Free Short Story – Piece By Piece

From the world of The Dark That Follows comes a short story featuring the main character, Jason Mills.

For those not familiar with The Dark That Follows, it’s the story of a Fortune Teller who can really see the future. He has a client come in and when he peers into what is going to happen to him, he finds nothing but darkness. Through the course of the book, he finds out there are larger forces at work trying to bring about the end of the world.

Piece by Piece focuses on something a little less “end of the world”. Jason is approached by a client who wants to find an inheritance left to him… he just isn’t sure where it is. It’s a use of the Future Sight power I’d not seen really before. If you’d like to check it out for free, you can find it on the Tessera Site here.

 

PIECE-BY-PIECE-COVER

 

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John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

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

Where To Begin and Where To End

Over this past week, I was with family on our annual beach trip. It’s a great time for everyone to get together, see the nephews, and just enjoy each other’s company around the pool or beach or both. During the course of the trip, my dad and I talked about various things, everything from life to politics to religion to movies to comics and anything in-between. It was in those conversations that we came to talk about movies over the last few years that really resonated with us. He’s a big sci-fi guy and much of my love for the genre comes directly from him. One of the movies we talked about I thought was interesting from a writer’s point of view:

Passengers (2016)

If you missed it (spoilers to follow), it tells the story of Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) after he finds himself awakened from a hibernation sleep on board a colony ship about 90 years too soon. Much of the first part of the movie is about how he deals with being completely isolated (there’s no way to get back to sleep). After more than a year alone, he decides to wake someone else up, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). The movie proceeds as a love story (and according to wiki it is an “American science fiction romance”) where they fall in love… and yet we know eventually this big lie will drive them apart once Aurora finds out Jim woke her up (as opposed to the “malfunction” he leads her to believe).

When I watched it a couple of years ago, I enjoyed it, but it was also one of those movies that felt like it could use something else to help push it from a decent movie to a good or maybe even great movie. I remembered reading something in a blog or a post or something where the person reviewing the film posited one change:

What if we started with Aurora’s awakening instead?

You suddenly get a very different movie. One that might be a bit more on the thriller… or possibly even the horror side of things. You see, when you are with Jim from the beginning, he’s our POV. We understand his growing loneliness, so when he makes that decision to wake Aurora up, while we know it is wrong, we get it.

But if she’s our POV, now he’s this weird guy who may or may not be on the up and up. It lends a bit of creepiness to the movie.

Check out this Youtube video for more detail on this idea/theory.

Because as much as I would like to see that version of the movie, the idea alone really got me thinking about beginnings and stories. It’s potentially a very strange thing to rearrange a story and completely change it’s meaning… or is it? Techniques like Flashbacks or Flashforwards or limiting our POV to one character for a story are just some of the ways that an author can try and get the reader to feel a certain way. Maybe they want you to be sympathetic to a character, so they show you bits and pieces of their history so you are drawn to them. But just as easily they could eliminate those very things and suddenly we have 180 degrees of difference in our opinions.

Think about another Chris Pratt movie, Guardians of the Galaxy. The very beginning of that movie shows Peter Quill as a young boy with a mother who is dying of cancer. It shows us how important she is to him, true, but it also helps to ground us with the character. Because most of the early part of the movie, he is a fairly arrogant d-bag. Without that first scene, we might not like him as much because we wouldn’t know why he was the way he was (can’t let people in because they’ll die on you).

Context is key.

This makes me think about how I structure my own work too. In something like Hollow Empire, I began Vadim’s story with comedy. I wanted to convey that this is someone who didn’t want to take things seriously. He is very fly by the seat of his pants type of character. But I also knew that overall his story in Season One was not going to be a pleasant one and that the humor early on would hopefully help the reader sympathize with him as things get worse and worse.

And even in my upcoming book, The Echo Effect, I have an opening section of the story that accomplishes a couple of things for me. One, it sets up my main character, but it also sets up the world that he’s living in (and it also introduces a secondary character that is extremely important to the overall story). When those things change for him, it needs to be jarring for the reader because it is jarring for the character. And while I could have not included this first section and instead jumped to the “something’s gone wrong”, I think it is stronger for the reader to be able to see that indeed, “something is wrong”.

Hopefully, when people read it, they will feel the same way!

***

To read the first chapter of The Echo Effect, sign up for John’s Mailing list.

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John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

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 Push

Sometimes we need that little something extra to get us through the hard times. For so many of us that’s what this year has been. It is both the slowest year I’ve ever been through and weirdly at other times it has gone by in a flash.

Now we’re into the back half, and almost to the back third. All those things each and every one of us said we were going to get done over the course of this year way back in January… we’ll, we’re running out of time. And in these last 4 months we can’t feel like we have to do every single thing on the list. That’s probably not the way to handle things. Aside from being impossible to fit in 12 months into 4, we have to allow for the craziness to be there still.

I’m going to release a book in a few weeks… one that the first draft was done almost 6 years ago. I have taken multiple passes on it. It’s the second solo thing I,be written and while I’m very happy to put it out into the world there is something that is strange about releasing anything.

there is a fear that no one will like it.

Hence the Push.

I was going to release this back in April… that was The plan. Then the world went nuts and now I have to have a new plan. And that’s good. I have to keep moving forward. And it is time for people to see this latest thing.

Sometimes we need to push and sometimes we get pushed… but we have to strive to improve and to move on with what is important to us.
At least, that’s what I believe.

 

So I get to be excited and scared and everything else. And maybe that won’t always be the case but for now it is.

In the coming weeks, I’ll have stories about writing the book, things I learned, and just general thoughts on everything. I’m looking forward to sharing all of that with you.

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John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

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

Coming this September – The Echo Effect

In the world before, Aaron Anders had a different life with a different family…

Until the White Light washed them away.

A select few know the truth about our world: every time the calendar approaches the year 2025, the world resets and creates a new Earth, with a new history for each of us. The Awakened remember their previous lives, and throughout history, many of them have done their best to ensure that the world proceeds on a particular path. The lucky few.

Aaron didn’t feel lucky. Trapped in this loop, forced to live again and again in half-remembered lives, his current reality was spiraling out of control. His wife and his best friend thought he was losing his mind, and the worst part was they might be right. Another existence filled his head, missing false memories with his real ones until he wasn’t sure of the truth.

And the only one who seemed to know anything was a stranger convinced “They” were after both of them.

***

The Echo Effect is a science fiction novel about a man who must contend with his own changing memories to determine what life he will choose before he loses his grip on everything.

 

The Echo Effect

Coming soon…

To read the first chapter of The Echo Effect, sign up for John’s Mailing list.

 

 

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John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

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

Horror… Songs?

