didn’t know!”

“It was our wedding night!”

Vadim whistled at the revelation, “Doesn’t seem like this man is all that eager to issue forgiveness. And even if he was, your explanation is not going to cover it.”

Jericho awaited the oncoming charge and slipped to the side under the brute’s undisciplined swings. The giant rammed into some of the crowd, toppling them in a mass of arms and legs.

“Even so, a little help?” Jericho screeched the last before sidestepping another missed blow.

Vadim nodded, “Right. Uhm… one moment.”

He turned back into his room and shut the door, muffling the roar slightly. He strode towards the partially dressed… Pia? Selene? woman sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Terrible thing, my mate is out there getting his head bashed in by a rather large, angry fellow. Something about sleeping with his wife. A pity. Still, it now falls to me to save the… wait; you’re not married, are you?”

She blushed and shook her head. “No, milord.”

“Right. Brilliant. Wouldn’t want to have a similar exchange as those two out there.”

Vadim scanned the room for the remainder of his belongings. Sunlight glinted off the small emerald gem sealed inside the pommel of his sword, which was resting in the corner alongside his pack.

He fastened the weapon around his waist before sliding his cuirass over his head. With one hand, he reached into his small pack and fetched a silver coin from a pouch within.

“You were a sheer delight, and I would love to spend another glorious evening with you when I return from the Long Ride in…,” his brain struggled with the length of time he would be away, “a few months’ time. If that would please you?”

A smile appeared as she blushed again. “Indeed, milord, it would.”

Vadim moved close and pulled her off the bed into him. Their lips met and she engaged his tongue with her own. His free hand explored her exposed right breast with one final squeeze before relinquishing its touch. He felt the familiar stirring in his trousers. He heard her moan softly and the bed creak as she lowered herself to engage him elsewhere. Yet it was what his ears did not pick up that troubled him. Only muffled sounds of the fracas filled the air to the point he could not be sure there was a fight left. He released his grip on her and slid back to the entrance to the room. A quick turn of the handle and an empty hallway greeted him.

“For your breakfast,” he turned and flipped the silver to her, “though I might wait until the festivities ran their course. Farewell…” Rachel? Miranda? “milady. Until I return!”

The hall was in disarray. The door to Jericho’s room hung lazily from one hinge. Shards of broken wood lay scattered, marking the path of destruction, a trail of crumbs leading him downstairs into the main area of the inn.

Vadim took the stairs two at a time. Jericho was the one man in the company he did not want to see injured. Of all the King’s Men Vadim had ridden with, Jericho was the only one who always had his back, whether it was when they were under fire from bandits or dealing with the strangeness of the infected. The man knew no fear, and never hesitated to rush in alongside Vadim. His other brothers never showed that kind of loyalty.

Now he hoped that he had not misjudged the threat his friend was under. As he made his way around the last corner, a mug exploded on the wall near him. Remnants of someone’s coffee leaked down the paneling. Those patrons from the second floor filled the dining area. They had pushed the tables and chairs up against the walls and out of the way. Their faces contorted in a frenzied desire to observe more pain.

“Kill ‘im!”

“Break his face!”

Each time Jericho tried to cut a path through the crowd they held fast and did not part. Instead, they tossed him back into the center. Vadim watched another tankard fly through the air, but this one found its mark and glanced off Jericho’s forehead. While not an incapacitating blow, it was enough to stagger the naked man. Jericho reached out to steady himself against a nearby spectator who shoved him down. Tree-like arms slipped around Jericho’s throat. It would take only one quick snap and the fight would be over.

The large man raged, “Most of you know me, but for those who do not, I am Otto Wilmot. My family has lived in Racein since before the Lichy. When everyone else fled to the larger cities, the Wilmots protected them and theirs. And when the plague had run its course, they helped rebuild with the rest of the survivors.

“Yesterday I married a woman before the town center. Under the statue of Rowan, we proclaimed our love as truth. The party which followed last night was a grand one indeed.”

The crowd bobbed their heads in agreement.

“And I must confess that both myself and my dutiful bride managed to imbibe much of the fine ale provided. I fear, in my drunken stupor, I failed to realize that my new wife did not return to my bed last night. She stumbled throughout this inn, clearly beyond her mind and this man… no, this wretch… he chose that moment to strike. He charmed her, brought her upstairs to his room, and defiled her!”

Jericho wheezed trying to explain but his captor tightened his grip.

“So I ask you, good folks of Racein, how do I answer this affront to the sanctity of my vows? Should I be content to extract my vengeance in bloodied knuckles and broken bones?”

Many in the crowd murmured amongst themselves. The early morning fog must have gripped them still, as they did not seem to understand the sermon’s purpose. Vadim understood all of it. Otto was not merely asking whether it was acceptable for him to kill Jericho, but asking the crowd to demand that satisfaction.

Vadim slipped through the throng, who had parted in an attempt to get a better look, and slid behind the combatants. Another stein, long since emptied, sat on the table beside him. He reached out and gripped the makeshift weapon. Otto continued,,, oblivious to the presence behind him.

“What say the lot of you? What judgment for this sinner?”

Vadim could see a few of the men did not care what the outcome was, but more of them were starting to realize the stakes presented to them. They might be a mindless lot, but they would never condone murder. But it only takes one…

From the rabble someone yelled, “Kill him! Teach a lesson to all the outsiders that our women are not their receptacles. We show them our hospitality and they abuse it for their own base needs.”

“Yeah!”

“Split his ‘ead open!”

Otto nodded. “Thank you, brothers. I am grateful you see the truth of the matter. If you deem it to be righteous and just I will act as your implement of destruction.”

Otto looked down at Jericho, whose face was tinted red as he groped and gasped for release. The enormous muscles flexed and seized around his neck.

“The Lichy may have spared your whore mother, and may have allowed you to enter this world, but I shall be the instrument that forces your exit. This insult will be met with righteous just-.”

Vadim brought down the large stein and shattered it on the back of Otto’s head. The blow was not enough to fell the giant man, but it did cause his grip to loosen. Jericho slipped out and crumpled to the floor, gasping for breath.

Vadim stepped out of the shadows, and pulled Jericho behind him. “This has gone on for long enough.”

The mob, for their part, did not know how to respond. They stood in shocked silence.

Otto did not possess that problem. He unleashed a guttural roar and spun around. In the same instant, Vadim released his sword from its sheath and placed it just under the man’s neck, freezing any further movement.

“My friend is sorry.”

Jericho had coughed his voice hoarse. “So very sorry. It was a misunderstanding.”

The giant rubbed the back of his head and took a step back. “You think you are going to stop me from exacting my vengeance?”

“Well, not only me, but this sword in my hand. Yes, I believe that changes the currency of this situation.”

“There is an entire room of men seeking justice here. Each willing to strike you down with a word from me. How is your sword going to stop them all?”

Vadim took a long look at the group still in the main room. Most of them had cleared out with the change of fortune, but he still counted eight, no nine including the lumbering hulk in front of him. Otto Wilmot might not understand what justice or consummating his wedding meant, but he was not so far wrong in his analysis of this situation.

Jericho’s legs were still a little wobbly, but he held a tankard as his weapon. The two of them, one naked, made for a laughable sight.

Perhaps, if we manage to escape with the better parts of ourselves intact, we could use this as great fodder for many a story in the future. For now, though…

“This sword does not need to stop all of them, only you. And do not doubt my word in that. You will be dead, gutted like a fish, before the first one of them reaches me. That is my promise to you.”

Traces of fear shifted through Otto’s features, but were gone just as quick. Vadim caught sight of it, and watched it vanish. His entire body steeled for the fight.

Emma! That was her name.

“Come on then.”

An ear-piercing whistle penetrated the room. Each and every man, including Otto, Vadim, and Jericho found himself wincing in pain.

“Hold!”

In the doorway of the inn stood the Watch Commander, his King’s armor glistening in the morning sunlight. His wiry frame doubled in size under its weight. The grays in his beard were the only thing that betrayed his apparent age. No one in the company knew his exact age, and none ever felt the need to ask. Around his neck, a bronze chain held the instrument that caused their mutual pain. He let the whistle slip from his lips.

“I believe that I must be witness to some kind of elaborate competition. For that is the only reason I could possibly see citizens squaring off against King’s Men.”

Vadim stared into Otto’s eyes. Even with the Commander’s appearance, he did not dare lower his weapon. The entire room held its breath, waiting to see which way the winds blew this day. When there was no immediate answer, the Commander spoke again.

“Mayhap the patrons are deafened by my device as well?”

Otto spoke through gritted teeth. “I demand justice from this one.” He pointed at Jericho. “He defiled my wife.”

“Is this true?”

Jericho opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, and nodded.

“It appears you have taken the measure of this man through your fists. He is bloodied and he is beaten, what else must you have for your sense of justice to be satisfied?”

“His death,” said Otto.

“Tis treasonous to assault one of the King’s Men. The answer for such a crime is death. You have already committed one crime this day. Yet I am an understanding man and am willing to forget this event in its entirety. Make no more trouble and be content in the knowledge that this man is on his way to the Long Ride, and as such, you will not see him again for many moons.”

The Commander stepped closer to Otto, and Vadim thought it strange that even though the larger man stood at least a head taller, he seemed to shrink when he gazed into the Commander’s eyes.

“Do we have an accord?”

Otto forced the words reluctantly past his lips. “Aye.”

He then began to move towards the inn’s entrance, “Come on, lads. These King’s Men are needed to protect the land from all sorts. Let’s let them get to their business.

“Though, there will be a day between you and I, naked man.” Otto never took his eyes off Jericho until he was out the door. “Believe in that.”

After Otto and his gang were gone, the Watch Commander turned his gaze on the two of them. “All this… the two of you are going to be the death of me, you realize that don’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” they spoke in unison.

“The squad is set to leave. Get your asses outside and on your horses.”

“Yes, sir.”

The Commander moved to leave, but paused and turned back to look at Jericho, shaking his head.

“And for God’s sake, put some clothes on!”

 

***

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

All the Time (Sinks) in the World

This past week on my Facebook feed, a fellow writer was musing about when it might be time to hang it all up. She’s been rolling this boulder up the hills for decades and doesn’t feel like she’s moved up to the appropriate level (I’m paraphrasing here). Luckily, plenty of people, friends, fans, fellow writers made sure to let her know what she probably already knows:

You don’t quit being a writer. Not really.

But burn out is a real thing. Sure it sometimes goes hand in hand with writer’s block, the inability to deal with other people’s BS, or just a need to get the heck away from the day in and day out writing process.

It’s a good thing to take a step back. To take a break for a little bit and let your mind maybe catch up. What’s the old saying “if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life”. Which is true until it isn’t true.

Luckily, I don’t have this problem right now. The current novel I’m working on is fueling the fire quite nicely… although I must admit that it is a daunting task I’ve set in front of me, I know that it is what I’m supposed to be doing.

And there’s the problem… what are you supposed to be doing? Are you beating yourself up when a night goes by that you didn’t get your words in (or morning or afternoon)? Does that guilt compound in your mind that suddenly you are behind on where you should be. Those 5 pages have to come from somewhere, so now I have to do another 10 tonight to make up for the ones I missed out on yesterday. Oh no, I have to get my 25 pages in this week or it just keeps rolling over. Should I go out with my friends? Well, that means that maybe I can’t get the words in…

You see the quandary. Half the time you are writing and the other half you are trying to guilt yourself into writing some more.

And where does all this lead? To burnout… 100%.

There has to be a balance between being productive and enjoying life a little bit, right? I have discovered the secret for not burning out. It’s this device that sits as the focus of the living room for many people: the TV. It has so many options that I’ve subdivided my viewing so that everyone can see where I put my time (waste my time)!

Genre Shows

These are the superhero shows for me, but your mileage might be Star Trek or Sliders or Walking Dead or whatever. Not to mention then needing to follow up on the internet rabbit holes for the various spoilers or guest stars or what’s happening on the Flash next season.

At the very least you can claim to other people that you are doing “Research. Honest!”

True Time Suckers (according to my wife)

Wrestling shows are the big one here. I could probably rot my brain 100 times over with some mind-numbing cartoons, but wrestling shows are where she shakes her head and mumbles under her breath. Yet, these shows are those great guilty pleasures for me when I watch (and currently I’m probably reading recaps much more than watching the shows).

Sports

For those who don’t bother with any of the sports ball stuff… well, you probably have a ton of free time. Even though I am a big nerd and love comics and science fiction and fantasy stuff, I somehow also fell in love with sports. Did you know that baseball seasons are 162 games a year? Or that there are 16 games in an NFL season? Or there are around 30ish games in a college basketball season?

And don’t get me started on Poker on ESPN. Or my true kryptonite: Aussie Rules Football. You sit down, turn that on, not understand anything that is happening, and two hours later haven’t moved from your spot. Brilliant!

Repeats

These are like comfort food. You know the ones: Friends, Senfield, Rick and Morty, New Girl, etc. These are the ones you can watch a hundred times (and have) and effectively turn off the non-enjoyment centers of your mind.

However, if you are my wife, you take this to a different extreme. She watches a handful of shows over and over and OVER. She just started watching Jane the Virgin. It is in its 5th (question mark?) season and once she was through the 90 or so episodes… she started rewatching it. BACK TO BACK!

She’s got problems! 🙂

Things I got lucky with

I don’t watch the Food Network. Or the Golf Channel. Or any of the house flipping/renovation/buymyhouse shows. Or any of the news networks. Those are lines I don’t want or need to cross. And I don’t particularly enjoy seeing Pimples Popped.

Call me crazy.

***

So you see, there is a metric ton of stuff you could do with your time when you are not writing. You can avoid any burnout or really getting anything productive done if you just give it a chance!

***

I’m not trying to make light of the writer’s struggle, more that I’m saying it might be alright to not eat, sleep, and live writing only. That it is ok to take a break. Even if that is a just a simple vacation from your own head.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Chapter Preview – The Dark That Follows

A disgraced former cop who possesses the ability to see the future…

A college student whose life has become entangled in black magic…

A girlfriend who is no longer sure who to trust…

And a vision of the future which shows only the darkness of the void…

The only difference between Jason Mills and every other Fortune Teller in town is that when he tells people about their futures he doesn’t need to make anything up. With a touch, his mind is flooded with visions of what may come. Am I going to fall in love… am I going to be rich… am I going to get that promotion… Until the reading that shows him only a void, as if the future has been wiped clean for one person.

As all futures begin to unravel, Jason begins to realize that the young man who began this prediction may be more involved in this Dark outcome than he could imagine.

That his ability is as much a gift as it is a curse.

His gift of future sight had put him on the radar of some very powerful beings.

Drawn into a web of secret societies, Black Masses, and beings of immense power, Jason races to determine the truth behind his visions in order to save his own future from being wiped out.

 

Please enjoy the following preview chapter of

THE DARK THAT FOLLOWS

CHAPTER ONE

Office building. Elevator. Sam from accounts payable. Sip of water. Far office. Jim the terrible boss. New office. Handsome guy. Blush. Smile. Sandwich. Phone call. Tears. Screaming.

Marilyn.

“Are you sure that this isn’t going to hurt?”

Her words snapped him from the trance. Jason Mills watched as the woman fidgeted in the seat across the table. With one of her hands now freed from his, she maintained limited contact with the other.

“Just breathe deep and relax. You came to me, but we aren’t going to get anywhere if you continue to be this nervous.”

“It’s just that, well… I’m beginning to rethink coming here.”

He smiled at her. It was the same disarming smile he’d given to hundreds of other skittish customers who’d come to him. Whatever it took to make sure she remained a paying customer. He reached out with his free hand and coaxed her to regain the connection.

“Release your thoughts and let your mind wander.

“There… that’s it.”

Jason Mills gripped the older woman’s hand tighter while her potential life revealed itself. The sync between the two complete, he began to search out anything within the immediate future.

Through her eyes he glimpsed a corner office overlooking the weeds of cubicles. The man inside smiles while pointing at the nameplate on the desk: Ellen Small.

The words flowed from Jason.

“This is the year when all your hard work starts to pay off. You’ve been biding your time over the last few years. Something you have managed to earn and not just ease yourself into.”

A gasp escaped his charge’s lips. Spurred on by this first fortune, her grip strengthened to match his.

Another day and different images flowed through his mind. Ellen sat alone in a deli, her attention divided between an e-reader on the table, a partially eaten sandwich, and the attractive gentleman sitting three tables over. Jason caught the briefest glance; all she would allow herself to experience.

“New people and new possibilities go hand in hand. You should shed your shyness. Push beyond the nagging voice inside you which urges restraint, and instead open up to new experiences and new people.”

