Dragon Con 2021 – Review Part 2

After taking Saturday to go hang with family (and watch the Georgia Tech Football game that I’m still not sure how they lost… or actually, I know exactly where they lost, I just still can’t believe it), we ventured back down to Dragon Con on Sunday for what would be our last day.

Actually, before I go into Sunday, I wanted to say that this year’s Dragon Con felt like being in a time machine about 10 years earlier. With a self-imposed attendance cap (and what ended up at an estimated 42,000 people), I just looked on Wiki and it has 2011’s attendance at 46,000, so the 10 years feel was right on. Regardless, in this last decade, the convention has expanded to other hotels and America’s Mart because, well, it had to. And this will sound both stupid and obvious, but the difference of having 85,000 people and 42,000 people spread over the same area meant that this year you could breathe (ironic as we were all wearing masks). The Dealer’s room wasn’t so full that it was bursting at the seams. You could actually take a minute and look around and not worry about being in the way. The lines for the panels we chose were of normal length and didn’t have any problems getting seats.

I really hope that they don’t try to jump back to that 85,000 number next year. I know the money is better that way, but the experience was so much better this way.

In addition, all the other guests really stuck to wearing their masks in the hotels. I think I only saw 2 people not wearing them (the old “chin-diaper” look). I know it helped put us at ease that this wasn’t going to end up as some super-spreader event.

Anyway, we managed to get into the Zachary Levi panel. We’d done it in 2019 before we’d even seen Shazam (since we knew him from Chuck mostly) and were blown away by his frankness in dealing with mental issues, his frankness about his roles, and just how personable he’d come off. This time was no different as he still managed to mix in some cool anecdotes and made us laugh while still not shying away from the harder questions about his upbringing.

After that, we went to see Harvey Guillen (Guillermo) from What We Do In the Shadows. While I only know him from the aforementioned TV Show, there were plenty of questions about some of his other roles. Probably the biggest takeaway for me was just this idea of something always happens for a reason (or if you’re meant to do something, the universe will find a way). He had a couple of roles that seemed to work out just perfectly… apparently, even his audition for Shadows was one where he only got the shot because he showed up to a friend’s party and met someone whose boyfriend (husband?) worked for the show. The actual role of Guillermo was supposed to be a 40-something-year-old man (Harvey isn’t 40), but they humored him and gave him the shot. Then he said he’d blacked out in the process of doing it… just had no memory of it at all. Time went on and he’d heard nothing, so he figured that was it. And at the last minute, he received the call that not only did he get the job but it was starting that next week.

Finally, we decided the Smallville panel had been a ton of fun, but we were bummed we hadn’t seen Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor). However, all four of them were there for this panel… and we got to see Michael in action. He was all over the room, answering questions (even those not meant for him), getting everyone to sing along with the theme song, and just generally someone who I could tell from this panel and the previous one would have been hilarious to have on set with you (the never a dull moment type of guy).

When it was done we had another panel on the list and some years we will do the Masquerade, but the previous two days had begun to wear on Courtney (and me as well) and AEW was having their Pay Per View at 8 that evening, so we opted to head out.

***

With so much trepidation in the weeks leading up to this event due to the Delta Variant, I am so happy we decided to go. Here’s to another one in the books and looking forward to next year!

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

Dragon Con 2021 – Review

It was, as they say, a game-time decision. After the cancelation last year, our 2020 passes were rolled over to 2021. There was definitely a large part of me who kinda hoped they might do the same again, but we live in Georgia, and Georgia is going to Georgia to be sure. With the numbers from the Delta at the top of mind, my wife and I weren’t exactly sure whether we were going to go or not this past weekend. Given that we are both vaxed, I was less concerned, but still, when you are going to be hanging out with 40,000 of your friends in a relatively small area for the weekend… well…

So we made the decision to go, at least on Friday. I figured that if it was half the s-show that I thought it might be, we could always bolt. If things were alright then we would end up coming back on Sunday (Saturday the in-laws were in town).