Like most people (I think), I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. My feed will fill up with the most stupid, crazy, weird stories that will cause blood to stream from my eyes and ears. And yet, occasionally, there will be some random link to something that is beyond a bit of genius. Today that was Brazillian Graphic Designer Butcher Billy who took famous songs and turned them into horror book covers. Each of them got my creative juices flowing, so I thought I’d share a few and what I thought the book could be.

Artwork by Brazillian Graphic Designer Butcher Billy

Every Breath You Take – The Police

By now everyone knows that this song is not a love song, but instead was always a song about obsession. Of course, that didn’t stop people from having it as “their song”. So when I look at the cover, the way that he’s laid out the lyrics in the bottom left are very much a mantra of someone who has completely lost themselves in this other person. This novel is a study of a young woman who has become enamored with a man who she works with or perhaps lives in a nearby apartment. She’s constantly finding excuses to be at the same places he frequents, in a hope to just strike up a simple conversation with this guy. She knows that she’s right for him even as she watches a string of women come and go. If only he’d turn and “see you belong to me”.

Of course, the reason these other women are constantly leaving (disappearing) is that she’s making sure there is no chance for them to truly connect with anyone but her. She hides the bodies and eventually does get that one moment with him… and she’s not going to ever let him go.

Artwork by Brazillian Graphic Designer Butcher Billy

Lady In Red – Chris de Burgh

Speaking of “their song”, Lady in Red is my wife and my song. We danced to it a Homecoming and then again many years later at our wedding. Yet, this cover has me seeing the song differently now…

As a serial killer, Daniel has very specific tastes. He only deserves the best. He cannot end up with just any person, what sport would that be? No, it has to be someone very special that he analyzes and then slowly brings them to the point that they are almost chasing him. Only when he can do that does the deaths mean anything.

So, when he sees Sandra at the club, she “shined so bright” and for once he saw someone who could maybe be his true love. All the death had led him to her. The only question was whether he could control his base urges and truly become a new man for her.

Or did he have to?

Artwork by Brazillian Graphic Designer Butcher Billy

Everytime You Go Away – Paul Young

It’s not Jessica’s fault that she is different. Just like it wasn’t her fault that bus t-boned her car a year ago. The doctors said that it was a miracle she survived at all. Now she just wants to go back to her old life. Move on.

Yet, she gets these cravings every now and then. Hunger pangs that aren’t satisfied with anything she ends up eating. Fruit and vegetables now make her sick and at best raw meat only causes the pain to subside for a day or so. No, there’s something else now at work inside her. And now, “when the leading man appears” she finds that the urges are too much to take.

But she doesn’t have to kill him. She only needs to “take a piece of me with you”.

Artwork by Brazillian Graphic Designer Butcher Billy

Maneater – Hall and Oates

I feel like this could be the sequel to Everytime You Go Away. That same creature of the night, Jessica, has continued her nightly escapades, but now she’s managed to attract the wrong attention in the form of the FBI who have now dubbed her the “Maneater”. Now she has to stay one step ahead of them all the while feeding the beast within her, for if this is her under control, what happens if she truly loses control?

***

I wonder what other pop songs might make good horror books? I feel like Duran Duran’s Union of the Snake could be something. Tears for Fears Everyone Wants to Rule the World. INXS Devil Inside seems a no brainer.

Got any good ones?

 

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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

 

How To Get Published Panels

I was looking at my list of blogs I’d sketched out back in December. I don’t normally do that, but sometimes it’s not so easy to figure out what a particular week’s blog may end up being about. So I decided to plan some out. I glanced at it today and realized that there were supposed to be a few convention reviews on there, but seeing as conventions have all pretty much been canceled, that’s not going to happen

But then I realized that even not going to a convention, there are similar things that I’ve heard at the How to Get Published In Comics style panels over the years.

Here’s the thing, I’ve been reading comics since I was 11. I started writing adventures of some of my own characters around this very same time in a blue notebook that I still have. Yeah, they were highly influenced by the Marvel comics I read at the time, and looking back there is very little in the way of story. More of this guy fights this guy and then stuff happens.

But wanting to write comics has been in my blood since back then. In high school, I wrote up an Image Comics style pitch and full script (even if I didn’t know what that was supposed to really be) for a character called Knightmare (see, he was a Knight, but also would deal with supernatural things… things that go bump in the “Night” – I’m so clever). Another time I entered a Wizard Magazine contest to write a Captain America story… I never even got a rejection letter for that one.

It all seemed like this nebulous idea. How do you get into comics? How do you break-in, especially when you can’t even draw stick figures? So when I really started going to conventions, I pretty much would always go to the panels that talked about Breaking In. Finally! Here was the secret formula for getting my big toe in the door. Yet, they typically didn’t have that “How to guide” that I was hoping for.

Heck, one of them once said (I can’t remember which writer said it) “The joke in the industry is that once someone breaks into comics, they close that door so no one else can get in the same way.

Most of them seemed to be summed up in a couple of sentences:

  • Time is the hardest thing to come by.
  • You learn by doing it.
  • Finish the dang thing.

And then? Who knows? Some people got in because they lived in New York. Some got in because they knew someone. And one writer got in because he worked in a coffee shop and a comic writer was one of his customers and they hit it off.

None of these things are very helpful (well, the first three are helpful in getting better).

Other panels at times were much more South Parkian:

  • Draw something
  • ???
  • Profit

There was a lot fo talk (in some of the Indy comic panels as well) where they brought up social media, but even that wasn’t overly helpful:

  • It’s important.
  • You need to do it.
  • Just do it.
  • It’s important.

All of these suffer from the same problem: there is never much in the way of details. Like what exactly are we supposed to be doing? One person mentions Twitter and then three others say they never use it. One person mentions Instagram and 2 others say you need to be an artist for that to work. Others say Facebook and then a bunch mention that is only for “real” friends.

Where are the examples? The helpful guides? What are the steps that you took? What are the postings you did that made ripples? What times did you post where it was better than other times?

Of course, then they shrug and say “just keep at it” and you’ll see!

Details are what is lacking. We speak in generalities about things that aren’t ethereal, plucked from when the world was new. Give me a step by step. What did you do?

And yes, not everything is going to work for everyone, but there is a roadmap you could at least give people, even if the edges are filled in completely and the scale is wrong.

A couple of Dragon Cons ago there was a panel on publishing through one of the Indy comics. In it, I learned that the best way to get an Indy book is to work for Marvel and DC first.

Blink… blink…

So get into the places that NO ONE can tell me how to get into, just so I can potentially work with one of the Indies? How does that make sense?

Here’s the thing, I don’t know the answers. I know there are things I should have done (probably), but who knows? Really, who knows? So my own answers based on nothing but feeling a little better about my own efforts:

  • Write something.
  • Finish that something.
  • Say f-it and figure out a way to publish it yourself.