Another shift and another hand squeeze.

Jason delved one more time into her future. Somewhere her cell phone rang, the name on the other end read Marilyn, and Ellen placed it to her ear. Her world spun and twisted. Her words blurred and mixed with anguish. The phone slipped from her hand to the ground, and she slid to the floor after it.

Jason dropped the link and released her hands. Ellen sat before him, eyes wide and leaning forward in her seat.

Jason eased back in the chair. He ran sweaty palms through slicked back hair, the perspiration and the hair gel mixing to produce sticky goo. He let out a deep breath.

“You should take the opportunity to get in contact with your friends and family. They miss you greatly and will counsel you on your most difficult decisions.”

Ellen cocked her head to one side and nodded, whether to him or to herself, Jason wasn’t sure. Either way, he hated this part. Better to have good news… or at least, not bad news to give his clients. It made for poor repeat business. No one wanted to come back to a fortune teller who gave them upsetting futures. Repeat customers were the one thing that allowed him to pay rent.

Terrible news also made his heart ache for them. So, most of the time, he tried to make it vague enough so the person might leave perplexed, a fine alternative to the other thing.

“Someone named… Marilyn… I saw that she might be of great counsel to you in the upcoming days.”

Ellen’s jaw opened in disbelief. Everything else could be explained away. Up until that point, Jason’s talk of true insight into the future appeared just vague enough. Much like the magician who performs his tricks on stage to a captive audience, no one wants to know how the trick is done, because then it is ruined for them for all time. Better to allow themselves to think it real, but know that it is not.

Instead, with one name, he managed to shatter her image of not only him and what it is he’s told her, but the idea that it could be real settled inside her head… a scary proposition for most everyone.

“How? I haven’t…”

“I can’t predict what I am going to see within the vision, but what I have said can push you into the right direction. It is you who has to take control of your life and make the choices. Understand?”

A slow nod greeted him behind which he could see the struggle within her mind. She rose from her seat still bewitched from his words. A slight dazed look lay frozen across her face.

The sign of a possible repeat customer.

*

Image by Uki_71 from Pixabay

Jason Mills had come to realize, in the last three years, the important thing was to live up to the customer’s expectations. No one wanted their fortune read by some guy in a t-shirt and jeans. People wanted theatrics, a story for their friends so they might debate the merits of whether the guy who had done her reading was for real or a fraud. Even then, they do not mind the apparent lies as long as they had a good time. It was something he had struggled with understanding when he first started out. All the bullshit items they gave credence to allowed them to have a connection. So for that reason he dressed the chamber up to match those preconceptions. Something an ordinary person would want to see and experience.

The corner lamp’s light filtered through a purple shade framing the small table. Centered within the pattern sat a crystal ball. The curtains, which surrounded the area, were a royal red. Every piece needed to convey that he was worth giving money to and his fortune reading was as legit as a fortune reading could be. Whether he gave good news or bad, if the show felt wrong, then their experience would match.

His outfit was meticulously picked out. He slicked his dark hair back, combined a simple black vest with a red dress shirt underneath and dark slacks. For the final piece he added an intense glare he mastered a long time ago, in a different life. It helped that his six foot three inch height not only allowed him to stand above almost every customer, but also caused him to look a little more muscular. His size helped him sell the show; it made him more intimidating than anyone else in the room. Had it been Halloween, he wouldn’t have needed to change as he could either add fake plastic fangs and say he was Dracula or forgo that and claim to be a Vegas magic act.

Customers fell into a couple of camps. The two largest groups were comprised of either tourists visiting the Little Five Points area for a little extra spice of Atlanta, Georgia local flavor, or college kids who consumed one too many drinks during the day and thought getting their fortune read might be good for a laugh. Those same rich kids seemed to treat the whole experience as a rite of passage. As if it was their job to expose him as a fraud.

Their business was nice, if a bit unreliable. Still it was the regulars who allowed him to exist day to day. The older woman who searched for something to fill the hole in her heart. The business man trying to get the next big project off the ground, but had convinced himself long ago the fortune tellers knew something he did not. The Goth girl who believed in someone who could see the future, and hoped through her experience with Jason she would somehow become more connected to the universe itself. Inside each a puzzle piece was missing and the prophecies which Jason the Wondrous spouted could make them whole.

So now Jason sat, watching the feet moved past his curtain only to stop and shuffle back. The uncertain pause before a new face stuck his head inside the curtain and got their first glimpse of Jason’s inner lair. Aside from the lamp, only the crystal ball’s light permeated the room. It did its job well. Shadows made Jason look all the more mysterious.

Jason could hear someone behind the lead figure mumble something about going in, and sure enough the young man made a full appearance. Right behind him, two more followed.

The leader moved deeper into the curtained area, and Jason got his first true look at him. One of the few people who would have been able to look Jason in the eyes and from the shoulder length dark hair and complexion, Jason guessed the kid had some island blood in him. He dressed in a polo shirt and khaki shorts. His attire was the standard uniform of male college students when they hit the bars during these summer months.

The other two matched the dress code if not the look. A shorter, stocky guy took his spot on the left. His nose showed the damage of a man who’d won and lost plenty of fights, but from his frame, Jason suspected that he’d won many more than he’d lost. The taller friend flanked the right. He was all legs and arms and looked as if a deep breath would send him to the ground. His whole form looked as if each piece grew at different rates.

“Have a seat, my friend.” Jason used his best movie voice, struggling to channel Vincent Price, always trying to channel Vincent.

Image by Niek Verlaan from Pixabay

“Uh, alright.”

The twenty-something sat down across from Jason, eyes still adapting to the lower light around him.

“What is it that brings you to me today? Is there something particular you would wish me to ask the spirits?”

“No. I guess, um, just a general reading? Is… is that alright?” It wasn’t fear, but embarrassment which got him stuttering.

“A general reading is fifty. Cash first please.”

Jason learned the hard way that you always needed to get the cash before giving the reading; otherwise you end up chasing your rent money down the sidewalk at eleven o’clock at night. Add to it the fact that Jason grew closer to forty than to thirty every day; any chase was something in which he no longer possessed any confidence.

The young man motioned for the taller man to produce the cash. “This was your idea. Pay the man.”

Taking money from the friend, Jason stared into the customer’s eyes. “Your full name?”

“Terry Soone.”

The shorter friend added. “With an ‘e’.”

“I don’t think he needs the spelling, ass.”

“Alright, Terry, I need you to place your hands face up on the table. As I touch you, clear your mind of all thoughts.” Jason used this moment to unlock eyes with Terry and focused on his two companions, “You must all do this. Any additional stray thoughts will cloud the reading. You must be a blank slate for it to work.”

It was a lie. Jason did not need them to do anything other than stay somewhat quiet. It was more for the mood than the actual reading. Still it added to the mystery. Once again, it was the little things. He needed to make sure they got their money’s worth.

As his friends chuckled behind him, Terry put his hands on the table, and Jason reached across, focusing back upon him. He took a deep breath then grabbed the young man’s palms.

The room, the lights, the crystal ball, and the speech were all a lie. The tourists did not want Jason Mills, they needed the Wondrous One. Regardless, the gift was reality.

Chips. Raise. Fold. Brandon can’t hold his liquor. A redhead girl. Front porch. Face stings. Black robes. Candles. Smiles. Knives. Knives. Knives.

Blackness.

The images slammed into his mind. They blurred and morphed from moment to moment. When Jason tried to explain the readings to anyone else the best he could come up with was to compare it to the old style movie projectors. Every image those machines showed the audience consisted of many individual frames. At the speed it ran, one frame in ten might be seen. It was the same with any readings. Jason saw a movie, but the images moved so fast he couldn’t comprehend anything. It was a blur. Thus the first step was to get a connection. That was the easy part. The second step was to slow the movie down and take a look at the individual pieces, the frames.

Jason took another deep breath, concentrated, and the images came into focus:

Terry sat at a table wearing the same clothes he did now. More friends sat around him looking none too pleased as Terry raked in another stack of poker chips. Someone threw up on a fake plant in the corner. Still, Terry pulled in more and more cash.

Seeing cash was easy to explain, everyone’s thoughts drifted to money, and as such, Jason picked up that information quicker than any other issue the customer might have.

“You will be coming into wealth very soon. Cash won is much sweeter than money earned. It appears your friends here are not good poker players.”

The short stocky friend spoke with disgust. “Standard. They always say something about money.”

“Quiet please.”

With the next image, Jason watched a young redheaded woman slap Terry across the face. He stood in the doorway, too stunned to respond or even make an effort to fix the perceived slight he must have visited on the female. She did not allow him the time anyway and slammed the door in his face.

“You will have some bumps in your love life in the near future. Whatever it is you do, try not to piss off the redhead any more than you already have”

“Obvious, relationship stuff… this guy is a joke.”

Terry shifted his grip at the mention of the girl. Jason struck the correct cord.

The scene dissolved into a shadowy place where a robed man placed a hand on a kneeling Terry’s shoulder.

“A,” Jason needed to search for the word, “ceremony… in the days to come…”

The moment disappeared into emptiness.

You are not welcome here.

The connection severed, and Jason released Terry’s grip.

“Is that it?”

Jason wiped palms on his vest before reaching out to grip Terry’s hands once more.

“No… it is just that… I’m not sure you are concentrating on this. Without your cooperation, this is not going to work.”

Terry nodded and clenched his eyes shut.

Focusing, Jason rewound the vision to try and lock onto it.

Jason strained, sweat rolled down his face, but he saw more of the same.

Robes. Candles. Knives. Blackness.

This differed from anything he experienced in a reading before. For one to stop on its own accord…

He rolled the mental picture back to the last clear image: the ceremony. Through Terry’s eyes he looked up at the robed man who stood in front of him anointing his subject. White flashed from beneath the hood. A bright light filled his eyes…

Undesired. Interloper. Begone.

Again the connection severed.

An electric spark seemed to leap from Terry into him. Jason jerked free.

“Whoa, what happened there? Did you see something else?” The obnoxious friend leaned in close, trying to scan Jason’s face for any hint of what happened.

Terry pulled back from the table and rubbed his hands. Jason guessed the electricity had not been a one sided affair.

“Do you have a buzzer underneath the table?”

Jason composed himself as best he could. He needed to remain in character and not betray the fact he did not know what had occurred.

“I have no such need for parlor tricks. Check under the table for yourself if you do not believe me.”

That invitation was all the unconvinced friend needed. He squatted down beside the table and lifted the table cloth. Jason watched as he felt around for anything that might have explained the jump.

“Whatever it is you felt was both true and powerful. In the coming days you are going to be presented with an important choice. One choice made in darkness will bring great light, but…”

Jason searched for the right words.

“It will not be without its dangers. Choose wisely, your next step, for the futures of many will be at stake… not just your own.”

Terry sat there for another second, either to contemplate what Jason told him or to determine how they had been ripped off. The two friends, who had enough of the show, grabbed Terry on the shoulder urging him to leave.

“Let’s get out of here. I told you this was a scam.”

While they were unconvinced, Terry’s face betrayed his own concern. Jason couldn’t be sure if it was due to the strangeness of the reading, or if Terry understood more of the reading than even Jason did.

The three men left the curtained room muttering to themselves, but Jason did not give them any more notice. He lifted his hand up and found it trembling. His heart sounded off within his chest.

The absence of an image…

Still Jason could not shake the images he saw. He visualized many things in the few years since he discovered his gift. Some were standard beats, like Terry’s money or love life; those were common links between all humanity. Those are the things that subconscious minds dwell on. Will I find love? Am I going to be rich? Those were easy as Terry’s friend had pointed out. The blackness… that was not normal. It seemed there was only one way to interpret it:

Terry Soone was going to die.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

The Last Game

(Obviously spoilers for anything and everything Game of Thrones.)

We sat down last night to watch the series finale. It was Monday night, so everyone else in the world who cared about such things were already neck deep in talking about the show, lamenting the decisions of the writers, loving other decisions, and struggling to determine whether or not they liked even other bits and pieces. As I wrote last week, it isn’t an easy thing to write the ending to a short story or a 22-page comic, I can’t imagine how you’d go about writing the end to a series that’s lasted 8 years.

I watched it.

I absorbed it.

I may need therapy. 🙂

I wrote an email to some friends this morning that summed up my immediate thoughts all of about 12 hours later:

I’m still not sure how I feel about everything. I couldn’t go to sleep last night because my mind was playing things from the episode over and over. I know that there was no way that Danny could stay on the throne after what had happened in Episode 5. Regardless, my mind kept trying to find an “out” for her other than what happened. I had one hope that perhaps… just perhaps, once she gave the Big Victory Speech, that maybe she’d continue on her quest to liberate the world and need a Regent to defend her claim in Westeros. Which would leave Jon Snow serving his Queen and helping the lands of his forefathers. You’d get a “good” ruler and you still would have Danny out there killer the evils of this world.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I know, I was stretching things as far as I could.

So I watch and I become a little sad that Danny doesn’t win in the end. And I watch and I think that Tyrion’s solution of Bran the Broken was both out of left field and inspired. I watch and I think that Arya going to explore past the end of the map is perfect. I watch and I think that Sansa has become a character worthy of Queen of the North.

And I watch Jon Snow, broken, beaten… betraying the one he loved, the one he served, and instead of death (not entirely sure how Grey Worm didn’t just end it for him) he gets to go back to the Wall. Back to where he started all those years ago. Back to a place where he will no longer bother anyone in the Seven… er… Six Kingdoms again. He’ll have to replay all the moments of his life to see if perhaps he could have found a better way.

Did this path get set upon because he told his sisters? Had he kept that much a secret could there have been someone to walk Daenerys back from the brink? Could he have found another way once that information was out? Seen what the others were beginning to see?

I don’t know if there is an answer out there for him. Maybe he’ll find peace north of the wall.

***

With the show over, my hope is that George RR Martin will finish his story finally. Not because I want a different ending. And not because I think the show didn’t do a good job. But because I wonder about the other characters he’s been setting up for decades. Characters that never appeared on the show, but still have their impacts in the words. I wonder if he’ll look at this ending within the show and tweak anything now that he’s seen the reaction to it? Do you use millions of “Beta Readers” opinions to shape the tale or do you continue on whatever the path is regardless of ruffling a few more feathers? Or maybe change things a little “just to make it mine”.

If it were me, I might be tempted to do just that.

***

The last thing is now what do you replace this with? What tv show could put these types of ideas on the screen as successfully? It’s been with us for 9 years…

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

The Box – A Poe-esque Poem

Am I dead, I asked her?

In a box, I did molder,

rotting, shapeless, my nightly sleep.

Dead, but dreaming, of what waited

beyond my comfortable dirt, beyond

my opulent world of worms and disquiet.

But when they asked, wake me none I said

until the day my box is broken.

 

And then the first of dreams

drained through the holes where nails once lay.

I listened. I woke. And pushed away the cold dirt.

My insides, new, pumped with raw life,

and I recalled the days I’d never lived.

The moon, she burned my face. My eyes, she scalded

with such light my box never allowed.

Still hushed, she bade me walk beside her,

and her smile drank away my grave-dust.

 

For hours, we tread lightly

On the shadowed fields, unseen.

Of the world below, of worms, of coffins, she asked,

and for the moon, we floated high,

in the wind, the light, and nothing.

But to the silver jewel, we never did come,

for at last, she saw the dusk within,

and feared, with me, the sun

would not rise.

 

Quickly, we climbed back down.

The dirt waited, starved of me.

Where now will you go? the dream asked me in lament.

To sleep, I said. My home, it is,

in my tomb, dead but dreaming always.

Down, she lay me, shining no more, but gloaming

as I slid into bed, shivering.

Again, I’ll see you? she asked.

Long from now.

*

*

*

J Edward Neill

Before the End of the Story

<This has spoilers for Game of Thrones… sorry.>

How do you stick a landing on a long-running tv show?

We’re a few days before the end of Game of Thrones. A show that opened to a little fanfare, but has built upon itself into a show that people can’t seem to help themselves from spoiling in the minutes after the latest episode airs. I normally don’t watch the episodes until Monday, which prior to probably Season 7, wasn’t much of a problem. Now it feels like people want to try to be clever in not saying anything but actually saying a ton of stuff about the show. And heaven help you if you go onto Yahoo or something and scroll through the articles on the front page. They will put the big moments in the damn title of the article.

But I don’t want to rant about spoilers right now (that’s a post all on its own).

As we approach this ending, it’s gotten me thinking about other shows I’ve loved and how they ended. And then it got me thinking about the actually act of writing an ending to some epic story. You see, I’m currently writing a draft of what will be a 5 book series at this point. So endings are important even all the way at the beginning. Do you set up the last scenes as soon as you put the first words on the screen? Do you have a vague idea of what the plot points should or shouldn’t be in that last book when you still need to discover what happens in books 2-4? Just how much do you need to know and how much should you wing it?

Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

And here’s the other problem: your readers/viewers have a decent idea of where they’d like to see the story end up. Sticking with Game of Thrones, after I’d seen the first season I fully thought that this was going to be a show where I expected the last shot would be of Danny sitting on the Iron Throne. That regardless of where the other dozens of characters ended up, that needed to be the constant. She would have earned it through the way Kings and Queens in this world earn it – she took it, but she did it through alliances. She’s managed her allies – the Unsullied, the Dothraki, the Queen’s Hand, the Dragons, etc. She was one of the BIG heroes for this show. And in a world where there weren’t a ton of heroes, that seemed important.

But this is a world of greys. Not black and whites. And now that Season 8, episode 6 approaches, I no longer know if that is how it is going to end… or even if it should end that way.

So is that a bad thing? Is it a bad thing to potentially NOT deliver on what some people have expected. And note, I’m not talking about quality here… that is another debate. This is strictly about moments which have built up in my head as things that need to happen. It doesn’t mean they have to happen, but I believe they will make my enjoyment all the better.

Yet, in this last season, they have subverted a couple of things already. I’d not expected Arya to be the one to kill the Night King. So much was made of the Lord of Light and his champion that it felt like Jon Snow HAD to be the one to end him. When the time came, I realized it needed to be Arya. That’s how this was all framed and set up. So when the moment came it was a good moment… a good outcome that still wasn’t exactly what I’d expected and that was fine.

So reading the 5 books, watching 7 seasons of the show has led me to some thoughts about where the characters are going to end up. So in this last season, the question for me becomes – what did I think/want to happen, what actually happened, does it still work for me. I like pretty much everything they’ve done, it just makes certain choices, when they don’t match up…

Again, how do you make sure you serve your own vision of the series while not alienating your potential fans?

And there is one other problem: if you are too predictable. What then? People are going to complain because “they saw it coming from the second episode” (or some such thing).

Where is the line? That happy place between predictable and unpredictable. Does it ever really exist? And for those of us who watch the shows or read the series what do we want to see when we get to the end? That the creators did their best? That they played it completely safe? Or that they went balls to the wall and surprise us with something (or many somethings)?

Is there a right answer?

I loved Breaking Bad’s ending. Buffy’s ending. Angel’s ending (might be my favourite). I loved Lost’s ending moment. You’re the Worst stuck the landing.

With this last episode, we’re going to get an ending. For better or worse.

Image by TanteTati from Pixabay

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Behind the Comic – Last Stand 2

A couple of months ago I ran the pages of a short story comic I’d done back in the day. Looking over that post (you can see it right here), I had meant to also provide the original short story to provide a tiny bit of behind the scenes on what things were like before the pretty pictures. I didn’t do that apparently, so I figured I’d provide the story here (plus I’m a bit under the weather tonight, so my brain isn’t much for the writing stuff this evening). So, go read the comic and then come back and read the short:

Image by Katrin B. from Pixabay

Last Stand

 

The ocean water had risen to the edge of the outermost wall now.  And moment-by-moment it would get higher and closer.

Plastic men whom once roamed these walls, scanning for the enemy ships on the horizon, now stood silent, watching the ocean’s waters draw near.  It was a dream that now turned into a nightmare

The castle itself seemed like it was prepared.  All the defenses the kingdom could muster had been put into action.  Great barrier walls of sand had been erected many times over.  Ditches were dug as a way of breaking the force of the waves.  It was pride that told them they could stop nature’s onslaught.  Pride, vanity and maybe stubbornness, Jason had known what was the best placement for the foundation.  It was folly.

The words of his father resonated in Jason’s ears.

“You should build somewhere else.  The ocean will take your castle away.  All your hard work will be lost, not to mention possibly some of your men.”

But Jason knew better.  As commander of this construction, it was his final decision.  Under the fiery sun, he and his men had toiled.

It couldn’t end like this.  Too much work had been done to this land.  Using the very sand and dirt that surrounded the castle, its walls had been erected.  In fact, nothing like it stood for miles.  Of course, it had been known that this was a possibility.  They had all heard of abandoned forts from years past even as construction was begun on this.  Talk that the ocean would swallow them up eventually.  But those warnings were ignored.  Nothing could stop this construction.  It was to be the pride of the kingdom.

The ocean’s waters had bashed down the first of three dirt and sand barriers.  Now it was only a matter of time.

Luckily for them, it had been seen that an evacuation would need to take place.  By the droves, the residents had left all their worldly belongings behind, save for the occasional shovel or bucket.  Those would be gathered up at the end.  For now, they were needed.

Strong hands dug more trenches, packed more dirt onto the inner walls.

Orders hung in the air, “Defend the castle until the end”.  Those same words that had given them strength were just echoes in their ears now, for it was the end.

The sun was dipping below the horizon now.  Soon darkness would engulf them, only the lights from the camps behind them would illuminate the area.  And very poorly at that.

The last of the outer walls began crumbling into the sea.  No one moved to try and brace it once more.  It was a lost cause.

That was the last line of defense.  All that remained between the ocean and the castle was now little more than a memory.

The walls themselves seemed to swell with moisture.  They were seemingly prepared for what was to come next.  No amount of bailing was going to stop all four of the walls from coming down.

Jason watched all the hard work get slammed by the water.  Minutes passed, and more of his castle was removed.  Taken back into the sea again from whence it came.  He held the shovel and the bucket in his hand, trying to decide if there was anything more he could do.  As the master of the house, it was his responsibility.  And he couldn’t allow anyone to be hurt or injured in attempting to stop the inevitable.

Slowly he picked up his soldiers.  He whispered to them that they had done their best.  More than anyone could have hoped for, but that the retreat was given.  None of their lives needed to be risked for any longer.

They could only stare back in disbelief.  Jason wasn’t sure if it was the order, or if the long day had finally taken a toll on them as well.  Like statues, they stood still staring out into the growing darkness.  The spray of the ocean water wetting their faces.  But one by one Jason pulled them from their post.  It added to the growing sadness.

Soon it was only Jason and the remnants of the castle, which was now half flooded.  Pieces broke off in large chunks and crashed to the ground.  Jason couldn’t even see the outer walls anymore, those same walls that they had erected earlier that day; the same walls that were supposed to stop nature itself and minimize the damage of the ocean.  All they would need is to make it through the night, the tide would change once more, and with that was hope.  Yet with each passing moment, the sand was carried out to sea.

Jason looked back to his men.  They awaited their orders.  There was no blame for the positioning of the castle.  That had been his decision, and it was their duty to ensure that his decisions were carried out.  Still, he couldn’t help feeling that he had let them all down.

Jason felt a hand on his shoulder; slowly, he turned to see his father.

Looking up at him, Jason swallowed his pride and forced the words out, “It would seem you were right all along.”

His father only looked out into the darkness.

Jason pointed to the remnants of the castle, “I had hoped it would have stood longer.”

His father surveyed the results of the day and nodded, “There’s always tomorrow, son.  Come in now, dinner’s ready.”

His father turned back toward the house, but Jason looked one last time at his castle.  His hand reached down and picked up the shovel and pail, now full of soldiers, and turned to make his way back up the hill.

Image by Pawel Pacholec from Pixabay

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

What’s My Brand?

 

This past summer I spent a weekend glued to my computer during an online writing course. It wasn’t so much about the act of stringing words together, but more about the mindset of writing. It was about an idea that perhaps you could Clock Out at your day job if you made enough money from your writings. And it was about some (many steps) which could lead you into that direction.

As a part of this process, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the guys who ran the class. Basically, a way to pick his brain.

You see, so many times you end up in this little world within your own brain where you can get to the point that you’re no longer sure what the best course of action may or may not be. I’m lucky enough that I have a few friends and family to bounce ideas off of, but to get a little perspective from an outside person seemed like a great idea.

So I told him everything I could in the short amount of time we had (20-minute video call). I talked about what things I have done: the comic book work, the Kickstarter for the Gilded Age, the pair of novels, short stories, and the weekly blog. I talked about the idea that I was an extreme “Genre Hopper”.

You see, most smart authors pick a genre (sci-fi or romance or post-apocalyptic or…). You try an write all your books within that box because that way you know someone who liked one of your books is more likely to pick up your next one if it is the same type of idea. People like what they like and unless you are some kind of generational talent (Stephen King), you may only confuse the issue if you keep changing what types of books you write.

Such as writing steampunk comics, an urban fantasy novel, and a dark medieval fantasy… just a great idea all around. Now only if you’d follow that up with a sort of steampunk and a science fiction pair of novels… then you’d be living the dream.

 

I told him all about this, and the current idea I’m working on (that would be a series of same genre works – he says, finally realizing his mistakes). But how do I make sure not to push aside the stuff that is already out there. How do I leverage the pair of unpublished novels on my hard drive?  How do I put myself in the best situation where my work just pays for itself. Maybe even get to only work 4 days a week at the day job?

His answer was to figure out what was my BRAND.

What is it that connects me with all the things I write? Is there one connective force that seems to flow through them? Is there something I’m trying to answer with all my works?

If I can answer that question, it will help me find those readers for all of my products.

So I’ve been wrapping my brain around the question, but I’m not entirely sure. I write things I’d like to read. I write about characters who are trying to rise to the occasion. Those characters who may be flawed, but have some kind of hero within them that may need to be coaxed out. I write about ideas that interest me. What if you could do it all over again? What if you had the opportunity to take the easy way out, would you do it? Why are we here?

Yet, I’m not sure what the right answer is just yet. Maybe there isn’t a grand unifying theory for my brain. But I believe it is time to look and see.

I’ll let you know when I figure it all out.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Resolutions, 2019

 

What did I accomplish this last year?

What am I going to accomplish this coming up year?

Two questions everyone asks themselves. Two questions I ask myself every year in regards to my writing.

Sadly, I always put more on my plate than I realistically seem to have time for… which at the beginning of the year, seems near impossible. I start doing calculations on how many words I might (should) be able to write over the course of the year, and I always fall short. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. I feel like I should shoot for the moon. I mean, why not try and get projects out there? Why not try and push myself to do a little more than the previous year.  If I just put that I was going to accomplish one writing task over 365 days… ugh. So, I’m going to continue to put lofty goals for myself and probably come up short… but that will also drive me.

 

2018

Gilded Age

The biggest success of 2017 was getting the Gilded Age Kickstarter funded. The biggest success of 2018 was fulfilling the Kickstarter.

Something as simple as waiting for books to arrive becomes a very stressful experience as your target date continues to loom closer and closer. But the books arrived, they looked great, and people who have read the graphic novel seem to like it. The most important thing was to get it in people’s hands and for them to enjoy it. So that’s a huge success!

 

SOUL Mate

I have written half of this book, but it is currently on the backburner due to an event I participated in during the summer that changed my time and writing priorities. I still love the story, and if I didn’t have that pesky need to go to a job and provide for my family, this would have been finished at this point.

 

Noir Super-Hero Short Story

I did submit to a Noir-Superhero anthology late in the year. It was one of those ideas that hit me on my drive home from work one day, and I probably wrote the majority of it that night. I’m hopeful that will see the light of day in 2019!

Untitled Clocking Out Project

I attended an online two-day workshop with the Self-Publishing Podcast guys at the beginning of July. It wasn’t so much about how to write, and more about how to position yourself as an independent writer. Most of my time I’ve been bad about having ideas for novels that have NOTHING to do with the previous one. And while that is a good way to scratch a ton of itches (oooh, I’ll do a Horror novel next!), it puts the author in an uphill battle to get readers.

So I went into the workshop with an open mind and a kernel of an idea… and afterward, I was inspired to start outlining this book which would be a part of a larger series. The initial goal was to have a rough draft done by the end of 2018, which I accomplished on December 29. There is still a ton left to do, but it was one of the bigger accomplishments for the year!

 

Blogging

I continued to get a blog a week done for another 52 weeks. Sadly, due to other writing projects and life events, I had to stop doing the Steampunk Fridays posts. I’m hoping to maybe revisit those this year (perhaps not every week though).

 

2019

Gilded Age

Now that I have books I really need to figure out how to get them to the readers. Which means conventions. Which means I need to figure out which conventions I’d like to go to and schedule them out.

Of course, you can still get a copy online as well, here!

Untitled Clocking Out Project

Finish a second Draft of the first book. Work on Books 2 and 3. My impossible goal would be to have both of those done by the end of 2019 so that I can begin releasing the series in 2020.

 

Hollow Empire 2

Mr. Neill has completed two additional chapters of our world here and here. The gauntlet has been thrown down, so I have been working on my next chapter in spare minutes here and there.

 

Ravensgate

An idea based on a D&D campaign that Egg Embry and I participated in mixed with a desire to have a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly fiction series running on the site. I’m looking forward to reviving that one. Six chapters have been written at this point…

 

Unknown

Because I just don’t know when that next idea will need to be jotted down. I’d think it would be more of the short story flavor rather than anything longer (I certainly have no extra time!).

***

Again, shooting for the stars. We’ll see how close I get this year!

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

 

A Love For Everyday – 2

Two years ago, I created a homemade book for my wife with all these quotes about Love from our favorite TV Shows and movies and books and then I added to it great quotes about love from history or just great quotes about love from anyone. Last year I shared a few from the book around the holidays and thought that would be a good one to revisit (the original is here).

January 29

If I had the choice of hanging out with anyone in the entire world or sitting at home with you eating pizza watching a crappy TV show, I’d choose you every time.

Scrubs

February 5

For she had eyes and chose me.

William Shakespeare, Othello

March 1

I want a soul mate who can sit me down, shut me up, tell me ten things I don’t already know, and make me laugh. I don’t care what you look like, just turn me on.

Henry Rollins

April 12

One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.

Sophocles

 

May 8

You don’t love a girl because of beauty. You love her because she sings a song only you can understand.

L. J. Smith, Secret Vampire

June 23

Heaven would never be heaven without you.

Richard Matheson, What Dreams May Come

July 7

Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.

Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

August 25

I can’t say how every time I ever put my arms around you I felt that I was home.

Ernest Hemingway

September 3

It was a great kiss. If one of us had been a frog, it would have had some seriously impressive consequences.

Gilmore Girls

October 13

Every lover is, in his heart, a madman, and, in his head, a minstrel.

Neil Gaiman, Stardust

 

November 1

Face it, Tiger, you just hit the jackpot.

Mary Jane Watson

December 29

They say when you meet the love of your life, time stops, and that’s true.

Big Fish

 

***

Hope you have some great holidays with those you love.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

You Only Need One

I started to write this post about being a writer when I realized it applied to more than just writers. Then I was going to include artists, but that was still too narrow a view. Then it was about including all the creatives… still it felt like I was forgetting people.

So this probably applies to everyone. I think, but I’m thinking about the writing thing…

You only need one moment of one person believing in you. That one pure moment where there is no judgment, only encouragement. And weirdly it can come at the oddest of times throughout your life. Sometimes it is there when you are struggling to find a foothold in this crazy life you’ve made for yourself. Sometimes it comes in a more normal fashion, you provide someone with your work and they say something that just strikes to the heart of things.

No matter what it is or how it happens, you are left with that feeling of being full. Knowing you are on the right path.

You see, writing is a lonely endeavor. Whenever I’m telling others about it I always mention that there are many nights of you vs. the blank screen. You are shouting into the void with your strings of letters. And deep down, no matter if you think it is decent, you still need someone else to take a look and validate what you have done. Validate all the hard work into this THING. You can’t get discouraged when you don’t have that, but those pure moments are some of the greatest ways that you are doing alright.

In the end, you want the thing you have done… the thing you have created, being used or read/viewed/etc. If no one sees it and no one knows it exists, then how are you ever going to be better off?

Those small victories. The tiniest ones. Those are the ones you have to celebrate because you don’t know when the next perfect sentence is going to spring forth from your brain. You have to cherish them because the Writer’s Block Beast is always around the corner to take away those ideas and confidence.

This isn’t profound information. This won’t change your world. But it isn’t supposed to do such things. This is about allowing yourself to feel good about the things you’ve done and maybe even cut yourself some slack on the other things… those you haven’t done.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

PRESS RELEASE – Bloat Games is excited to announce Tales From Vigilante City! [Updated Version]

Bloat Games is excited to announce Tales From Vigilante City!

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an updated press release (see the original here). The updated items include:

  • Reduced minimum word count.
  • Submissions deadline announced.
  • Tales From Vigilante City Vol. II announced.
  • Some details about the post-submissions process.