At this point, with Kickstarter, you can potentially do it. Save money to hire an artist if you are a writer. If you are an artist, maybe befriend one of us writers to have an extra set of eyes. But put it out there. You sitting on your product isn’t going to do anything for you. And it is hard to push the publish button. It’s hard to be out there in front of people potentially having them hate what you’re doing. But it’s better than the alternative of not doing something.

As to dreams of writing for the Big 2… yeah, maybe, but at the very least I’m doing something. That’s a start.

***

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

Kickstarters and Good Intentions

Art by Larry Elmore

At the beginning of last year, I was body-snatched and convinced that doing something for the Kickstarter Zine promotion was a good idea by Egg Embry (of this very site among many others). Actually, it was an opportunity to dip my toe into the Roleplaying world that I’ve often thought about over the years. In fact, if you go all the way back to high school, the very first thing I ever submitted to anything was to Dragon Magazine, which was THE Dungeons and Dragons magazine. I read it every month. Anytime my parents happened by a bookstore, I’d search for the latest issue and read and reread them until the covers fell off (literally in some cases).

For those who may not know, Dragon would contain articles about the game. Sometimes this came in the form of how-to-play certain situations that might make an appearance in the game. Other times it was additional weapons or spells that your character might be able to gain access to in your own campaign.

It was in that vein that I decided to make one of my senior independent study class’s goals to write and submit an article to Dragon Magazine.

Now, that class was the biggest blow-off class (I’ll need a whole other post to talk about the goings-on in that class over the course of a year) and a perfect thing for my senior year. But this was something I was passionate about. I spent time crafting my article, which focused on a series of magic spells inspired by one of my characters. Without getting too much in the weeds, I thought the spells had promise and offered a different way to play the game.

Sadly, I received a rejection piece as my response (which I still have upstairs somewhere). And while I wasn’t crushed or anything, I was disappointed. It certainly felt like the ability to get anything potentially published was beyond a longshot.

(Later, after a few years passed, I stumbled upon the file and realized immediately why it had been rejected. There just wasn’t enough meat.)

Which brings me to last year’s Kickstarter: Love’s Labour Liberated. It was a 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons focused Zine around the idea of Chivalry and Enchantment… Love would guide us.

They say that every campaign you run, you should look to learn from. They also say (whoever “they” might be) that it is easier to learn from your failures than your successes. When I ran the Gilded Age Kickstarter, I was definitely learning on the fly. But overall, I was happy with the way the campaign went. The bigger problems came in dealing with the printers and the end of the year holidays. With Liberated, there were a number of things I’ve learned:

Have a clear assignment of roles and duties in regard to the project.

With comics, I’m the writer. I know what it is I’m supposed to be doing. With the Zine, we had 3 writers and once the other 2 had called “dibs” on a couple of things, I was left wondering how best to contribute to the Zine. We all kinda had a “we’ll figure it out as we go along”, but I believe that only caused us to delay things needing to be done.

Have milestones set up for the project even as you are crafting the Kickstarter.

We had our big due date for sending the finished product out (about 5 months), but we didn’t sit down and break down exactly how long we might need for a particular task. This meant that there wasn’t much in the way of check-ins by any of us… which led to the approaching deadline and not nearly enough done on things.

Just because you have time, doesn’t mean you have all the time.

This ties into the above. I think we all thought that 5 months was more than enough time to get everything done. Heck, between the 3 of us, that will be extra time. Maybe we’ll get this thing done early. Yeah, about that.

Communication is key.

Not saying that anyone should look to be late in delivering their projects, but I think Egg has done a decent job of keeping the backers updated. We’ve had a couple of hiccups here and there, but generally the backers get an update every 2 weeks. Sadly, for a long while, most of the updates were “we’re working on it, but we’re behind”.

This is more a personal one, but I think I want to have the Thing completely done before doing my next Kickstarter. There is a stress level that builds the later things go, and I know that with Gilded Age, that part wasn’t as much a concern. The only thing I had left to do was the overall layout and get the book printed. For my next comic Kickstarter, I’m going to basically send to the printers as soon as the thing ends. No delays!

We’re in the process of finishing the Liberated Zine project up. Last week we sent out an artless draft – basically all the meat of the new “stuff”, but not prettied up. This past weekend I mocked up the Zine and would legitimately say we’re 95% done. And I’m very proud of the work we all put into it. I think it will be a good representation of our work.

It just took a bit longer than we would have liked.

***

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

Repost: The Biggest Fish: Smallville

Work is extra hectic this week. But I also have been thinking about old stories again and how nothing is ever wasted when you are a writer. Every little piece that you sit down and put on the screen (or in a notebook or on a scrap piece of paper) can potentially help you with the next story. It can help you develop your voice. Or in the case of the script below, be one of the first things that you actually finished that wasn’t a short story.

That’s a major milestone for a writer because there are so many reasons not to complete something. There’s life stuff which will interfere, but just as readily there is the Fear of putting your stuff out there in the world. Once you do that, others can now actually see what you’re doing. And while you may think that what you’re writing is alright, you just never know for sure.

I feel lucky that so many years ago I fell into a group that wanted to help each other. They created a space that allowed me to take the lead on something and see if I had it in me to finish it.

***

At some point, the following tale has become my own Big Fish story. Or perhaps it just has that sort of potential. I can only relay the events as they are currently in my mind… somewhat dulled by the time and distance from the original events. What you do with this information is completely up to you.

Garrison_Big_Fish

I cast my mind back to sometime in 2002 where I had joined up with a group of like-minded aspiring writers in the back of the Dragon’s Horde comic shop in Stone Mountain, Georgia. I like to think of this time as the beginning of Phase 1 of my writing career (Phase 2 came in 2010). The beginning of working with others on various projects, and the beginning of having someone read something I had put to paper (up to this point writing was this distant thing in the back of my mind, but I either lacked the willpower or the knowledge to even know where to begin).

Anyway, one of the group members (we called ourselves WriteClub… possibly not the most clever of names, but it got the point across) told us he had a connection through his sister that could walk a potential script into the Smallville offices. We just needed a script.

Smallville-Logo

Of course, the first question after “How exactly is this going to work?” and “Really? No BS?” was how were we going to do this? There were 6 of us in our little group and this could be something we all focused on. A true collaboration. So we sat around one Sunday and talked about the show, and if we were going to do a script what plot points should we hit? I want to say after that one afternoon we had a rough outline and plot points, but it may have been a couple of meetings before that happened. And I don’t remember all the specifics of those meetings, but I do recall the FUN of it all. This was our chance, no matter how small, and we were all ready to give it a shot. No idea was off-limits at first, and then we slowly began to circle around the true idea… the one that would serve as our story for this script.

That story was roughly as follows:

Green Arrow would make his first appearance on the show. (What nerve we had to even think this way. I mean not only were we going to immediately get this script sold, but we’d also be the first to really bring in a non-Superman hero. Like no one in their writer’s room had thought of that.)