* * *

 

Tales From Vigilante City is an all new street level super hero short fiction anthology which is to be a companion piece to Bloat Games recent successful Kickstarter SURVIVE THIS!! Vigilante City which is an RPG heavily influenced by the 90s cartoons Batman: The Animated Series, X-Men, Spider-man and TMNT.

Tales From Vigilante City will be compiled and edited by Eric Bloat (from Bloat Games, Creator of the SURVIVE THIS!! Game Series &Vigilante City) and by ENnie and Origin Award winning author James M. Spahn (from Barrel Rider Games, Creator of The Hero’s JourneyWhite Star RPGs).

Bloat Games is currently accepting super hero short fiction in the genres of Action, Adventure, Comedy, Crime, Mystery, Horror, Sci-Fi & Young Adult.  We are chiefly interested in stories that feature “normal” human vigilantes but also are accepting stories about Anthropomorphs (think TMNT), Mutants (think X-Men), or low power level metahumans, mystics, psions, etc.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES:

• Accepting 1K-16K word count.
• Pay is $0.01 per word
• Payment made via Paypal only.
• Payment grants Bloat Games Non-exclusive rights to publish the story. Writer retains all other rights and Intellectual IP and can resell the story to other publishers.
• All submissions and inquiries should be sent via email to ericbloat@yahoo.com with the subject line: TFVC Submissions.
• Submission cutoff date is Nov 1st, 2018. Any submissions received after that date may be held and considered for Tales From Vigilante City Vol. II.
Bloat Games will begin reviewing submissions then and you will be contacted if your submission was selected to be included or not.

 

* * * * * *

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links.

Projects and Accountability

Whether it is the smallest things on your to-do list or the last check on the biggest project of your life, it becomes very useful to have some measure of accountability for both things. Something as simple as writing this thing in a blog may be enough to allow it to come to life when and where you say it will be completed.

I have discipline in some things and less so on other things. I watch others achieve successes I can only dream about, but I know the reason it happens – they bust their asses every day to ensure they get a little closer to their goals. It’s not a big secret. It doesn’t take hundreds of thousands of words in a self-help book. Neither does it mean you have to watch hundreds of hours of self-help programming. No, no matter who you are no matter what your plans, the only way to get there is to choose to do it.

I guess.

I mean, that’s what those books would tell you… when you really get down to the core of it all, that’s what they would tell you. Only you can make this thing happen. Only you can decide to not continue to do the bad and instead shift to the good.

There is this dream I have. It is the same dream I’m sure so many other writers have: to be able to write for a living. To not have to go to the day job day in and day out. I’ve always said that I’m pretty lucky in that, most days, I like what I do for a living. And even if I could go 100% to writing, I’d probably want to find a way to still be an engineer part-time (if only to ensure I didn’t become a full-time hermit – which might be likely for me).

The thing is, if that’s my goal then I know that the way I’ve gone about this writing thing is backward. It’s never going to work for me to release things unrelated to other things. I have two novels out there, one I wrote solo and one I co-authored. I have two other novels waiting to be formally edited and then released. None of these things have anything to do with any of the other stuff I’ve done. Even my comic work doesn’t fit into a genre similar to any of my prose work.

And this might not be a problem if I was already established, but I am nowhere near that point.

Back at the beginning of July, I took a two-day online writing class from Sterling and Stone. I’ve never taken a writing class like this before. The most I’ve really done is some panels here and there at Dragon Con. This was very much a crash course in how they prepare for the novels they write as well as just a mindset they enter into. It was about developing the idea prior to just jumping into things and hoping it might turn out alright (doing that dreaded Outline thing).

So as part of the class, the goal is to have a full draft of a novel by the end of the year… but this isn’t just another standalone, but needs to be the first book in a larger series. And while my brain doesn’t like to work that way, I actually had an idea which seems rich with possibilities. It’s forced me to think about the outline for Book 1, but also consider aspects of a Book 2 and Book 3 and Book 4 and…

I believe that I have the ability to do it. I know what my output can be when I sit down and focus on the writing. When I minimize my distractions.

So that’s the goal. I have 4 months to get this first story told. Wish me luck.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Imagine a World Without ________

Reach deep.

And imagine…

 

You’re walking down a city street. All the cars speeding past you are grey and boxlike. They’re all the same, featureless, colorless, and they make no sound as they sweep down the streets.

You walk into a clothing store. There are no sections for men, women, and children. On every rack hang beige shirts, pants, and coats. The styles are drab and shapeless. There are no dressing rooms. There is no color. Other shoppers…even the cashier…are dressed in the same exact clothing. Everyone looks identical. You slap down your money and walk out with a grey bag full of the same clothes everyone else wears.

You’re hungry. Starving, actually. You walk into a restaurant without a name, a logo, or a menu. You step up to the counter and order the same thing everyone else is having. This is the city’s best place to eat, but you’re not impressed. All they offer are tasteless, watery noodles and flavorless bread. Everyone sits quietly and eats at grey tables. You can’t even remember why you picked this place.

Mmmmmm…watery noodles.

At home, you’re ready to relax after a long day at work. Your house looks exactly like everyone else’s, but luckily you remember which one is yours. After all, it’s got a number. You park your grey car inside your grey garage, and you walk through grey doors into a grey room. Your walls are barren. No photos of loved ones. No paintings. No color. You sit on your couch and turn on your TV. There’s only one station. It’s the same two people wearing the same two suits talking about the same thing they did yesterday. There’s no Food Network, SyFy Channel, Game of Thrones, or Discovery Channel. It’s just two people discussing the value of nothing. What else is there to watch?

Nothing.

You’d like to go to the movies. But there’s no such thing.

You’re thinking of taking a stroll through a museum. But no one’s ever thought to build one.

You’re hungry for a gourmet pizza, a scrumptious slice of cake, and a nice cocktail. But there’s no chefs, no bakeries, and certainly no bartenders.

Perhaps I’ll just lie in bed and read a book, you think. It’s not like there’s anything else to do. 

But there are no books. Because there are no authors. And even if there were, all the covers would look the same…grey and black. You wouldn’t know which one to read. It’d be impossible to choose. At this point, you’d settle for a magazine, a newspaper, or a funny website with cute comics on the internet. It sucks, because these things don’t exist. You’ve never heard of them. You can’t even want to want them.

You’re bored. You’re distraught. You step outside for a walk. It’s strange walking through your town. The houses, buildings, shops, and stores are all white boxes. No one bothers with windows…there’s nothing to see. You can’t tell the difference between the car repair shop and the bank. They look exactly the same. No one ever bothered to be an architect. No one knew it was possible.

There’s one thing left that’ll save you. You run back to your trusty radio. It’s a grey box like all the others. You flip the switch and turn the dial to your favorite station. The sound greeting your ears? Static. Dead, dry noise. There’s no rhythm in it. There’s no beat, no catchy hook. It’s just static.

Always crackling. Always the same.

And you’re emptier still.

That evening, your kid comes home from school.

“What did you do today?” you ask. “Learn anything interesting?”

He shrugs. He doesn’t care much about school. He learns the same things every day: math, chemistry, and science. That’s all well and good. But he never has any good stories. It’s because there aren’t any. He’s happy because he doesn’t have to write book reports, but sad because he’s never read a book. There’s not much going on at his school. No sports. No chess club. No band camp. Why have extracurricular activities if there’s no such thing?

He doesn’t even know what a crayon is.

Actually, neither do you.

You’re walking down a hall.

The walls are barren. Everyone you pass is wearing pale sackcloth. Everyone looks the same.

It’s silent in this place. The only sounds you hear are footsteps and your own breathing. They haven’t even bothered to pipe lame elevator music into this place. Why would they? There’s no such thing.

There’s no color here. There’s nothing to do but eat your noodles, sleep in your white bed, and drive to work in your simple grey box.

What is this place?

Where am I? you wonder.

It’s simple.

This is a world without art. Without color. Without chefs, architects, or artisans. Without painters, writers, or musicians. Without photographers, sculptors, or comedians. Without gardeners. Without dance. Without movies.

Without meaning.

Support an artist today.

Without them, we are nothing.

J Edward Neill

Kindle Worlds – Looking Forward Back

“I’ve come to bury Kindle Worlds, not to praise it.”

***

In Indy publishing, the big worry is What is Amazon going to do? For so many independent writers, Amazon has provided them with a steady income to turn their hobby of creating fiction into a true job. They see that constant stream coming in, month by month and believe it will never end. So they up and quit their day jobs only to see their returns begin to dry up. And why does this happen? Many times it is due to Amazon changing their algorithms in how your books get presented to the book-buying public. If your title gets some extra love from Amazon, maybe it takes off into the Top lists for your category or even for the whole of the store itself. That one thing can be the difference between pizza money and a house payment.

But the whispers are always there:

What if Amazon changes something?

What if Amazon decides to overhaul their programs?

What if they decide to get rid of some aspect of the program?

Some people worry and diversify their writings to other sellers (Smashwords, Draft2Digital, Barnes and Noble, etc.) and others say they’ll cross that bridge when they come to it.

For those people making more than pizza money on their Kindle Worlds stories, the end is nigh (see the email here). And much like those oracles had predicted… you never know when or if it is going to happen (and my follow-up).

***

For the two Veronica Mars Kindle Worlds Courtney and I wrote (still available here and here!), it was always on the pizza money side of things. Four years ago I wrote a post talking about writing in that universe and the birth of a story (here). Last year we finally followed up that one with another book, which I wrote about (here).

Prior to Kindle Worlds existing, I didn’t get Fan Fiction. I certainly didn’t understand that there were tons of places on the internet where you could go and read about your favorite tv show or movie characters further adventures. Did you want to know what would happen if Show X crossed over with Show Y? There’s probably a whole subgroup for that. And, if there isn’t, you could always invent the genre!

But writing Fan Fiction isn’t that different from many things I’ve done over the years playing RPGs or coming up with my comic book pitches that will never be read by anyone over at Marvel or DC (but seriously, I have a 60 issue pitch for Moon Knight that you wouldn’t believe!). I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole Fifty Shades origins, but clearly, it worked, so who am I to judge?

So the announcement last week that this was all going away hit me well and good. Not because they were selling thousands of copies, but because it helped me convince my wife to write with me. Or maybe it was her telling me that we WERE going to write something together once it was known that Veronica Mars was going to be a destination spot within the program.

The nice thing about the program is/was that there really wasn’t any pressure. I’m not saying we didn’t put our best work out there… I think we did a great job working within the world of the TV show. I just mean that this was something on the shorter side (just over 10,000 words in each of the two novellas) that we could put out for consumption pretty quick. A full-length novel takes me months/years to write a draft, then do another draft, then set it aside for a while, then hire an editor…

These were different.

In addition, I wanted to make sure all those hours of her watching and rewatching the show could suddenly be called RESEARCH! 🙂

There was always good and bad with creating these stories though. We knew that if Veronica Mars removed herself from the program, the books wouldn’t really have a home anymore other than on the Kindles who’d already bought them and our hard drive. We also knew these weren’t our toys; they would need to be returned to the toy box. I’ve only had a couple of occasions in my writing projects where I wasn’t the one creating the story and characters and worlds. These two projects allowed me to stretch a different kind of writing muscle. Hopefully, it made me a better collaborator and writer for it.

***

I want to thank everyone who has downloaded them over the years and appreciate the reviews that have been left. These two stories are going to become this thing we did. Maybe some other program will come along allowing us to display our works once again.

***

John McGuire has co-written, along with his wife, two Kindle Worlds novellas set in the world of Veronica Mars: Theft & Therapy and There’s Something About Mac.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Kindle Worlds Closing

 

Almost five years to the day, from when they originally announced the program, yesterday Amazon sent out emails to the various Kindle Worlds authors letting them know that they were discontinuing the program.

As of May 17th, Kindle Worlds will no longer be accepting new submissions. Previously published Kindle Worlds stories will no longer be available for sale on Amazon.com on or around July 16th. The Kindle Worlds website will be closed on August 29th.

When Kindle Worlds rolled out, it was with three worlds fan-fiction authors could play in: Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and Vampire Diaries. Over the past five years, this number has grown to ninety. Ranging from other television shows to romance to comic book superheroes, the line seemed to be the answer for many aspiring writers who populated fan fiction boards and posted their latest versions of the characters. Expanding on moments from the series, whether that was television or in print form, Kindle Worlds encouraged them to not only continue what they were doing but actually get paid something for their efforts. If your work was over 10,000 words the royalty rate would be 35% of net revenue. Works between 5,000 and 9,999 words, which would be priced at $0.99 would provide a royalty of 20% of net revenue.

It really felt like a win/win scenario for all parties.

There were a few caveats to this. Authors would need to follow Amazon’s content guidelines. In addition, anything new that was created within the world would potentially be owned by the license holder. Still, even with those parameters, Amazon was able to launch the website with titles from some established authors. They put the spotlight on these works and the fan fiction began to populate. A look today shows The Vampire Diaries as the largest library with 232 submitted stories with GI Joe (124) and the Silo Saga from Hugh Howey (122) coming in at numbers two and three.

One of the early Kindle Worlds.

In light of the announcement, the questions of what to do with those works fall back to both the original authors and potentially the license holders. When Amazon closes the doors, the rights will shift back to the author who could then strip out any reference to the Kindle World in question and potentially put out a “clean” version of the story for sale. Whether that is worth the effort or perhaps these become lost treasures mentioned on an author’s website and nothing more.

For an indy author who had the fortune of people writing in their worlds, more eyes should translate to potentially more sales. This removes one of the avenues to get the word out there. Though, there is always the chance that the license holders will come up with ways to keep those versions out there, pointing new readers to their own series while still rewarding their fans who wrote the stories. Some writers have already taken to Facebook and Twitter to announce they have “something in the works”, so authors would do well to continue to pay attention to their World’s Creators in the coming months.

 

***

John McGuire has co-written, along with his wife, two Kindle Worlds novellas set in the world of Veronica Mars: Theft & Therapy and There’s Something About Mac.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Kindle Worlds Shutdown

As a co-author of two Kindle Worlds novellas, I was sad to get the following in my email this afternoon:

 

Dear John,

As a valued member of the Kindle Worlds author community, we wanted to let you know of some upcoming changes to the Kindle Worlds program.

As of May 17th, Kindle Worlds will no longer be accepting new submissions. Previously published Kindle Worlds stories will no longer be available for sale on Amazon.com on or around July 16th. The Kindle Worlds website will be closed on August 29th; we ask that all Kindle Worlds participants update and validate their banking information, mailing address, and contact information by July 31, 2018 in order to facilitate a timely final royalty payment.

Your final royalty statement will include a proactive final payment for all remaining Kindle Unlimited borrows, including borrows that have not yet met the qualified borrow threshold. We plan to remove Kindle Worlds stories from Kindle Unlimited on May 16th.

Effective as of the date we remove your work from the Kindle Worlds program, we revert the rights granted to us by you in your Kindle Worlds Publishing Agreement. As a reminder, please note that certain rights have been granted to the applicable World Licensor and, as a result, you may not be able to republish your work, use elements from the world, or otherwise exploit the rights you granted unless you obtain the World Licensor’s permission.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email kindle-worlds-support@amazon.com.

For five years, Kindle Worlds has been thriving, engaging writers and readers who enjoy writing in one another’s worlds, and we’re proud of the work we’ve done together. While we are closing Kindle Worlds, Amazon is constantly innovating on behalf of our authors and readers, and we look forward to continuing to do so. 

We hope that 2018 and beyond bring wonderful things for you and your stories, and we appreciate your support over the years. 

Warm wishes,
The Kindle Worlds Team  

 

Kindle Worlds was a great opportunity to play in someone else’s sandbox for a little while. And being able to write with my wife in a world she is… obsessed with, in Veronica Mars, is one of the highlights of the writing side of my life.

So I guess now I should say: “Still available for a limited time!” (Click on the image to see the books.)

 

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

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

Crumbs

I’m having trouble with a story. It’s not so much a case of Writer’s Block. I know what the subject is. I pretty much know the beginning, middle, and ending. The problem I’m having is in the How. How do I tell the story? What form will it ultimately take when it is put on the page? I can’t wrap my mind around it and I don’t know why.

I have 8 pages of notes for this short story. That feels excessive, but I have to truly understand what is going on before I can be sure how the story will look. And it means I can’t proceed until then. The best I can do is write notes, mini-essays to myself in an effort to retrain my brain in what needs to be said. So I thought I might put some of the more essay parts out here to sift through things and perhaps find the right truth buried within.

***

We box up things. Pieces of us. Memories of a life lived. Through our wars and struggles, through the joys… everything that makes up a part of us.

Leafing through biographies like they were disposable items. Something to be thrown out rather than clutched to our chests and cherished. Something to be lived in once more.

These are our oldest friends, long-lost pets, a picture, a collar, a tag, a scrap of paper – separately they are probably junk… trash… together they become something else – a legacy of one man’s life.

A fossilized record of what came before.

And sadly only interesting to that one person.

Each one has a memory. Each one reminds me of something. Brings back that thing I’ve thought long since forgotten. These aren’t the kind of things you just remember because you want to. These are the things you are forced to remember because to not remember is to not have lived. To not have experienced a life worth living. To accumulate things isn’t a bad thing if it means you are connecting to a different version of yourself. That kid who recorded a VHS tape is far different from the man who just got rid of his only means of playing it. I’ve never even watched the damn thing. I’ve never had the desire. It’s a game where the team I root for winds by six or seven points. So why the hell do I keep it?

No picture is needed for a random box of baseball cards. I know exactly when and where it was purchased. Florida. Spring Break. We chilled IBC bottles instead of alcohol… still too young to bother with the real stuff. I can’t remember her name, but I still feel her arm’s wrapped around me while we sat around the hotel’s pool in that unseasonably chilly night air.

It didn’t matter if the box of cards were long since worthless – a tragedy of over-printing in the early nineties. It didn’t even matter that aside from these once a year epic cleanings that I hadn’t touched the box or the cards inside. None of that mattered.

It was what it always had been: a time capsule of a weekend of time. To remove that from my house would be to erase a moment from myself. As if I was telling a younger version that their moment all those years ago didn’t matter. The money spent was never going to be an investment.

They connect me to that kid all those years ago. They let me travel through time in my own way. They’ve built me up and cobbled me together out of ideas and thoughts and adventures and happiness and sadness and everything in between. A picture of a man. Yet not complete because you can only see the outside stuff. You can never see into the nooks and crannies of what it is to have those fleeting thoughts.

Without them, I’m just an old man who doesn’t know how he got from there to here. They’re my roadmap leading me from the past into my future.

 

Instead, Spring Cleaning meant death for those little pieces of memory.

Without those pieces, you get unstuck from things, from who you are. They define you, they anchor you, and those… the bad things… it’s ok if you are rid of those. It’s more than ok – you should seek those and cut them out of your life. Rid yourself of the terrible things wholly and you won’t be the same person either. You have to accept all of it. Sometimes it is going to be bad and sometimes it may end up good. And whether you want it to be those things or not-

Is no longer up to you.

***

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.

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

Define “Fine”

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

Fine – adjective – Of high quality

Fine – adverb – in a satisfactory or pleasing manner; very well

Both of these definitions lead me to believe that if you were to say that something was “fine” or that you thought the food was “fine” you would be paying it a compliment.

However, in my house there are two other definitions:

Fine – adverb – Adequate. Not great, but not bad. Ok.

That is my usage of Fine most of the time (pardon the rhyme). It is how I let someone know that the thing is pretty much average.

Fine – 4-letter word – See $#$%$ and @#$$#

That is how my wife hears the word. To her, it has become synonymous with terrible, bad, unfortunate, and about 100 other things which convey “BAD”. And no matter how much I’ve tried to explain myself – that I’m merely using it in lieu of saying things are OK – she doesn’t really believe it.

But here’s the thing: most things are just Fine to me.

When I go to a restaurant I can think of about 2-3 times where I was so blown away by the food I thought to myself that “this is the greatest X thing I’ve ever eaten”. I hear other people talk about restaurants and a particular cut of meat or a certain dish that they all say is the best in the city, the best in the state, oh, you have no idea how good it tastes.

It’s fine. It’s never as good as all of that. It’s decent enough. Never bad, but never mind-blowing. Just Fine.

(Maybe it is my taste buds. I don’t ever season things… I like fairly bland food.)

Or even when things turn the other way – maybe they food quality has decreased… eh, I bet it is still Fine, but you’ve convinced yourself it is the worst horrible really bad thing you could have encountered.

Most days of work are like that too. I try not to get too up or too down about the day job. I come in, do my work, and then I leave it all behind me as soon as I get to the car. And while there are certainly days I want to pull out my hair or days where I’m just not in the mood to work… most of the time it is just Fine.

Movies/TV Shows – Tons of them fall into this category. Books, too. Many times I’ve walked out of a movie and liked it enough, but if I wouldn’t tell you to rush out to see it… it’s probably just Fine, too.

Writing… my writing… I don’t want it to be fine. It doesn’t have to be spectacular or the next great American novel or any of that. I am by no means a perfectionist (or at least that is what I tell myself), but I need it to be better than OK. I think if you create anything you have to want it to be “More”. More than the previous book they read. More than the last meal they had. Just More.

So I struggle with word choice and sentences and read and reread things I’ve written and sometimes there is a passage or a chapter or even a couple of chapters where I recognize that the piece is better than Fine. That’s where, I think, you have to push yourself. You have to try to limit the number of Fine sections. You can’t be just “adequate”. You want to aspire to the very first definition… “Of High Quality”.

That is something worth aspiring to.

***

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.

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

 

Even More Editing Hacks

I took too long of a break between writing the 1st draft of the current novel I’m working on. I’ve about 1/3 of the way through it and hit the dreaded Writer’s Block. Say what you will about the mighty Block (I did here), whether you believe in it or not, whether you let it control you or not, or maybe you just ignore it altogether… when it does sneak up on you it is no fun.

So now I’m back at it, trying to get back into the flow, trying to figure out what it is that I’m doing. And trying to fill in the gaps of an outline that I didn’t realize had any gaps in it until I started writing.

Well, I’m almost at it. You see, I’m somewhat breaking one of my rules about editing before the draft is done. In rereading the early chapters of the book I notice things. Nothing big, but enough where I want to tweak, add, subtract, you name it and I’m trying to do it. So I’m both reading and editing in an effort to get back to where I want to be with the book.

But I notice the little things and it makes me realize that putting things off until the end can work for a while… until it doesn’t want to work anymore.

Character Names – I use placeholders for names of characters. Who the heck knows if the girl is a Jennifer or a Celeste? I don’t always know that when I start writing them. So they get a placeholder name. And that works pretty well until it becomes time to figure out who they are supposed to be, and you still don’t have your main character’s last name (just “YYY”). It is annoying and bothersome and forced me into some true decision making about a couple of names.

Skipping around and writing chapters out of order – A great way to ensure productivity for the evening is to jump around with the manuscript. You write the first 6 or 7 chapters and then when you get a tiny bit stuck, just jump to the big action scene or that one scene you’ve been looking forward to for forever. It keeps the writing crisp and gets you closer to writing The End. The only problem is that if you don’t finish everything up you are left with huge gaps where you’re either not sure what is going to happen or you are 100% sure, but may not want to actually write that piece of the narrative. Because you’ve already written that “exciting’ section, the rest sometimes feel a little mundane.

Outline – This is the best. You may think you work better pantsing, but you just don’t know the power of the outline. It’s great.

And then you realize that the outline isn’t complete. You’ve left out a huge plot point which occurred to you while you were writing. You forgot some set piece or character moment or something. And now you’re stuck again. Repairing this thing that you’re not sure you really needed or just the thought of what good is it to lay everything out if you are just going to go off script anyway.

Or maybe that’s ok. Maybe it is just the basic roadmap, but it doesn’t have to have all the possible stops. It may not mention the big ball of yarn, but if you want to include it – it just means that maybe you need to update the outline.

Get to the keyboard and just type – Really, this is the only hack I need to remind myself of. Sitting down and do it. The words are going to flow one way or another, but you won’t capture them sitting on the couch.

 

***

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.

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 – Looking Forward Back

 

I started doing this series of blog posts at the beginning of July. My thinking was two-fold:

1 – Check out who might be producing Steampunk comics.

Obviously, I write a Steampunk comic (The Gilded Age), so I’m already interested in the genre. However, aside from the DC covers they did that one month or something else random to come out which might mimic the ascetics, I really didn’t know what other indy creators might be doing within the genre.

2 – Help potentially spread the word for those creators.

Comics should be this thing where we are always helping each other up. And if I like something why wouldn’t I try to get another person to like it?

3 – Content for the blog.

Some weeks are easier than others to figure out a topic. This really gave me a direction that the Wednesday blog sometimes doesn’t have (which I like the free-form, but this is focused – or as focused as I’m going to get).

4 – See what was successful for other Kickstarters (especially those in the Steampunk realm).

As I was pretty sure I’d be kicking off a Kickstarter sometime in the Fall, this was an excuse to start to drill down and see what might be working and what wasn’t. Looking at the pages for how they were laid out, the various Reward levels, and just the level of artwork on the page. I took notes of what I liked and what I didn’t like.

So if you missed any of the weeks, here’s a handy recap of 2017!

Interviews

Interview with Ken Reynolds

Ken Reynolds is the creator of the comic Cognition: a comic where the lead characters are a clockwork and an evil rat who stop supernatural entities.

And if your brain didn’t begin dripping from your ears, you need to check this out.

Seriously, the comic is all sorts of cool.

Interview with the Creators of Arcane Sally & Mr Steam

The team over at the Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam comic are clearly doing something with their Steampunk… Ghost Story… Victorian supernatural action-adventure… Love Story?

Interview with the Creator of Hinges

What I wrote in the introduction still holds true:

There are moments when you start reading a comic and you just know there is something about it which speaks to you. And maybe you don’t understand every little thing which has been set out in front of you… maybe those are the things you’ll figure out on a reread. But when you lock in, that’s all it takes.

When I sat down to check out some Steampunkish comics a couple of weeks ago and came across Hinges by Meredith McClaren, I thought I’d read a few pages and move on with my life.Bauble and Orio had other plans for me.

Bauble and Orio had other plans for me.

Interview with the Creator of The Legend of Everett Forge

Everett Forge is in the mold of many of those same Westerns. He’s clearly a man on a mission to destroy Omega’s entire livelihood. He’s a myth, a ghost story the Robots tell each other at night – make sure you lube all your joints of Everett Forge will get you.

Interview with the Creator of Boston Metaphysical Society

Take the X-Files, set it in an alternate history of Boston, and force the characters to have to deal with a different set of social mores and expectation than we deal with today. BMS has run a handful of successful Kickstarters (and have 6 issues collected in their trade), so you are going to get your full story.

The Gilded Age Interviews

As part of my month-long Gilded Age Kickstarter campaign, I collected the various interviews I’d conducted with much of the team over the previous year. There are still a couple of people left to talk to… it’s on the to do list.

Interview with the Creator of Monstrous

Monstrous stems from a lifelong fascination with monster movies and their misunderstood heroes.  Even when they’re completing evil, monsters are always the most compelling thing about the stories they occupy.  I’ve always loved the Universal Studios monsters and Ghostbusters and the Hammer Studios movies.  I threw all of those influences together with plots from John Wayne westerns in this strange steampunk hybrid. Monstrous is like all of these things I’ve loved for years having a party together.

Interview with one of the Creators of The Jekyll Island Chronicles

The Jekyll Island Chronicles is a graphic novel adventure series blending historical fact with heavy doses of alternate history and adventure. Book One, The Machine Age War, opens the story in the days following The Great War – a time when a brief glimmer of peace and hope quickly fades as a cryptic organization moves to threaten fragile governments and their people with a campaign of chaos and terror. 

 

 

Kickstart the Comic

Word Smith

This was the first of the series, focusing on Victoria who crafts words. Through the use of this magic, she is able to affect the world around her. This Kickstarter ended up funding, and I have my digital copy!

Imaginary Voyages of Edgar Allan Poer #1 KS Exclusive

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.

This Kickstarter funded and I believe the second issue was funded as well, so if you missed them, keep an eye out for issue 3.

The Invention of EJ. Whitaker

This was a case where the Kickstarter was long over, but I still wanted to shine a little light on the project. In fact, I need to reach out to the creators about an interview I’ve been promised!

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.

Blood & Dust Volume 2

The Old West is really that last bastion before the industrial revolution kicks into high gear. But there is plenty of bleed between the two areas, the same as Steampunk and Weird West style stories. That Gothic Horror feel of monsters being in a place where, by all rights, they should not be. And whether it is a Steampowered invention needing to put the darkness back in its place or the sidearm of a cowboy – it feels all connected even if it isn’t a 100% match of genres all the time.

The Death Defying #1

Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini.

The writer and the magician.

They were once the best of Friends.

When their friendship went to hell, 

The world wasn’t very far behind.

Stoker and Wells – The Graphic Novel

In 1894 London, a 20-something H.G. Wells and a 40-something Bram Stoker meet and have a very unexpected 48-hour adventure that leads to the creative inspiration for both writer’s first great success – THE TIME MACHINE for Wells and DRACULA for Stoker.  It is not only a thrilling, scary, fun, and beautifully drawn adventure tale, but also a story about putting aside fear and insecurity and stepping into your true identity.

Kickstart the Game

1879 London Adventure and Sourcebook

1879 is FASA’s steamweird roleplaying game, that takes the place of Shadowrun in our cosmology. Due to a weird science experiment that opens a stable wormhole, Earth’s magic cycle gets jumpstarted in the late Victorian era, leading to a Gilded Age with elves, dwarves, snarks, and trolls. As the world adjusts to its new races, technological progress races forward, as the Age of Steam begins to give way to the Age of Electricity. Clockwork computers exchange data over telegraph wires, steam-powered airships chug through the sky, and industrial applications of magic churn out new wonders daily.

Westbound: Revolvers and Rituals

Westbound is a game of adventure on the frontier. You’ll explore the magical wild west, encounter other frontiersmen, fight strange new creatures, and strike gold or die trying. Robbing trains, shooting up saloons, and rescuing damsels is all apart of a days work for a Westbounder.

When the soil’s turned sour,

And the well all dried up.

When men in suits put a gun in your hand

And send you to war.

When there’s nothing left of your home,

But ash and regret.

It’s time to turn Westbound.

Game Reviews

Space: 1889

As I said in the breakdown of the RPG Quickstart rules: 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).

Other

5 Steampunk Movies You Should Watch

As I was coming up with this list of 5 Steampunk movies, I had to admit that there aren’t as many as you might think there are considering the number of costumes I see posted all over the web (or at conventions like Dragon Con). The following aren’t necessarily the best, but these are ones who contribute in their own way to the genre.

Short Film – Eye of the Storm

This is a music video. This is a short film. This is amazing looking.

The story centers around a sky captain making his way across the sky, making peace with what came before and steadying himself on what may come next. Accompanied by a large dog-sized dragon, he sees the green glow just past an oncoming storm and must make his decision on how to deal with it. Whether he should avoid it or push through to the other side.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

With the trailer for the animated movie debuting, I thought it was more than time to give a little focus on a Batman related Steampunk story… that I have not read as of yet. Share in the story of my failure…

Gears and Cogs

A few of the things that had caught my eye over that week: Draw with Jazza, They are Billions (video game), and Brass Empire (card game).

***

I’m looking forward to even more this next year!

***

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.

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

 

In the Future, Retread the Past

We come to the beginning of the year and with it a chance to reflect on the previous year’s accomplishments and failures and set those goals for the following year. Every year I set out goals, but manage to only hit a small portion of what I had planned for the coming year. Sometimes the reasons are other projects which suddenly demanded my attention and other times it is a time squeeze or not managing my time just right or perhaps I’m setting my goals too high?

The thing is that each of these projects are like open boxes in my mind. If I’m not careful I’ll continue to open new boxes… which is great! However, if you never close any of the boxes, that can be worse than not having them in the first place.

2018 has to be about closing boxes so that new boxes can be worked on. And a big piece of that puzzle was actually accomplished late last year with the Gilded Age Kickstarter funding. Shutting the box (completing the graphic novel) doesn’t mean I’m finished with the Gilded Age, but instead means I have something I can point at and feel that sense of accomplishment we all get when we complete those large tasks.

The Look Back – 2017

Reviewing my previous to-do list is a little depressing because I can feel the frustration of my previous self. 2017 was to be the end of this “5-year plan” where… well I don’t exactly know what it is I was expecting.

The White Effect

I have one more path for this book before I do self-publish it. I entered it into the Angry Robot open submissions during the holidays. One way or another this must become a box that gets closed.

Edge of the World

Not much movement here. I still need to finish my self-edit. I would still like to send out query letters.

S.O.U.L. Mate

Above, I mentioned that having too many open boxes is better than the alternative, but in this case, the old Writer’s Block came to visit me. It was surprising considering I had the book outlined out… until I realized I didn’t have parts of it outlined out… and that brought me to a screeching halt.