Green_Arrow_Vol_5_logo

He would meet/come into contact with Chloe (she was the sorta Lois character before Lois showed up on the TV Show) and there would be some definite sparks that would fly between the two of them. (While I think this is a fairly obvious thing to do, I actually still like the idea of trying to introduce another person into the Lana/Clark/Chloe triangle. And there would be someone else for Chloe to add to the Wall of Weird.)

He would need something from Lex. And to get that something would require breaking into Lex’s home. (I believe this was one of those things that would initially bring our heroes into conflict as suddenly Clark is really stuck between possibly covering up a misdeed of Lex or letting a thief get away with something that could hurt his friend… a pseudo gray area for the Man of Steel).

And in the end, Green Arrow would get the heck out of town with some aspect of the information he was after (courtesy of Chloe), but with the feel as if he could be back.

Again there was more to it than that, but this was the basics as we settled on them. Now the only question was: Who wanted to bang out this script?

And the table went silent. I’m not sure if it was because none of us really had a clue what we were doing and didn’t want to be called out on it or what, but for whatever reason I found myself saying the words: “I’ll do it.”

Looking back, this was a huge step for me. What in the world was I thinking? What if they hated it? What if I was exposed as a fraud? Hell, I barely understood the way a script was supposed to be formatted at this point. And still, I raised my hand and volunteered. I rushed home with Final Draft ready to be installed on my computer and began to type, my fingers a blur as the ideas and the dialogue flowed from me. I did my best to develop scenes and made sure to hit all the high points. By the end of the night (probably more likely very early in the morning), I had the roughest of rough drafts finished. A masterpiece of American Television waiting to be unleashed upon Hollywood.

It was 29 pages.

Now, what I did not know at the time was that in script terms for movies and TV 1 page equals (roughly) 1 minute of filming. Smallville had a running time without commercials of around 42 minutes. Which meant I should have something around 42 pages.

And I had 29.

No problem, though. I was excited to have that much written up. And when I found out about the discrepancy, well that was why I was a part of the group. We tossed more ideas around and I believe we got the script up towards 40 pages (I might be wrong on this, but as I said above, this is my Big Fish and it weighs…). But we weren’t done. We did a table read. We brought in a couple of females to read the women’s lines to help make sure nothing was too out of whack. And at the end of that follow-up meeting, I took the notes and compiled that final version.

We sent it off to the sister.

Add_submission

And waited.

And waited.

And then heard back from her that she read it and really liked it! It was on its way as she’d pass it along to her contacts over at Warner Bros.

And then nothing. Nothing came of it. In my mind, I constructed an elaborate Twilight Zone-style scenario where the script was on the desk of the man (or woman) who was the final arbiter, and somehow it had fallen behind the desk, just out of sight. Because that was the only reason our phones had not been ringing off the hook (back when phones did that and didn’t just vibrate in your pant’s pocket).

Months passed and the script became almost an urban legend in the group. We’d mention it in passing like someone who had taken a grainy picture of Bigfoot or Loch Ness. The thought was occasionally passed around that we might be able to resubmit via another connection (we may or may not have done that, I can’t remember). I took the last printed copy and stored it away for safe-keeping. Eventually, like most legends, it slipped completely from our consciousness.

Fast forward to October 20, 2004. I settled in to watch Smallville for the evening as the episode “Run” appeared. It was to feature a non-Superman hero: The Flash.

For those of you that don’t know my two favorite superheroes are Spiderman and The Flash… but I’ll talk about that in another post. So to say I was glued to my seat would be an accurate statement.

This version of the Flash flirts with Chloe, steals something from Lex, which causes him to come into conflict with Clark.

Watching the episode was a bit surreal. Little things here and there seemed familiar, big things seemed close…

And when I was done I felt a warmness spread throughout me. We were on the right track with our script.  This episode felt so much like ours that it only reinforced that thought in my mind. The next day I talked to one of the group. His first words were:

“I liked the episode of Smallville you wrote, John.”

Now do I know if anyone in the Warner Bros’ offices actually ever saw our script? No. Heck, I’m 100% (well more like 99.999 – with a lot more 9s, but we’ll round up) that they did not. I’m not accusing anyone of anything unsorted.

I just think we tapped into that common Idea Space that is out there, that so many creative people seem to be able to harness. That same reason that multiple movies come out about the same subject (of course the other reason for that is because the studio sees an opportunity to beat an opponent at the same game, but I digress).

This was an example of that. That’s how close it was/felt to what we had done. That’s how close we were to getting a shot at the big leagues.

But above everything else, that project gave me some measure of confidence in my abilities. Writing that script in the first place and then watching as the others read it I felt like a team with others, but more than anything I felt like I could be one of the heavy hitters for that team. My future in writing was going to be big and bright.

I mean, I’d written an episode of Smallville after all.

 

***

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

Opening Novel Lines

You’re supposed to make a splash with your opening line. You’re supposed to grab the reader and never let go for the rest of the time they have your story in their hands. Everything rests in only a few words.

Whatever you do, don’t screw it up.

That’s a ton of pressure for a writer to put on their opening line. I mean not everything can be The Dark Tower.

 

The movie Throw Momma From the Train focuses much of the writer’s block on that idea of not being able to nail the opening line. That if he could just do that, maybe the whole damn thing would flow.

I’m no Steven King (or Billy Crystal), but I thought it might be interesting to look at my own first lines.

The Dark That Follows

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.

A cheat of sorts as the main character is a fortune teller (who can actually see the future) and these are the fragments of his initial reading. While I like what I was going for, the idea of something quick, little flashes of information that Jason Mills was getting, it doesn’t ultimately grab you in a way I actually think the next line might:

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

That asks a question and makes the reader wonder and hopefully keep reading to find out what the hell is going on. Again, I remind myself that this is my first novel and the important thing is that it exists at all. Maybe I could have taken another year and finally hit upon the perfect opening line, but they say perfect is the enemy of done.

Hollow Empire

The splintering door shattered Vadim’s peaceful sleep.

This is actually the first story within Hollow Empire (which is a Dark Fantasy set in a post-black plague). Within Hollow Empire follows four characters (two written by me and two written by Jeremy Neill). So should there be more weight with this line? Should there be something epic to set off the entire world rather than someone awakening from sleep? There is action happening, so it is an improvement from The Dark That Follows, but again I’m left wondering if the 3rd line might be a better beginning line:

“You slept with my wife!”

And I Feel Fine (printed in the Machina Obscurum Anthology)

Huh… I guess the Mayans were right after all.

I actually really like this opening line. Considering the story is a post-apocalyptic story it fits the narrator’s voice perfectly. Someone who has developed a somewhat dark sense of humor about her development of being one of the few (maybe only) survivor of the end times. This does a decent job of giving you a taste of the voice who’ll be leading you on your journey.