The Gilded Age

This is where I can pat myself (and all those who supported the Kickstarter) on our collective backs. After helping out on the Route 3 Kickstarter, I was both excited and worried about launching my own. But when I finally pulled the trigger… it was even more nerve-wracking than I would have thought!

Regardless, this is a big success, and I’m looking forward to holding the trade in my hands.

Veronica Mars Novella 2

This was published earlier in the year and somewhat showed me that everything is timing. When the Kindle Worlds had just launched, we were pretty much ready with the 1st novella… and while it didn’t break the bank, it was a consistent seller, a handful here or there every month. This novella was released a couple of years later. There wasn’t a new book or movie or really much in the way of Veronica Mars news, and the sales of both books prove that out.

I’m still extremely happy to have published the story.

Short Stories

This was a very nebulous one and I did finish up a couple of stories, but they are still on the hard drive, so maybe I’ll give myself half credit.

Blogging

Another success story in that I still didn’t miss a week (though I came close a couple of times), but the other aspect was to be a little more focused with the Kickstart the Comic series or the Behind the Comic series… and I think I did a better job of it. My blog is probably still a little too scattered, but I like that.

Plus, I also launched a second blog over the summer in Steampunk Fridays… and let me tell you it is both a blessing and a curse to have a focused blog. Sometimes it means you have plenty of things to write about, interviews to run, reviews, or Kickstarters, and other times there is next to nothing happening. Very feast or famine.

I took the last couple of weeks off for the holidays, but I’m hoping to keep at it in the coming year.

Looking Ahead to 2018

What are my goals this year? How about forward motion on closing those open boxes? How about opening new boxes? How about publishing another book? How about selling books at conventions?

How about a little of all those bits and pieces? Things I’d like to work on in the coming year:

The Gilded Age

The White Effect

The Edge of the World

S.O.U.L. Mate

The Crossing

Ravensgate

Short Stories

The Next Big Idea for a Novel Series

Hollow Empire Season 2

You Must Be This Tall To Ride

Entropy

Lightning

The blog(s)

Something I didn’t even have an idea was on the horizon

I want to be excited by the paths I choose. I want to have some success. I want to get the books into people’s hands and have them love the ride.

So what are you doing this year?

***

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.

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

The First Immortal

The First Immortal

 

I walked the streets of a city I hadn’t seen in two-hundred years.

And I felt thousands of people watching me.

If Sumer’s crowds were passionate, it felt easy to forgive them. They knew me only from the stories they’d read, the outlandish tales their parents had told, and the exaggerations their schools had taught. In their eyes, I was something well beyond human.

‘Callista – Bringer of Light,’ the banners at the light-train station had blazed.

‘Callista – the Savior.’

I’d learned long ago to ignore such things.

Behind glass partitions, amid lush gardens, and atop silver towers, the people cheered me. An entourage of black-suited men led my way, pushing through the crowds as we neared Arcadia’s tallest tower – the Gran Spire. The people wanted more than my fragile half-smile.

But then, they knew nothing of the horrors I’d faced.

I crossed white streets and meandered through a courtyard made of glass. At the bottom of the Gran Spire’s white-marble stairs, I halted. High above, a long line of glass doors remained shut.

“Is all this necessary?” I asked the man beside me. He was young – at most twenty-five years. He’d never left the planet of Sumer. I knew it at a glance.

He’s never even left Arcadia.

“Pardon, m’lady.” He looked nervous despite his black suit and dark sunglasses. “It’s protocol. President Hephast and the Congressional Court want to welcome you in style.”

I sighed.

I’d known his answer before he’d said it.

But I’d been hopeful for something other than cheering crowds beneath the midday suns.

I stood in the entourage’s center, tugging at the collar of my deep blue dress. I hadn’t wanted to wear the sleek, ridiculous Arcadian fashion, but I’d allowed the heralds who’d greeted my landing to convince me otherwise.

“The people will love you,” they’d promised.

“It’s best to look as though you’re one of us.”

I miss the war already, I thought.

And I forgot how warm this planet is.

A dozen times since last I’d stood beneath Sumer’s two suns. I’d died and been reborn. My newest body had only ever known the cold of interstellar Rings and the deep dark of planets long ago murdered by the Strigoi.

And now the light hurts me almost as much as my enemy.

I glanced at the bronze-skinned Arcadians surrounding me. To them, my discomfort must’ve seemed strange.

“M’lady, are you well?” the young man in sunglasses asked me.

“I am. And please don’t call me m’lady.”

“As you wish, m’la— Madame Callista,” he stammered. “What shall I call you?”

Cal,” I said. “I prefer Cal.”

The glass doors at the Gran Spire’s bottom swung open. Out stepped President Hephast and seventeen members of Arcadia’s Congressional Court, all of them decked in garish Arcadian suits. They were old, many well over a hundred years. To them, standing at the stairwell’s bottom, I must’ve looked childlike.

Yet I’m far older than anyone here.

“Callista Lightbringer.” President Hephast boomed across the courtyard. The amplifiers on his collar projected his voice loud enough for everyone within a half-kilometer to hear.

The crowds fell into reverent silence. The entourage of black-suited men knelt all around me. I stood alone among them, the only soul in Arcadia gazing up at Hephast and his assembly.

“Please, Lady Lightbringer,” Hephast called to me, “come forth.”

With a sigh, I climbed the stairs. My heeled shoes clicked on the glass, and my dress’s train dragged behind me.

Why all this in the middle of the day? I winced against the light. Why not at night?

Symbolic. Must be.  

I arrived at Hephast. Standing just one step above me, he looked older than I’d expected. His bald scalp was tanned to a golden shine by Sumer’s suns. His shoulders were narrow, his fingers long and thin, and his eyes hanging in his sockets, busy yet so very tired.

Humanity had found many ways to extend their lives.

But only I had managed immortality.

“The light, it bothers you?” Hephast saw me wincing.

“It’s been so long,” I said. “And this new body…it’s never been to a sunlit world. It hasn’t yet adapted.”

The old man peered beyond me. I followed his gaze, and found the crowds still kneeling, their eyes averted.

“Wave to them,” said Hephast. “Wave and then join me in my tower. The people have waited so long for you to come. They want to see you happy.”

Happy?

I can’t remember happy.

I faced the crowds and waved to them. A few dared to look up at me, and within moments they all stood and roared with applause. I’d never heard such a noise before. The sound of such overwhelming humanity felt powerful, but empty.

I waved for a full thirty seconds, and then faced Hephast again. All at once, I felt the Congressional Court’s eyes fall upon me. The line of elderly men and women smiled down at me, but not because they loved me.

They smiled because they needed me.

Soldiers clad in powered white armor emerged from the Gran Spire and held open the giant glass doors. Hephast beckoned for me to lead the way, and so I did. Behind me, Arcadia trembled with the cheers of thousands, and then I vanished into the tallest tower humanity had ever built.

Inside, I breathed. The midday heat fell away, and the crowd’s roars went silent. I stood beneath a spinning silver fan whose blades ushered cold air across my face. I closed my eyes and pretended I was still aboard the Sabre, still gliding through the deep darkness between the stars.

If only…

The soldiers stepped aside. Hephast and the seventeen Court members swept toward the Gran Spire’s central hall.

“Come,” Hephast called to me.

I followed.

In a vast white chamber with pale carpets and sharp lights, I settled into the chair they offered me. They put me in the second highest seat, just a half-step below Hephast’s colorless throne. Below us, some hundred chairs sat in a great ring around a table carved of glass.

Every seat was filled.

All eyes were on me.

As I looked into the room, I considered my audience.

These people have never seen me before. They know my stories, but not the truth.

The lights dimmed. Only two still shined.

One above Hephast.

And one above me.

“Welcome to Sumer’s high assembly, Lady Lightbringer,” announced Hephast. With his amplifier still active, his voice spread throughout the room like thunder.

“Thank you.” I gazed forward without expression.

“Before you sits the Arcadian Congressional Court.” He waved his skinny arm. “Also here are delegates from the city of Mercuria, emissaries from Iona and Venya, and members of the Far Court from distant Plutari. They come from all corners of Sumer to hear you speak.”

I gazed at my audience. Their faces, shrouded in shadow, looked shapeless in the dark.

“Forgive me,” I said, “but most of these places…I’ve never heard their names. When I left Sumer more than two centuries ago, the planet hadn’t been fully colonized. Now it seems—”

“We’ve come a long way, Lady Lightbringer,” said someone in the darkness.

Callista,” I corrected him.

“Pardon?” He sounded confused.

“My name – Callista,” I replied. “No one in the fleet calls me Lightbringer. I am…I always have been…Callista.”

Murmurs spread throughout the chamber. The Court’s discomfort hung heavy in the air.

“Callista,” Hephast said my name. “So be it. We’re told you have a full report. If it pleases you, we will hear it now.”

My report arrived years before I did, I wanted to say. You already know everything.

“As you wish.” I nodded.

I reached into my bodice and withdrew a slender silver capsule. I motioned for the nearest attendant, and the nervous young woman took the capsule from my fingers.

“Slide it into your holo-viewer,” I said loud enough for everyone to hear. “You will see what I last witnessed.”

“Wait…” said someone in the dark, “is it—”

“Yes. It’s a vid-capture from Strigoi hive XV Prime,” I said. “From their home-world. Or should I say — the home-world that is no more.”

The Court drowned in a sea of whispers. I heard their voices, faint and full of disbelief, and I allowed myself a smirk.

“…it’s true after all,” one woman said.

“…XV Prime? Their last stronghold in the Milky Way?” uttered a man in the seats below me.

“…she has a vid-capture? We’ll get to see the dark planet?”

The attendant girl looked to Hephast for guidance. He nodded, and the young woman scurried to the projector machine beside his throne.

She slid the silver capsule into the machine.

And we watched the battle unfold:

* * *

“They’ve nowhere to escape,” the young pilot beside me shouted.

“Which means they’ll fight all the harder.” I shook my head.

From the cockpit of my scythe-winged warship – the Sabre, I saw everything:

To the left, the star we’d just created blazed with brilliant yellow light. Even at ten-million kilometers away, the infant sun hurt my eyes to see.

To the right, the bloated Strigoi world XV Prime shuddered beneath the impact of the two-thousand string reprogrammers our fleet had just dropped on its surface. We’d sequenced the string reprogrammers, or S.R.’s, to turn the black substance composing XV Prime’s surface into glass.

If the new star we’d made didn’t kill the dark planet, we’d shatter it instead.

We knew most the S.R.’s would be overwhelmed and reversed by Strigoi death-bots.

“…but they can’t stop every last one.” I grinned in my cockpit. “And when the chain-reaction starts, we’ll break this planet. You’ll see.”

The young pilot stared at XV Prime. The planet’s coal-black surface teemed with Strigoi death-machines, its dark towers housing billions of our enemy.

The poor kid shivered.

He sees them.

They’re coming.  

 I ignited the Sabre’s quantum engine. I felt my chair vibrate and the universe move around me. XV Prime and the infant star became blurs as we accelerated to twenty-thousand kilometers per second. Anything slower, and the Strigoi warships would’ve carved us to tatters. Anything faster, and we’d have moved too far from XV Prime to fight.

“Joff would’ve gone faster.” I grinned.

“Who’s Joff?” my co-pilot asked.

That’s right, I thought, he doesn’t know.

I seized the cockpit control stick, guiding the Sabre between webs of Strigoi death-beams. They weren’t firing at us, but instead at the bigger, more powerful ships in our attack fleet. Red lights flared on the vid-screens, each one indicating a friendly ship’s extermination.

“God, they’re killing us!” the pilot screamed.

Should’ve left him on his home-ship.

No. I saw another twenty red lights illuminate the vid-screen.

If I had, he’d already be dead.

After many hundred years and countless attacks on Strigoi worlds, I’d become a far better pilot than anyone else in the fleet.

And yet…

I’m still not as good as Joff.

I pulled, pushed, and spun the Sabre’s control stick. We weren’t moving through space so much as space spun around us. Whenever I pulled the trigger, streams of missiles tore into the darkness. The Strigoi scythe-ships, their hulls like black, cadaverous bone, dove out of the missiles’ paths.

Not one missile hit its target.

Not that it mattered.

I pulled a second trigger, and all at once the missiles erupted into orbs of light. Spanning a few hundred kilometers each, the orbs burned only a few seconds before collapsing back into shadow.

The Strigoi were made of nightmares, but they’d yet to find a way to survive our newest weapons.

Darkness overwhelms light, our enemy believed.

No.

Light destroys the dark. 

“They’re almost out of ships,” I said to my co-pilot. I looked at him, and I saw the sweat on his forehead, the color drained out of his skin. He looked like a Strigoi had touched him.

But it was only fear that paled my young friend.

“We have to get closer,” I said. “Fire the beacons above their largest city. We’re going in.”

“We’re going down there?” he gasped.

“It’s the same as every other world we’ve destroyed,” I told him. “Now fire the beacons before it’s too late.”

“How many?”

“All of them.”

He hammered a sequence into his half of the Sabre’s console. Nervous wreck though he seemed, he pulled himself together long enough to launch a wave of nearly a thousand light beacons from the compartments beneath our wing.

The tiny spheres ejected themselves into space. Soaring through the darkness behind them, I cut our speed to a few hundred kilometers per second.

XV Prime awaited.

On its surface, seas of black towers stretched to the end of all sights.

The Strigoi swarmed.

Having slain hundreds of their worlds and dozens of their interstellar death-spheres, I was their nemesis. They knew I was coming.

But they can’t stop me.

Can you see, Joff?

Are you watching?

The beacons formed a web a few hundred kilometers above XV Prime’s hugest, blackest city. All at once, they ignited. Strigoi death-beams died in the beacons’ light-storm. Swarms of death-bots soaked up the blinding radiance and disintegrated.

I blinked and saw clouds of ashes.

My eyes hurt in the aftermath.

The dark city had never seen such light before. Thousands of years ago, the Strigoi had stopped the planet’s rotation, cutting it off from the star blazing on its opposite side.

And then they’d killed the star.

And thrived in the shadows remaining.

“No death-bots survived,” I said to the young pilot. “Nothing to stop our Primary S.R.”

“Then can’t we turn around?” He shivered. “The other S.R.’s should be enough, right?”

“No,” I grimaced. “We have to be sure.”

I keyed a quick sequence into the Sabre’s console. A last few death-beams smoked and curled upward from the Strigoi city, but I seized the control stick and swerved just in time.

“Release the Primary S.R.,” I commanded the Sabre.

And she did.

Somewhere in the Sabre’s underbelly, a door slid open. A slender silver projectile, no taller than me and only half as heavy, leapt into the planet’s orbit at quantum speeds. I couldn’t see it, but I felt it in my bones. It was the most powerful weapon we’d ever created.

“…strong enough to turn a half a planet into whatever molecule we want,” the scientist had told me.

“…hydrogen, helium, anything…”

No. None of those, I thought.

Glass.

I want the Strigoi to be glass.

And so it was.

At the moment the S.R. hit, we were already on our way out of XV’s atmosphere. The last of the beacons’ glimmers shielded us from the death-beams, and we soared out into far orbit.

A graveyard awaited us.

Clouds of dark powder floated in the void, the remains of thousands of Strigoi scythe-ships.

Metal spun through the emptiness, sprinkled with the remains of the humans who’d died.

“Look,” I said to the young pilot. “No, not at the dead ships. At the vid screen. See XV Prime? The S.R….it’s working.”

Together, we gazed at the screen. XV Prime’s surface, already cratered from the other, weaker S.R.’s, began to change color. From black to translucent silver, it went, and from hard, inflexible bone to brittle glass. Towers once black and mighty collapsed under their own weight. A full quarter of the planet shattered all at once.

I tried to imagine the sound, but I couldn’t.

God,” the young pilot exhaled.

“They’re finished,” I said. “The new star we made of its sister planet…the smaller S.R.’s burning…the Primary S.R. turning everything to glass. We don’t have anything capable of detecting Strigoi life-signs, but they’re all dead. I can feel it. Can’t you?”

He looked at me with his mouth hanging open.

“Weren’t they already dead?”

“Yeah…well…now they’re dead-dead.” I smiled. “And this was their last world in our galaxy.”

* * *

The hologram in the Gran Spire’s heart flickered and went out.

Having witnessed the spectacular end of XV Prime, Hephast and all the others fell into a deep, satisfying silence.

I wanted it to last forever.

But soon enough, Hephast spoke.

“It’s done,” he shouted. “It’s finished. The Strigoi are dead.”

I opened my mouth to interject, but the Congressional Court erupted into applause. Their raucous cries washed over me, hurting my ears. My new body hadn’t been conditioned for such noise.

“Lightbringer. Lightbringer. Lightbringer,” they chanted.

“The war is over,” they bellowed.

I waited.

And I let them come back to calm.

After five minutes, the clamor died. Hephast called for order, and most of the assembly returned to their seats.

“Lady Lightbringer,” Hephast said to me. “You have done a great deed. For hundreds of years, we have lived in the Strigoi shadow. Many of us never thought it would end. We assumed…no…we knew we would make weapons and send fighters to their doom until the end of all days. And now—”

“All hail Lady Lightbringer,” someone in the assembly cried.

“Our champion,” said another.

“Give her whatever she desires,” shouted still another.

With a wave of his fragile fingers, Hephast quieted the room.

“And so we shall,” he said. “Lady Lightbringer – or Lady Callista, as you like – we shall restore your full citizenship upon Sumer. You shall be given a tower, upon which your name will shine until the end of time. When our people look to the sky and fear no death at Strigoi hands, it is your name which will linger in their minds, and your victory for which monuments numbering in the thousands shall be hewn.”

“President Hephast…” My voice sounded small. “If I may speak…”

“You may,” he said.

“The Strigoi menace in our galaxy is destroyed,” I began. “It’s true. We’ve spent nearly a thousand years making it so. When he – when Joff Armstrong slew the very first Strigoi installation, I never thought it would be possible.”

“And yet here we are,” Hephast raised his slender arms, igniting fresh cheers from the crowd.

“Yes. Here we are.” I raised my voice. “But our galaxy isn’t the only one in which our enemy thrives. We know them to exist in Andromeda.”

Andromeda.” Hephast scoffed. “This too, we have heard. And yet even the Strigoi must know they can never overtake us now. Our scientists have said it will be a hundred-thousand years before our enemy can again marshal enough power to threaten our galaxy. A hundred-thousand years…might as well be a million.”

“Are you saying the war effort will end?” I asked.

The room quieted. I heard only the beating of my own heart.

“There is no war.” Hephast looked down at me. “This very day, we shall send word to the other planets. It is confirmed – the Strigoi are defeated.”

I hung my head. I’d always known what his answer would be, and yet I’d dared to hope otherwise. For all my centuries of wisdom, I often forgot the simplest lesson I’d ever learned:

Hope is a mistake.

* * *

The First Immortal is the opening chapter of upcoming novel – Eaters of the Light.

Eaters of the Light is the sequel to novels, Darkness Between the Stars and Shadow of Forever.

Look for it to hit stores in early 2018.

J Edward Neill

A Love For Every Day

 

Last year I gave my wife a homemade gift. Yes, those are cheesy and many times it is a cop-out to giving a “real gift”. But I decided, partially inspired to the multitude of Jeremy’s various Question books, to go through and look for quotes about Love, about how I feel about her, and still embrace my own nerdiness – so it included lots of bits and pieces from various media that we both love.

I called it A Love For Every Day, and set about trying to find the right words for each day.

Let me tell you, it is not as quick and easy as you would think. Especially as I tried to include little nods to the actual day if possible – sometimes those being birthdays or anniversaries or just plan old holidays… many times the quotes play off of that as well.

As these holidays come to a close, and as she begins reading the entries for the last few days of the year, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites from these 365 days.

January 1

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.

Nicole Krause, The History of Love

February 2

Love is the answer to everything. It’s the only reason to do anything. If you don’t write stories you love, you’ll never make it. If you don’t write stories that other people love, you’ll never make it.

Ray Bradbury

March 16

Have you ever been in love? Horrible, isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life… You give them a piece of you. They didn’t ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore.

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman

April 19

Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder today. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam… And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva…

So tweasure your wuv.

The Princess Bride

May 4

I love you.

I know.

The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi

June 19

You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you. That’s where I’ll be waiting.

Peter Pan

July 16

If you have just one,

Let me be that love

If you have lots of others,

Please let me be

Please let me be one

Let me be one

Jonah Matranga, Crush On Everyone

August 13

I’m afraid that once your heart’s involved, it all comes out in moron.

Gilmore Girls

September 30

You can learn all the math in the ‘Verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don’t love, she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she’s hurtin’ ‘fore she keens. Makes her a home.

Serenity

October 31

My dearest friend

If you don’t mind

I’d like to join you by your side

Where we can gaze into the stars

And sit together now and forever

For it is plain as anyone can see, we’re simply meant to be.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

November 8

I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can play together all night.

Calvin and Hobbes

December 29

I thought our story was epic, you know, you and me.

Epic how?

Spanning years and continents. Lives ruined, bloodshed. EPIC.

Come on. Ruined lives? Bloodshed? You really think a relationship should be that hard?

No one writes songs about the ones that come easy.

Veronica Mars

***

Hope you have some great holidays with those you love.

***

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.

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

 

If You’re a Self-Published Author, Here’s 5 Things You Probably Need to do Better

Fact: right now, more published books exist than at any other point in human history.

The reason is simple: the ebook explosion. And yet it’s not just ebooks. Observe Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and any number of a thousand vanity presses, and you’ll find that not only are there more books in print (or potentially in print) than ever before, but the number of authors keeps growing.

Every. Single. Day.

Which means…

…we all need to step up our game.

*

Stage 1 – Writing a Marketable Book

If you’re an author with the intention of making money selling books (which you probably shouldn’t bother with) your competition is currently larger than any author has ever faced.

Tomorrow morning, it’ll be greater than it was today.

Next year, the odds will be stacked even higher against you.

And so on…unto the end of the publishing world.

And while the hundreds of ‘I’m not competing with other authors‘ memes are cute and optimistic, the fact is this: If you’re trying to sell books, you’re competing with every other author on the planet.

That’s why Stage 1 – Writing a Marketable Book – is the first and most obvious hurdle to new and established self-published authors. It feels like it should go without saying – if you plan to write, write well. And yet we all know our market. Due to the ease of publishing, the literary world is flooded with weak, poorly-written, badly-edited junk.

And so we’re going to make an assumption. If you’ve clicked this article, and if you’ve read this far, we’re going to assume you’ve written something worth reading. Your book is smart. It’s entertaining. It’s well-edited. If you were a famous author, you’d simply shuttle your new novel to the publisher and watch the sales and reviews stack up.

But this is where the assumptions stop.

And the struggle begins.

Sure, she’s beautiful. But can she spin a tale? Let assume yes…for now.

**

Stage 2 – Pitching your Book to the Masses

Before we dive too deeply into the muddled waters of the book pitch, I want you to do something for me. I want you to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remove the following three-word phrase from your vocabulary. I want you to promise never to utter this phrase again. And I want you to promise it right now.

The three-word phrase I want you to forget?

Check out my…”

You mean to say you’ve written a book (and remember, it’s good) but the only words you can think of to lure people into buying it are “Check out my book?” No. Just…no. If readers are going to build any desire to invest in your words, you need to awaken the same skills you used to write your novel and apply them to your sales pitch. You need to practice writing blurbs. You need to master using one or two sentences to not only describe your book, but also to hint at your writing style.

You need to capture people with words.

You need to make them say, “Whoa!”

Let’s look at the following sales pitches. You tell me which of these you’d be more likely to buy:

Pitch 1 – “Hey everyone! Buy my new book ‘Angels of the Seventh Dawn’ on Amazon today!”

or

Pitch 2 – “Upon burning fields and cities buried in ash, seven angelic spirits awaken to deliver humanity from the coming darkness.  – Angels of the Seventh Dawn – Now available.”

That was easy, right? By the way, I don’t know of an actual book named Angels of the Seventh Dawn, but if it existed, I might give it a read.

The point is this: most self-published authors suck at pitching their books. They go through all the glory and suffering of writing something beautiful, and suddenly it seems their creativity abandons them. In their greatest hour of need, they become lost. They pepper the internet with boring ads, dull sales pitches, and no real content other than “Check out my book.”

Don’t ask readers politely to check your stuff out.

Light fires under their asses.

Thanks…but no thanks.

**

Stage 3 – You are More than the Books You’ve Written

So you say you’ve written a masterpiece.

Your new book, Angels of the Seventh Dawn, is the bizniz.

It’s bold. It’s epic. Readers will wet their underwear by the time they get to page two.

Trouble is, other than your mom, your cousin Marge, and two of your Facebook BFF’s, you don’t have any readers.

Do modern authors expect to write a book, however great it might be, and watch it soar atop the charts like some kind of cash-feathered eagle? Based on the number of complaints uttered by self-published authors across the internet, yes. But, c’mon now. Why would someone who doesn’t know you, who’s never heard your name or read anything you’ve written before, and who just worked their asses off to make $2.99 – spend that same $2.99 on your new book?

The answer is simple – they probably won’t.

Which is why any author who wants to make even the most modest sum of money selling books needs to create a presence. And by presence, I mean everywhere. To get known and to stay known, the self-published author (who lacks the marketing vehicles supplied by traditional publishers) must write far more than books.

Things an author needs to write:

Stories online – preferably free

Blogs – the topic doesn’t matter as much as the skill exhibited while writing about it

Words. Lots of them. Here, there, and everywhere, establishing who the author is, what they care about, and why they’re someone whose words are worth investing in

Oh, and more books (you thought three was enough?)

And in case authors believe grammar, spelling, and good proofreading are meant solely for their novels, they should think again. The internet is a cesspool of shitty wordplay, and it’s a writer’s job to rise above this. Be sharp with your blogs. Be clean and focused when telling stories. Go back and read your own sentences before hitting the ‘Post’ button. Be a grammar Nazi, but only for yourself.

Because…

I don’t know about you, fellow book reader, but the number of misspelled words, obvious grammatical mistakes, or incoherent sentences I’m willing to tolerate from the authors whose books I read is  – zero. That’s right. Zero. If a writer can’t manage a simple Facebook post well, what are the odds they can handle the pressure of an entire novel?

“The odds are…never mind.”

*

Stage 4 – If your Presentation Sucks, Readers will Assume your Writing Sucks, Too

Is it fair?

Probably not.

Is it accurate?

Definitely.

Oh baby. Angels of the Seventh Dawn, your kickass new book, is really good. It’s got angels. It’s got dawns. It’s got…wait…what? A shitty cover?

There’s a ton of good art out there. And a ton of great artists. If you’re serious about the industry, and if you really want to sell books to more people besides your cousin Marge, hire one of these artists. Collaborate with them. Talk about the feelings you want them to convey through their art. And then, after they’ve worked wonders to create something for you, pay them. And pay them well.

The odds are already stacked against you, fellow writer.  Why hamstring yourself by using boring template art or poorly-rendered, low-rez crayon drawings?

Don’t. Just don’t.

My apologies to Mrs. Jeppsen. I’m sure Onio is a solid read.

Your presentation doesn’t just include your cover art. It’s much, much more.

It means having a website, a good one. One that’s easy to navigate. One that includes cool graphics, links to your books, and a rockin’ bio.

It means learning how to write articles with subtle links to your content.

It means creating content that has nothing to do with salesmanship. Just sharp, engaging articles without any mention of your books.

And it means managing your personality online. Not mixing business with pleasure. Not overwhelming people with book ads. And not betraying yourself by spilling negativity onto your audience.

You’re not just selling books, baby. You’re selling you. It won’t matter how good your books are if your self-presentation is sloppy.

*

Stage 5 – You Can’t Cheat the System

Yes, you can hire a ‘street team’ to pile up 5-star reviews for your books.

Yes, you can use Bookbub to generate a giant sales spike.

And yes, you have a 0.0001% chance of striking it big with your debut novel, Angels of the Very First Dawn.

But there’s no substitute for quality writing. There’s no marketing strategy allowing you to ‘click it and forget about it.’ There’s no cheat code to worm your way to the top of the industry. You’re going to need patience, and a lot of it. You’ll also need discipline, a willingness to push other pursuits aside, and at least a little bit of luck.

And while walking down the long, hard road to making money via self-publishing, you might be tempted to complain. You might feel the urge to lash out at the unfairness of Amazon’s review system, the prominence of trolls, and the agony of having to deal with readers lobbing 1-stars your way. You might want to quit because you haven’t topped the best-seller charts.

Don’t.

Sit the fuck down.

Stop complaining online.

Kill your desire to post memes about killing off people in your books, how much you need coffee, or how great it is when people reward authors with reviews.

And get your ass into gear writing Angels of the Eighth Dawn.

**

Love,

J Edward Neill

Unfinished Business

Weirdly, in the aftermath of running a successful Kickstarter to get a project I’ve been working on for years, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about unfinished projects sitting on my hard drive. How for every file and folder that lies dormant on the computer, I will soon have something that is somewhat “complete”.

It was due to these incomplete projects that I created the Gilded Age the way I did in the first place. Too many comic book projects had gotten started only to fizzle out. It was very much the idea that the Gilded Age might only last 1 issue and I had a full 4 issue story-arc planned. What do you do with that? How do you get around the fact that 1 issue could very well be the only thing anyone ever sees?

In fact, there was a while there where Egg and I would email back and forth about 1 issue comic ideas because that was something we could see actually being done and finished. It was something concrete whereas the many talks about 50 issue comic storylines might (only might) have been a little beyond any of us.

Yet, even with those constraints, so many of them never saw the light of day.

And I’ve been thinking about them.

They say you are supposed to Kill Your Darlings as a writer. Basically, when you are writing, even if you love a scene or a paragraph or even just a sentence – you have to be willing to cut those just as easily as anything else.

And there is also some saying about always moving forward (I think). If something doesn’t work out, then toss it aside and start on the next thing. Something about ideas not being precious. That any creator worth their salt can come up with 100 more… and then 100 more.

Yet, I look through the files and remember things I’d forgotten. I see that there was potential within these projects. I see that there could still be potential within so many Lost ideas.

Maybe it is that Kickstarter success that suddenly has shown me a finish line is actually possible? Has it got me convinced there might be a way to bring those things back to life in some form or fashion?

It’s not about the business of the pieces… not yet at least. That will come. The questions about what does this particular thing being brought out of storage actually accomplish. What if by focusing on these older toys, I don’t give enough focus to newer ones?

I’m caught in a weird time loop of my own doing. Lamenting what should have been out a decade ago if only I’d have pushed the right buttons. How I could have been further along whatever path I currently make my way down.

But mistakes have been made along the way.

So what do you do about those old things? I’m a collector. I don’t throw things out without good reason. I believe that ideas are very precious, but I know that more will always be forthcoming. I could never just be rid of them. Do they represent too much thought, too much work, too much… growth?

Without each word, line, paragraph, half-finished script, or even finished scripts that never became comics… my current work wouldn’t exist. Without every pain of trying to pull or get pulled across a finish line, my couple of books, The Gilded Age, and a handful of short stories would not exist (or at least they would not exist in the way they do today).

So I don’t push delete on these things. I don’t erase them from my mind or my flash drive. I don’t purge the emails of random thoughts and nuggets of storylines… for they offer me a glimpse at all the paths I’ve been on until today.

Sure, they may frustrate me that they didn’t get there, but they might have helped me get there.

***

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.

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

50 Things I Worry About

I’m not a person who worries about much of anything.

After all, worrying helps nothing. It only adds to one’s suffering.

And yet…here’s fifty things that concern me almost every single day:


I sometimes wonder whether I’m spending enough time with my son.

…or whether I’m actually the helicopter dad I try so hard not to be.

I worry I don’t read enough.

…that I don’t home cook my dinners more often.

…and that I sip too much wine.

I’m pretty sure my cats are at home destroying my furniture right now.

…the fat one probably barfed on the floor again.

I wonder if I’ll end up single, alone, and locked away in a big empty house by myself.

…and yet it concerns me that the idea of being alone is so very appealing.

I’m sure I’ll suffer from ’empty-nest syndrome’ when my son grows up.

And I’m positive I’ll struggle with an existential crisis when it happens.

I worry I’ve outlived my usefulness.

…except to scotch distilleries. I keep those guys in business.

I’m concerned I wasted my youth in the pursuit of pleasure.

…and yet if I were young again, I know I’d do the same things all over again.

I worry I don’t tip well enough. Even 20% feels low sometimes.

I sometimes worry that I don’t worry enough. Is being indifferent the truest form of immorality?

…and if it is, I should probably worry that it still doesn’t much matter to me.

I sometimes suffer from FOMO. (Fear of missing out) I want to do everything and be everywhere.

I’m concerned I chase Friday at the expense of Monday through Thursday.

And I’m really concerned about the huge pile of pancakes I devoured on Sunday.

I worry that it’s all meaningless.

But I push myself harder every day, and for what?

I’m not tall enough.

…or buff enough.