 

Til the Last Candle Flickers (printed in the Machina Obscurum Anthology)

Dave Simms wished the world would just end already.

Another one I like a lot. And yes, both my contributions to the anthology were apocalypse stories… what can I say, I have fears and sometimes the best way to face them is to put them onto the page where maybe they can no longer do you any harm. Maybe. Still, with this one it establishes that our main character either has a problem with the world or is simply impatient for things to end.

 

The Echo Effect (forthcoming NEW novel)

The shadow of Olympus Mons stretched beyond Lieutenant Aaron Anders’s sight.

Only a couple of people have even seen this beginning. And while it may not grab the reader in the same way that prophesizing the end of the world might, I want to set the stage with this line. I need the reader to know that we aren’t on Earth and instead are starting on Mars. And while the book itself isn’t necessary about Mars, this mission Aaron Anders is on, will help determine his path throughout the rest of the book. Mars is his beginning.

This is just a tease, obviously. In the coming weeks, I’ll be announcing a release date for this one, so stay tuned for that.

***

I’m still learning, still trying to figure out the best line to start things off. And even if the first line isn’t an all-time classic, my hope is that as you read, you;ll still be forced into turning the pages and devouring the words. That the story becomes something you can’t put down for very long.

***

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

 

Why Dwell on the Bad?

My wife and I are avid Survivor fans. Enough so that a couple of years ago I wrote a breakdown of how I saw ways to play the game. Last week was the season finale of their 40th season which saw 20 past winners come back to play the game against each other. To say it was a great season was an understatement. While the regular games with all new players tend to play out in somewhat similar fashion at the beginning (get to know each other, build a shelter, try hard as hell not to lose the first challenge, etc.) there is still that unknown ahead of each of them. No one knows who the others are so you have to feel things out. Maybe you immediately click with another person only to find out they’ve already rubbed people the wrong way. What do you do? Are you going to risk your game on a relative stranger?

But with previous players and especially former winners, you have a different dynamic unfolding. Each of them kinda knows each other. Sure, some of the early players may not really know the newer players, but all of them know exactly what it took for each of them to get a win in the game. They know how important certain alliances were to their well-being and how sometimes one mistake can completely sink your game.

And that was very interesting to see play out on our television. The idea of a mistake being made where you want to shout at the screen: “No! Stop! You aren’t going to come back from this!”

This has existed in the game since the beginning and is pretty much in most other games you may play. Had that been the only thing that I noticed through this watch, then I would have maybe filed it away and moved on, but during the finale there was something said that really spoke to me as a human and definitely as a writer:

One of the players made mention that she dwelt on the bad things for far too long, but that she didn’t have to. She shouldn’t do that. It’s baggage around her neck that she’s carried around throughout her life for the last few years.

But that idea of dwelling on the bad things is exactly what so many of us do in our daily lives. We never give ourselves permission to dwell on the GOOD that might have occurred.

***

Courtney and I, prior to the pandemic, played poker pretty much every week. Occasionally we’d win the night and those were things we did celebrate. But on a regular night where maybe we finished 3rd out of 50 people are we normally happy that we did so well? Or is the ride back thinking about that one or two hands that we could have/ should have played completely differently?

“Why didn’t I make that call? I’d won a huge pot!”

“Why did I make that call? It was so stupid. What else could they have had but the nuts?

“Why did I bet so much? It scared them.

“Why didn’t I bet more? They stuck around and sucked out on me.

And so on.

***

In writing, sometimes it is all about the next accomplishment. So much of what you might be doing is on a fairly long timeline. It could be weeks, months, or years (or decades even) where you are tolling away. Chapter by chapter passes by and you think very little of it. Maybe you set your mini-goals at word counts and when you finally hit 25%, 50%, or 75% of the book being done it is a small fist pump or maybe a slight mention to the wife. But then there is the next milestone to hit and so we can’t dwell on that.

However, if you haven’t been able to get inspired or the words are a little slower coming or maybe you’ve just worked too much over the last few weeks so your word count is in the gutter… well, you live in that world where you are behind.

“I haven’t written that much.”

“I am so far behind my goals.”

“Did you see how much that other person has written in the last months. What the hell is wrong with me?”

DWELLING in the BAD.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

***

Celebrate the wins.

You wrote 200 words last night. Great! You are 1% closer to your book being done. You finished a chapter! Great! Take that moment. You finished the book! Don’t think about all the other things you still have to do (edits, writing the sequels, what if no one buys the damn thing, and so on).

No. Celebrate the wins. Wallow in them for a little while longer. Because there will always be something to dwell on if you want. Those little mistakes or the big ones… they are going to happen regardless. Instead, give yourself permission to be happy for a change.

Celebrate the wins.

***

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

Speed?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’m currently in the midst of a daily email series about the various aspects of writing where you get a lesson and then are prompted to either write some notes or break down an existing movie into its pieces or write something that is kinda like an essay. Regardless, one of the lessons this last week was about Writing Fast.

Now, Writing Fast is like the Fountain of Youth or the Lost City of Gold. It is this abstract thing that other writers talk about but I’m not 100% sure that they can truly convey how they manage it. It’s like running in real life. I played sports my whole life. And I would say I was fairly athletic through high school. But I was sooooo slooooow when it came to running. It’s an odd thing because I’m 6’5″ so you’d think that my longer legs would equate to longer strides but they really didn’t. When my dad remarked that I should stretch those lengths I had no idea how one would even begin to go about doing it.

That’s a bit how I see Writing Fast.

But, I don’t doubt that there is a way to increase your speed. Of course, it takes practice… over and over and over again. Butt in chair type stuff.

Anyway, the assignment after reading about how to become Faster was to set a timer for 10 minutes and then just write about what it means to you. What follows is what I wrote:

***

Sometimes it feels like everyone in the world has unlocked a secret and you are just waiting there trying to figure out exactly what it is. They tell you that all you have to do is this one thing and everything will make sense… like it is something you unlock within your brain and for whatever reason everyone else has figured it all out.

Yet, I ‘m still not entirely sure what it is that is supposed to be a magical switch within my brain that should be turned in a different direction. It does not come with an easy button even though everyone seems to want to tell you that it is.

That’s what writing fast feels like. It feels like something you should just be able to do with almost no problems and yet when you do it, it’s like a car trying to struggle to crank up. Sure you can get it going after a while, but it is going to take more than a few tries.

This is the intimidating aspect of any of this. I’ve been listening to you guys almost since the beginning, and I have been living with your trials and failures through it all. At the same time I’ve been trying to do this writing thing and yet, there are plenty of times where I do question myself. I know I can do it… but doubt always somehow creeps in.

Is it a mindset? Is it desire? Is it talent? Is it luck?