…or able to do all the athletic things I could do just five years ago.

And I worry sometimes these facts make me less of a man.

I worry that I’m smart enough to understand most of the world’s problems…

…but not nearly intelligent enough to solve them.

I worry about the 3,000 calorie steak dinner I ate last night.

…and the just-as-huge spaghetti platter I plan to cook tomorrow.

If I blow off being creative in favor of playing video games, I worry I’ve wasted a precious night.

But when I spend a whole week working myself to the bone creating, I sometimes think I’m missing the point.

I’m concerned about my quiet urge to sell my house and leave all my possessions behind.

But I’m more concerned about having to give up my grill if I leave, which means I’m probably staying.

I worry I don’t spend enough time writing.

…or am I writing too much, and thus falling out of touch with reality?

I definitely spend too much time thinking about money.

And too much time spending it.

And not enough time saving it.

I fear for my eardrums. All that heavy metal can’t be good.

I worry for my guitar, which I haven’t played in weeks.

…and my wardrobe, which I haven’t improved in years.

And of course, I worry about my stupid blind cat. She’s 18, and it’s only a matter of time before she becomes incontinent.

…which means I’m worried about my floors.

I’m not really worried about politics or religion or people fighting about it on the internet.

But I do wonder whether someday a lunatic who does worry about these things will end up killing me.

I’m mega worried about my son turning out to be too much like me.

Or that he’ll end up liking country music.

Please.

Anything but country music.


If you like lists about 50 things, try this one.

And if my worries have you thinking, get some of this.

J Edward Neill

…guy who writes too much.

…or maybe not enough.

Steampunk Fridays – Interview with one of the Creators of The Jekyll Island Chronicles

When I was younger, my grandparents would drive to Jekyll Island (on the coast of Georgia) to go fishing. They’d wake up before the crack of dawn, somehow get my smaller frame from the bed to the back of the car, and drive the forty-five minutes to the beach where we’d spend much of the day fishing and learning about various fish worth eating and not worth eating.

So when I saw that there was a steampunk related comic called The Jekyll Island Chronicles… I had to reach out.

***

How long have you been creating/working in comics?

There are three of us in this endeavor and we all have been either reading or making comics since we were kids.  I (Steve) used to sit in my room and draw my own versions of Spider-man and the Fantastic Four.  Our actual jobs are all doing different things, so becoming graphic novel authors became a side hobby for us later in life.  We actually started working on The Jekyll Island Chronicles in January of 2013.

At what point did you sit down to become a writer/artist? Do you remember the first thing you drew/wrote?

I think I am the one with the most graphic arts background.  My dad worked in a factory during the day and would come home at night and paint portraits for friends and family members, to make extra spending money.  He taught me how to draw when I was old enough to hold a pencil.  I remember a book of Disney characters that I drew when I was a kid.  I remember him sitting at the kitchen table with me and building dinosaur models.  I have since graduated to more extensive and difficult kits, and scratch built a bunch of my own.   Creating art has a wonderful, calming effect on me.

All three of us have been heavily involved in writing projects of our own in the past as well.  Ed wrote another book several years back and Jack and I have been writing plays and sketch comedy for our church for many years.

Who inspires you? Or do you have a favorite artist or creator?

Jack loves experiences:  he is a Disneyphile through and through.  He would build a scale (and highly detailed) model of Disneyland in his house if he could.  Ed is a voracious reader and plows through novels constantly.  He loves sci/fi, mysteries, and westerns.  And I get inspirations everywhere, no place in particular.  Sometimes, I just like to walk through a retail shopping center and look for things that inspire me.

How do you manage your daily/family life with your creative work? Is this your 9 to 5 or is this your 10 to 2?

Hah!  We all have really demanding jobs.  This is our hobby.  Nights, weekends, while watching tv or sports at night.  I am usually sitting drawing thumbnails on my ipad to make life easier for our artists.  We try to meet periodically to line up on story and plot development (maybe once or twice a month).  We tell our spouses we don’t play golf (at least not well), so this is our club membership.

It’s often difficult to get word out about independent/small press comics. What do you do to market and promote your books? Anything work really well or really poorly?

It’s been an eye-opening experience.  I have an author friend at work who told me that marketing of books has changed over the years—authors are really much more responsible for this and publishers are, well, publishers.  I have found this to be generally true.  Not bad.  Just generally true.

Our publisher at Top Shelf, Chris Staros, told us pretty much the same thing after we signed our book deal.  They publish the books, invite us to the Cons where they are present, put the books out in the proper channels, but we do the heavy lifting on the marketing (Facebook & websites, blogging, boosting posts, local book signings, reaching out to newspapers and magazines, etc etc etc).  We had to learn how to do a bunch of stuff, from a literary marketing standpoint, that we have never done before.  But Chris is a great sounding board for us and happily answers any questions we have.  It’s so good to have his knowledge and experience base in our corner when we need it (which is A LOT!)  We are working with a PR firm on putting together proposals for the release of Book Two.  So, we are hoping to have more firepower in that area.

What’s your process look like when you’re writing? Do you go with the full outline? Or are you a fly by the seat of your pants type?

We have to have an outline.  We use the classic three-act story structure, but because we are a series, we have to layer that structure over each book as well as the entire series.  I guess that’s why trilogies make sense.  For Book One, I had a lot of the basic story arc in my head, and Jack and Ed helped me fill in a bunch–like the whole Jekyll Island connection.  Book Two was more of a blank page than Book One, so it was harder.  We use note cards with plot points and move things around constantly in the beginning.  When we get the arc locked down, we divide and conquer the writing duties, usually giving one person an act to tackle.  We come back, read together, edit together, and make suggestions.  The key is to hold your writing loosely.  You can’t be so dogmatic to “have it your way”.  If that happens, you frustrate everyone and it flies in the face of collaboration and making each other better.  We are long-time friends, so that makes it easier.  But even then, every once in a while, we have to work through things.  It really is a lot of give and take.

I currently live just north of Atlanta, in Suwanee, Georgia, but I’ve been to Jekyll Island dozens of times when I was younger. So it was very cool to even see that this book existed. What inspired you to create Jekyll Island Chronicles?

Ed was instrumental in coming up with the idea to place much of the story at Jekyll.  When I explained the original idea to him, he asked if I had ever been to Jekyll.  I had been in Atlanta for 25 years and had never gone there, and only just heard of it but never really knew about its history.  So, my wife and I took a weekend, went to down to the island, toured it and my brain exploded.  It was the PERFECT set up for the characters and the scenarios, which were all post-WWI and at the height of the gilded age at Jekyll.  It is a Georgia treasure and our hope is that people, especially Georgians, will become a little more knowledgeable about their own history.

What’s been the reaction to the book?

It’s been extremely positive.  Of course, our family and friends have been our biggest cheerleaders.  We’ve gotten good reviews on Amazon (especially) and Good Reads.  Every once in a while we get someone who “doesn’t get it” or takes issue with the alt history portions of it.  We even had one guy who reviewed it and got the plot/character points wrong, so did he even read it??  But then again we were named one of the Top 10 Books Every Young Georgian Should Read for 2017 (all graphic novels go in that category)—so that was a nice feather in our cap.  We already had a second printing.  We had a line of people waiting to sign the book at the NY Comic Con, so that was pretty cool.  We’ve gotten a lot of interest from podcasters, bloggers and people wanting to do interviews.  This is our first rodeo, but so far, so good.

Are there themes and/or subjects you find yourself drawn to again and again in your work?

We started this whole process with themes.  We wrote down the things/principles we believed and wanted to be true for our story.  First, we saw a lot of cynicism with heroes—dark heroes, conflicted heroes—and we wanted to do something different.  Maybe even classic.  My grandfather fought in the US Cavalry in WWI to gain his citizenship.  He was a regular, simple man of principle.  He knew right from wrong.  He wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t constantly dark and conflicted.  We wanted a return to classic heroism.  We wanted people who were willing to work together in spite of their differences.  Our country is torn down the middle today and we are all saddened and sick of it.  At least we have a built a world where people can come together for the greater good.

Also, we wanted to have a world where it wasn’t evil to have resources.  Andrew Carnegie gave away like $300 million dollars.  He built a system of libraries all across the country.  Not all people with wealth are robber barons, you know?  Jack and I worked for one for decades.  There is good and evil is ALL people–not just one group, one type, or one party.  We hoped that the book would force people to actually look for the good in all of our heroes.  Finally, we wanted a story where the veterans were the biggest heroes.  We owe SO MUCH to them.  It’s no surprise that our original heroes are the broken WWI vets that get “rebuilt” to fight the atrocities of the early 20th century anarchists.

Your first graphic novel was released by Top Shelf & IDW Publishing. How did that relationship come about?

We actually sponsored a class at SCAD in Savannah to help us create a pitch packet for publishers/production companies that might be interested in our idea.  Once we got the packet done, we approached Chris Staros with Top Shelf.  He was Georgia-based, actually Marietta-based, which was right around the corner from all of us.  We called him, took him to lunch one day, introduced ourselves, and handed him the pitch packet.  He said he would take a look at it and give us comments.  The next day he called me and said he thought it was good—really good—and if we finished it, he would like to keep the whole thing in Georgia and publish for us.  WOW.  I know that this is NOT how it is supposed to work.  But, it happened for us and we were, and still are, very grateful to Chris and his confidence.  When Top Shelf got acquired by IDW, that confidence transferred over to them.  They have been huge supporters of ours and they now have us in their catalog that they send to production companies for tv/film.

You currently have 1 graphic novel out there with a second one due out next year. What’s the overall plan with Jekyll Island Chronicles?

The plan is to keep making books until we get too tired and stop (or someone tells us to stop).  At least we want 3.  But the larger goal is 6. The story arc of the original Jekyll Island Club ends in WWII.  We would love to take it that far.

I see on your website that there are teaching materials based on the comic. Can you talk a little about how you came to that idea as well as your goals with the program?

Well, the story has a TON of facts in it.  The alt history component actually has a lot of HISTORY.  We always loved the idea of using the book to teach history and have students weave through the narrative of what is true and what is not.  So we approached Glen Downey (an author who is an expert in this area) and he agreed to put together teaching materials for us.  They are all available for free on our website.  We have a public high school in the Jekyll area that is using it in both the US and world history class, and a private school here in Cobb County that is doing the same thing.  Ideally, this is a great way for creative teachers to introduce their students not just to history but also to the medium of the graphic novel.  We think this is a big idea.

Comics is an amazing collaborative medium. Tell me a little about the artists on the books.

We met both of our artists in our SCAD class.  They were students who, at the time, were finishing up their studies.  Moses Nester is our illustrator/inker and SJ Miller is our colorist.  One is in ATL and one is in Vegas.  Everything is done digitally.  I take the script, gather reference photos, drop them into an app for my ipad called Strip Designer and create tight comps/thumbnails, send them electronically to Moses who inks, sends to SJ for coloring and sound effects and then back to me for final approval.  It seems to work pretty well.  Our artists are very gifted individuals with a bright career in front of them!  We are just so happy that we have access to them at this time of their lives—and we hope this is given them so good experience to bounce off of for the future.

If you could go back in time ten years, what advice might you have for your younger self? Something you wish you knew?

I wish I knew that I was really responsible for my creative outlets in life.  I mean, I have always been creative, but sometimes at work, I was waiting for that itch to be scratched there.  And at times, that didn’t happen.  I wish I had been more aware of the idea to create instead of consume, and now I hope that our creative endeavor helps others to do the same.  Bottom line, if opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door (with credit to Milton Berle for that fine axiom).

Where’s the best place to find out more about Jekyll Island Chronicles and the rest of your works?

Like us on facebook

https://www.facebook.com/jekyllislandchronicles/

or go to our website

https://jekyllislandchronicles.com/

Steampunkers are welcome to check out our website, where we have a link for selling the book, pre-ordering book two and buying other merch. And the book is available in bookstores and on line everywhere.

STEVE NEDVIDEK has worked in film, radio, and television and received his Masters Degree in Theater from Wake Forest University, where he completed his thesis in make-up design. He is an avid cartoonist, model maker, writer, and movie watcher, and resides in the Atlanta suburbs with his wife, kids, and dog.

ED CROWELL holds advanced degrees in political science and international affairs. He is an executive at a non-profit and a writer with dozens of published articles. A lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, he and his wife have two children who went off to college, but left Ed and Cynthia with two cats, a fish, and a dog.

JACK LOWE is a student of film making and themed entertainment. A passionate storyteller with a bent toward immersive, multi-sensory experiences, Jack and his wife, three children, two dogs, and two cats live in the shadow of Kennesaw Mountain in Atlanta.

Ed is on the left, Steve in center, Jack on right

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I want to thank Steve for taking the time to answer my questions!

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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.

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.

 

A Quick & Easy Workout Routine for Writers, Artists, or really anyone

Judging by the title, you probably thought this would be an article about exercising your brain, your writing chops, or your editing skills.

Nope.

This is all about running, pushing, punching, and picking up heavy things.

I know. I’ve been there. As a teenager, I was skinny as a whip. A weakling. A fragile little artist. The exact opposite of this guy.

And then I discovered iron. And it changed my life.

Look. I get it. Spending gratuitous amounts of time sitting on your ass hammering out novels isn’t exactly a great way to sculpt your abs. And while reading is a great workout for the mind, it’s not particularly heart-healthy. In fact, most of the jobs humans do these days aren’t conducive to maintaining muscle tone and blood flow.

As writers (and artists, like me) we have an obligation to our fans, don’t we? To live long, healthy lives and pump out the most possible books? To operate our keyboards with freshly-toned forearms? To appear at book signings and art shows with swelling biceps and toned calves?

Ok. Whatever. You get the point. Here’s two sample weekly workout routines from my personal regimen. One is a light workout regimen for people who have no real equipment. The other is a more serious setup for those who either have gym memberships or can arrange an area with a small amount of equipment in their homes. I’ve been doing an advanced version of the second workout routine for about three months now, and it has truly energized me without taking up much of my day.

I recommend doing these workouts before writing, painting, or whatever your creative pursuit might be. A happy body tends to mean a clear mind.


Workout 1 – For beginners and those who have little or no equipment

Monday:

6 sets of pushups (do as many as you can until reaching failure)

6 sets of crunches (at least 20 per set, but no more than 80)

1 set of burpees (at the end) If you don’t know what a burpee is, look it up here. Do them until utter exhaustion.

Tuesday:

Run for at least 20 minutes or walk briskly for at least 40.

Wednesday:

4 sets of crunches

4 sets of pushups

2 sets of burpees

Thursday:

Run for at least 30 minutes or walk briskly for at least 50.

Friday:

Off day. Enjoy some pizza or something

Saturday:

8 sets of pushups

…and that’s it.

Sunday:

6 sets of crunches

Run for at least 20 minutes or walk briskly for at least 40

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Easy, right?

Remember, before starting any workout routine (light or serious) get in a good 10-15 minute stretch. Here’s another good starter routine, including some great tips for beginners.

In place of running (in colder climes or urban areas) I recommend using a stationary bike. Here’s the one I use. It’s served me well for five years now, no maintenance required.


Workout 2 – For those who either have equipment at home or visit a gym

Monday:

15 minutes of vigorous punching bag work (use MMA gloves if you’ve got ’em) Here’s the bag I use.

4 sets of 60 crunches

Tuesday:

4 sets of push ups. (Try to do the same amount during each set)

2 sets of 60 crunches

4 sets of dumbbell bicep curls (try to do at least 10 reps with each set – you’ll quickly figure out what weight dumbbell to use)

4 sets of chin ups (do each set to exhaustion) Here’s the bar I use at home.

Wednesday:

Run for at least 30 minutes (or use an elliptical machine/stationary bike) or walk briskly for at least 45 minutes.

Thursday:

10 minutes of vigorous punching bag work

4 sets of 60 crunches

4 sets of dumbbell rows/10 reps per set (here’s how to do rows)

Friday:

Take the day off. You’ve earned it.

Saturday:

4 sets of dips. If you don’t know what a dip is, check this video.

4 sets of dumbbell bicep curls

4 sets of pushups

4 sets of chin ups

Sunday:

Run for at least 40 minutes (or use an elliptical machine/stationary bike) or walk briskly for at least 50 minutes.


Adjust as needed to suit your style.

But definitely put in the work.

Your body (and your mind) will thank you for it.

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Other tips:

Get up and take a 5-10 minute walk for each hour of writing, painting, or sitting

Ditch the coffee. Drink water.

Eat after your workout, not before.

And yes, mowing the lawn (especially if you’re using a push mower) counts as cardio. 🙂

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J Edward Neill

…author, artist, and gym rat