Is it all of those things?

Probably.

Honestly, I’m doing the best I can at this exact moment… but that doesn’t mean it is the best I could ever do. It doesn’t mean that I can’t find a way to shift to another gear. It doesn’t mean that I’ve got it all figure out. I certainly don’t. I’m constantly searching for the little bits of information I might be able to glean from other writers. What works? What hasn’t worked? What do you do when this one thing happens?

I soak it all up like a sponge because to do anything else would be a true waste of time. It’s focus. It’s trial and error. It’s successes and failures. And then shifting the dirt and seeing if you have any gold under there… maybe?

I just asked Alexa how much time was left on the timer because it feels like forever for some reason. Maybe that’s because at some point in this process of answering the question I literally had no idea what was about to come out.

What’s the good though that could occur if I could have everything click into place? I could get my ideas out there, into the world. Currently, I’m doing my best to keep up with my brain, but if I could get a little faster it might be that my brain needs to catch up to my fingers. It would mean the difference between being on a ten-year plan and maybe being on a 2 or 3-year plan.

It’s freedom.

***

That’s how I feel. If you can potentially harness the gift of speed, maybe it would provide even greater freedom in my writing.

Gotta keep practicing.

***

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

 

Puzzles

This writing thing… is a bit of a guessing game. I don’t mean guessing what will work or what won’t work. I don’t mean trying to figure out what someone else might want from a novel. I don’t even mean trying to figure out how to actually sell the thing you’ve crafted.

(Yes, all of that is both a guessing game and potentially something you can influence with the right pushes in various directions.)

I mean trying to figure out when your brain may be ready to actually get down and do some writing on a project. Or potentially guessing whether the current story is going to be replaced in your mind by the shiny object over in the corner… you know, that story you aren’t actively writing? Yeah, it is 100x more exciting that what you are currently doing. Even the act of sitting down and plotting out a story, you just never know if and where the inspiration is going to come from.

If you were to put me in a time machine and go back 20 years before I’d ever really gotten serious about any writing endeavors, none of the ideas I’m currently working on would have been in my brain at that point in time. Not a one.

Now I have ideas that have sat around from those just out of college days, but other things have excited me more. Other things that represent some level of a challenge.

See, the thing is, it is all like a big puzzle.

***

During the Shelter in Place, I finally went up into my comic book closet and brought down a puzzle that we’ve had for years (at least 2 or 3 but maybe as many as 10 years). The box had sat in a closet, sealed, and really was something that disappeared from my mind until I started seeing these other people on social media sites show off the puzzles they were building. So we broke it out and began working.

My wife was there for the start. She did a bunch on the first couple of days, but as things progressed (or didn’t progress on some days) her attention span and desire faded.

Me, I’m stubborn. And we had 200 pieces of a 750 piece puzzle (which those who do 1000 piece works… that may be out of my reach after this one). I would sit down and work on it some evenings. I started to bring the iPad over to play movies while I worked.

Until… finally… last night I finished.

***

Puzzles have these pieces that can seem like they are a lock to go into one area only to have you realize that you were looking at the wrong part of the picture and it really fits perfectly into this other spot.

Stories are the exact same. You have an idea and you’re excited to figure out where it is going to lead you. You make notes, you grab pictures from the internet to help inspire you, you see some patterns, and force others… but the edges never quite fit right.

You can leave those rough ones in there, but part of the job is figuring out when something just isn’t a fit for what you’re doing.

And it is a true guessing game… a feel for what may or may not be the correct answer.

***

There are other pieces to figure out. How to release a book/story/comic into the world. How to get people to pay attention to it. How to get people to read what you’ve written.

Always more edges to smooth out to make sure the picture comes into focus.

***

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

Little Moments

In times of craziness, where none of us knows where things will be in a month or six or a year, it’s been interesting/difficult/weird/fucked up/all of the above plus a thousand other things. I hope that each of you are staying safe the best you can.

***

I’m supposed to be writing, but I’m not. I’ve distracted myself again with some various Youtubers talking about anything and everything from Magic the Gathering to Comic Book Stores and the Virus (and how are they going to survive) to Pitch Meeting videos. I’m supposed to be putting words onto the screen, but I can’t stay focused. Too much real life.

I saw a meme at the beginning (or at least nearish the beginning of all of this) where it said that… well, let’s just go and find it… ok, I apparently can’t find it. Anyway, it said that you should be using this time to learn a new skill, a language, etc. And I saw it and thought – yeah, that’s a great idea. People will have a ton of time on their hands and they could use it constructively. Heck, even though I’m still working (thankfully) from home, I should have a little bit more time in the day where I’m not driving into the office to get some additional words on the screen.

But… it… is… hard…

My brain reads too much of the stuff online. It sees too much of the world “stuff” and suddenly I only want to be distracted from all that “stuff”. So I turn to familiar things – I watch Firefly and Community episodes to put me in a good mood.

How do you write something that is supposed to be any good when your brain wants to play squirrel all day?

And this isn’t Writer’s Block – for me, that’s where the words won’t come just because. These are external forces playing with everyone’s emotions.

***

I get some words on a novel I’m working on… have been working on, off and on for a couple of years. I’m getting closer. I feel good about the project. But it is never enough words. Not for what I want to do with the writings.

And that attitude makes it hard to celebrate the things us writers should be celebrating. Even if it is only a few hundred words that night. It doesn’t mean you failed in your goal. It means you are a couple of hundred words closer to finishing the draft.

***

So a week or two goes by and I see that Meme again but someone has added to it saying that it’s ok if you don’t accomplish all of those things… those goals. That we’re all going through something that none of us have ever experienced before and we’re reacting and acting in whatever way we can.

And that’s OK.

***

Last night I finished the edits for a novel (a different one than the one above – what can I say, I have been writing words prior to all of this “stuff”). This novel has been in my folder for a couple of years. I tried to get it in with an agent but received a stack of rejection letters instead. And maybe I haven’t pushed hard on it prior to this year because I was worried about putting it out there. It’s always scary to push the publish button.

But I hit a major milestone. And I didn’t celebrate in a loud way. I just exhaled. When my wife woke up I told her, and she’s the one who sees through all the other stuff and realizes these are the little moments to savor.

So I savored.

***

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll start revealing somethings about the upcoming novel. Until then, stay safe.

***

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

 

From A to Z – Resolutions

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

With the new year comes the dreaded resolutions. They say that anything you start, if you keep it going for 4 weeks, then you have created a habit for the long haul. We just passed the 4-week mark in the new year, so the question that comes to mind is how well are you/me/everyone doing on those resolutions?

I always start off the year with a blueprint of what projects I want to work on, which items I would like to have finished, and other things I would like to start. And I’m always very aggressive in the scheduling. In fact, most of the time just with the act of living your life, the goals are too much.

This year was no different, and a lot of times by this point in January I’m already thinking “Oh god, I’m so far behind. I wanted to have 50,000 words written by this point!”

(OK, I’m never that crazy. I have a day job and a wife I like to see from time to time, but you get the point.)

So here it is, 28 days in, and I feel pretty good about my progress this month so far. It’s not 100% what I was hoping for in the pie-in-the-sky scenario, but I’ve written more than 13,000 words thus far and I still have a couple of days to go to try for 15,000 for January.

So, what I’ve decided to do for my Resolutions post is instead list out some projects. Some are goals for this year. Some are literally goals that will happen in the next month. All of which should help remind me of the work I have done and what still is to come.

***

A – Anonymous Short Story – I wrote a short story last year for the upcoming Tales from Vigilante City Anthology that should be coming out sometime in 2020. It’s the story about the villain you never heard of… and how he likes it that way.

B – My Blog – A random hodge-podge of ideas and rantings and reviews and whatever else I happen upon at 2 in the morning. This blog will be the 401st entry on this website. Crazy.

C – The Crossing – A new comic book coming to Kickstarter in late February by Robert Jeffrey II, Sean Hill, and myself from 133art. A love-letter to parallel worlds and how tragedy can make us a hero or a villain.

D – The Dark That Follows – My first novel… I’m planning on putting it on sale soon to get more eyes on it.

E – The Echo Effect – My next novel, due out this Spring. A man finds that he is reborn into a new world whenever the calendar reaches 2024. Things have changed, but he has not. And he might not be the only one.

F – Forgotten Lives – I completed the first draft of this novel and if things go well this year, I’ll be releasing not only this novel but books 1 through 3 in early 2021. It’s my story about why we’re here… and how much control over our fates do we really have.

G – Gilded Age – I have ideas, but I also have a stack of graphic novels that I need to get into more people’s hands. So I’m hoping to do some conventions this year for that very purpose.

H – Hollow Empire – While Jeremy has come out with two additional chapters, my side has been quiet. However, that’s going to change with the 9th chapter of the serial we started about life in a medieval post-apocalyptic world.

I – Indiegogo – A reminder that The Gilded Age is available on Indiegogo here!

J – Journal of Impossible Things – Title was stolen from Doctor Who, but it is the folder where I put all my short stories currently in progress. I want to move 4 of them to the completed side this year.

K – Be a part of and fulfill at least 2 Kickstarters this year.

L – Lightning – A long-term horror novel project.

M – Marketing – For all of this stuff, I’ve got to find a way to get it in front of people which means figuring out Amazon and Facebook ads. Not looking forward to stumbling through all of that!

N – Newsletter – My goal is to send out at least 12 this year. With so many projects coming to fruition, I’d be dumb not to use it (heck, I’ve been dumb about it up until now).

O – Opportunities – Be open to any additional opportunities that may come my way. There always seems to be a random thing out there that I could never forsee.

P – Premade book covers – I’ve been lucky enough to find a couple that work perfectly for both The Echo Effect and SOULmate. Plus, in my wanderings around the internet, I found a collection of covers that have inspired some ideas that I’d love to write set in the world I can see.

Q – Query – I haven’t given up on traditional publishing, but right now I’m not sure how to break through that barrier.

R – I have promised to help my step-father-in-law collect his poetry and put it into book form. I’m looking forward to seeing how it will end up (his name is Robert, hence the “R”).

S – SOULMate – The second novel I’m going to release this year. It’s a story about a world where Soulmates are not only real but a status symbol.

T – Time – Whether I’m using it well or potentially misusing it, it is often the cause for any bottleneck. I need to manage my time better.

U – Untold Series – The series of books that Forgotten Lives belongs to. Coming in 2021, but written in 2020!

V – Vacation – In between all the words, I still need to get away to recharge the batteries. I’m not sure when or where this will take us this year.

W – Edge of the World – A novel that needs a thorough edit. It’s the story of a woman who travels to the ends of the earth to find and save her uncle.

X – eXtra work-  Be willing to hit my goals, even when I’m tired and want to just goof off. Be focused.

Y – You Must Be This Tall To Ride – A comic idea I have focused on a slightly younger crowd. This is more of a long-term project.

Z – Zine – Last year, Egg Embry, Lee Beauchamp, and I ran a Kickstarter as part of their Zine promotion. We had hoped it would be done last year, but it has stretched into this year. We are closing in on completing it though (hopefully by Valentine’s Day – It is focused on Love, so that seems fitting).

***

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

Every BAD review I’ve ever gotten

Hi.

I’m J Edward.  I write books.

I try to please my readers. I really do. I want them ALL to have a great experience whenever they crack the cover.

But…

We writers can’t please everyone. Not even close. Some readers will be indifferent, and others only mildly interested. And still others will be so non-entertained they’ll take to the internet to write a gut-busting negative review.

A lot of writers hate this part of the job. They’ll say they don’t mind a bad review or two, but then when it happens to them, they’ll be indignant, even angry. I’ve watched the cycle play out hundreds of times.

As for me, I cherish bad reviews.

“Wait, what?” you ask.

Let me explain.

First, a bad review gives me a glimpse of what I need to do better in my craft. If a reader puts together a thoughtful diatribe about how bad one of my characters sucked or how long-winded a chapter was, it’s an opportunity for me to improve.

Secondly, and 500% more awesome, is that I simply like reading bad reviews more than good ones. It’s fun for me in a way I’m not sure most writers understand. I savor the crappy reviews as much as I do the good ones. Even the ones written by vindictive trolls. (Yes, it happens.)

Hell…I’m considering writing something truly awful just to see how many bad reviews I can collect.

And so…

Here’s some of the most interesting bad reviews I’ve ever received. Each one is three stars or fewer. Each one appears on Amazon, Goodreads, or a similar site.

Oh, and these are verbatim. I didn’t edit or correct grammar or spelling mistakes. Oops.

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Down the Dark Path

2.0 out of 5 stars

By Shirley  on March 8, 2016

Format: Kindle Edition 

“Too bloody.”

*** Shirley’s right. It’s pretty bloody. Especially at the end. (Which means she read the whole thing. Cool.) 

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AND

1.0 out of 5 stars

 on December 17, 2015

Format: Kindle Edition

“ok so far..cool thing is free.”

 *** If this is the worst review I ever get on this book, I’m fine with it. It’s not like the reviewer paid for it. 🙂

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Eugene rated it 2 out of 5 stars 

“The only complaint I have for this book is that it’s too damn long. I actually got so frustrated that I skipped a few chapters just to get to the end. The author changes perspectives (by that I mean switching to events happening elsewhere) at the most inopportune moments. So that’s two complaints I suppose. Oh, well. At least it gets better in the second book.”

*** Now this is a constructive review. After reading it (and others like it) I actually went back and chopped tens of thousands of words out. I did a total rewrite. Took me a year to finish. Ouch, but worth it.


**


The Fall of Castle Carrick

Reviewed by Martha in the United States on January 5, 2020

Format: Kindle Edition

 

*

Reviewed by Lynguy in the United States on March 26, 2019

I received this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. This book takes place in the distant future and is relatively well-written despite a few editing errors. It deals with enhanced virtual reality, world building, how people with different priorities can become enemies, AIs, and high-tech war.

The main characters could have been better developed if the book was a little longer. However, the book was thought-provoking and had a different take on the subject matter than a lot of other sci-fi novels. I am glad I read it, but it did not blow me away.

 

*** This one is a thoughtful, well-written review. If all reviews were this insightful, I’d be one happy camper. 

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AND

Reviewed in the United States on August 17, 2016

I’m not a huge fan of scifi, which is what this book screamed at me with its brief synopsis. I found that the cover art was what initially captured and pulled me in. The futuristic story was more captivating than I thought, but I wish the Author would have used other terms than “Jacked-In” or “un-jacked”. I found myself laughing when I read a particular sentence.

” Gerrard De Napoli, un-jacked himself…..”. Apart from some awkward terminology, I was sucked into the book. It’s dark, gritty and more terrifying than anything else, it’s a very believable concept!
*** Who doesn’t like to un-jack after a long, stressful day at work? Am I right??

**

 

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AND
1.0 out of 5 stars
No

Reviewed by Patryce in the United Kingdom on December 31, 2016

Format: Kindle Edition
*** Just ‘No?’ Come on, Patryce. All I ask is that if you’re going to crush me, do it with style. Give me more than, ‘No.’
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AND*

Format: Kindle Edition (101 Questions for Women)

“The author claims to have put on his filter in order to save the book from becoming chauvinistic drivel. While I appreciate the gesture, the book still is fairly chauvinistic and not too enlightening philosophically. The questions show a clear bias (e.g Do readers think of feminism as: a) somewhat useful b) silly c) much too confrontational) with the moderate path being laughably mainstream. Critical thinking and philosophical content (dilemma, insights etc) are incredibly thin. In short, the book focuses on the otherness of women from a masculine perspective. While this might help one feel special and while men frankly discussing their worldview can be rather enlightening in itself, I wouldn’t recommend the book to any woman interested in philosophy.”

*** Boy the ladies are really killing this book. Anyway, I can’t disagree with her. (I’m assuming the reader is a woman.) This book is def biased based on my masculine point of view.


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Darkness Between the Stars

Reviewed in the United States on October 17, 2019

The first 60% of this book was about as exciting as listening to Tom Hanks talking to Wilson. Also, it appears that the MC is trying to grow up to be Ender Wiggins.
This story comes across flat; it is a galaxy-sized tale with a small, narrow, one person point of view. So much so that it takes away from the believability. There isn’t a lot of world building , and what is there doesn’t ring true according to the premise of the story. There is no depth to the characters, except maybe the MC. I also like to see more Science in a science fiction tale, and less magically produced technology that is all ultimate, unbeatable awesomeness, and is available even after long-term global war and collapse.
For the first quarter of the book, the MC doesn’t even leave the farm, and there is quite a bit of repetition of maudlin details throughout the book, as well as other filler.
Kudos the editor! I found only one spelling error, which is extremely refreshing. Thank you! However, what is up with the line spacing at the beginning of the chapters?Spoiler Alert:
Vampires? Vampires?? I almost quit reading the first time this word was used! Why do we even have to refer to worn out, over-used urban myths when in deep space? How is it even believable for the excessively sheltered MC to know about them, considering the world he came from? Isn’t it possible for a fertile imagination to come up with something (anything) original to name a group of energy-suckers?
*** Heyyyyy!! I liked the parts with Tom Hanks and Wilson, and I cried when Wilson died. 

Lords of the Black Sands

Reviewed in the United States on April 5, 2019

So, I won this as a GoodReads giveaway and decided to use this as a book for a reading challenge (category: giveaway). If I hadn’t had to finish the book to count it for the challenge, I probably wouldn’t have finished it.

Lords of the Black Sands is dystopian fiction, which I don’t mind in and of itself. But this is oppressively dark. It actually really reminds me of Orwell’s 1984, except 1984 was meant to be sociopolitical commentary, and Lords of the Black Sands is not. This might have been a decent story if not for the fact that reading it is a trial with pretty much no payoff. There were some better parts, but ultimately this is not a book that I would recommend and I’m happy not to have spent money on it.

*** I admit it. This book includes some pretty oppressively dark scenes. It wasn’t an accident. And it’ll probably happen again. 

 

101 Questions for Couples*

2.0 out of 5 stars

By kmcmur02 on September 6, 2016

Format: Kindle Edition |

It’s fine for getting some new questions but it’s very heteronormative and the questions largely focus around your relationship to each other, but not necessarily about how you as a couple relate the the world at large.

It’s pretty repetitive.

It also assumes some traditional gender roles, which didn’t really work for us, so we ended up skipping a bunch.

*** I guess the guy and girl on the cover didn’t give the theme away. My bad. 


 

 

Hollow Empire – Night of Knives

2.0 out of 5 stars

on December 15, 2015

Format: Kindle Edition| (Hollow Empire)

“I did not like it–it did not hold my interest so I only read a few chapters.”

*** I blame my co-author, John R McGuire. Just kidding. Love ya, John!

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Reviewed in the United States on August 20, 2019

This book has questions to ask your friends or dates to generate discussion and get to know them better. For example, “If you died tonight, could it be said that you lived a good, fulfilling, and satisfying life? If not, what actions will you take tomorrow to make it so?” What is the noblest profession? What is the most despicable profession? Assuming you have a job, is there anything noble about it?”

The book has only questions, no answers, no discussions. If you have trouble coming up with questions for discussion on your own this book might be helpful. Frankly, I was hoping for something deeper and more interesting.

*** I appreciate this review. The reader could’ve slapped a cruel one-star on it and had a laugh, but instead hammered out a thoughtful few words. 

 

And lastly…positively, absolutely my favorite bad review of all time…

 

The Hecatomb

Reviewed in the United States on April 1, 2019

This writer is only prolific at making toilet paper, which is all this book is good for.
Simplistic writing at it’s worst. The hook was horrid and that was the best part. I do not recommend this book or this writer.
His writing style is very much the same as a preteen emo boy without the depth. Save your money, time and imagination for something else… anything else.
*** I seriously want a cat who poops books. It’d save me years of being emo, and I’d be able to blame the cat for everything!
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That’s all for now, folks. I promise, as soon as I gather up enough terrible book reviews, I’ll publish another one of these.
Until then, get to reading.
J Edward Neill

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