The doubts began creeping in when a few of my friends went down on Thursday night to pick up their badges and reported waiting in line for nearly two hours. As many years as I have been going, the ticket line has been the most hit-or-miss thing with the whole con. I remember some years where 2 hours was considered a short wait time. Then a handful of years ago something changed and the process seemed like it had sped up. To hear about the back-slide was disturbing to say the least.

I would like to say, after having been to Gen Con, I really wish Dragon Con would step up and mail you your badge. Gen Con charges an extra $10 for the process and it is the best money I’ve ever spent.

FRIDAY

We tried to give ourselves about 75 minutes to get through the line and still make our first panel at 11:30. I dropped Courtney off at the Sheraton and then went to park the car…

And found out she’d already gone through the line. 5 minutes. No problems. It was the same with me. I’m not sure if everyone came on Thursday or maybe they didn’t have the volunteers or what changed in the preceding 12 hours, but I was overjoyed!

Our first panel was with the Smallville cast. Courtney and I watched Smallville through about season 4 or 5 when I believe we fell behind in our viewing and the DVR ate the intervening episodes (and I kind of, sort of, but really didn’t, write an episode for the show). It’s always been one of those shows I would have liked to go back and finish out (and after this panel Courtney mentioned possibly doing that after we finish our Chuck rewatch). Still, it was great to see Tom Welling (Clark Kent), Laura Vandervoot (Supergirl), and Sam Witwer (Doomsday) talk about the show with such a fondness. I hadn’t realized it had been 20 years since the show debuted.

They talked about stunts gone awry (Laura passing out in the harness which they use to have them fly). Sam having appendicitis in the midst of a shoot and no one realizing it until late in the evening. And the fact that Tom had it in his contract that he wasn’t going to put on the suit. I’d always thought it was an executive decision for that not to have happened before the very end of the show, but Tom talked about how very early on (Season 2) they started talking about it. He put an end to that as he wanted the show to be about Clark’s journey prior to him being Superman. And once he’s in the suit, that’s really the end of the show.

It was such a good panel, the only bad thing was that Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor) wasn’t going to be there until Saturday… which meant we might need to check it out later in the weekend to see what wackiness he might bring.

At this point we decided to hop over to the Exhibit Hall for the 4 floors of artists, dealers, cosplaying, clothing, comics, and just about anything else you can think of. We made our way through. Learning from 2019, we resolved to go through the entire thing on Friday as we knew it would be our only real chance to do so. Courtney bought some jewelry, a trio of shirts from the folks that make the Unstable Unicorns game. I ended up browsing through hundreds of $5 graphic novels only to end up with a pair of them. And even though I rarely get to play live other than conventions, I bought a new Flash dice bag for the impending Origins Convention. Finally, we bought a nice piece of artwork, a bit of a cutout of Buttercup and Westley from The Princess Bride surrounded by “As You Wish”.

Of course, by the time we’d gone through all of that, it was dinner time and we’d missed the two or three panels in the early afternoon. After dinner, Courtney and I split up… she went off to a Lucifer panel and I went to a pair of writing panels (one on Indy Writer secrets and the other on controversies in writing). The first was interesting, though the biggest thing for me coming out of it was more about using these types of panels as motivation. One of the panelists said something that really stuck out (James A Hunter): your best marketing is your next book. He’d written 35 books in the last 6-7 years with the thought that if you are prolific enough (and are writing decent enough stories) the odds of something hitting are only going to be increased. You take 35 shots and surely something is going to go in.

Now, I doubt with the day job being a necessary thing to put food on the table and a roof over my head I’d ever be able to have that much product in such a short amount of time. But, I also realize that putting out a book every 4 years isn’t going to get me where I want to go either. Sometimes it is hard to see where the road might be on this writing journey. These panels are like little check-ins for my psyche. I know I need to be a bit more diligent with all of it.

We ended our day with a comedy show. We’d done it once before and both really liked dipping our toes into some of the later nightlife which is the biggest part of the con to elude us. A bunch of laughs later, and it was time to head home so that we could go spend the day with family before returning on Sunday.

***

Next week find out what happens when you see the “same” panel twice but with a new panelist.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Repost: He’ll See Me On The Flipside

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

I won.

Office-pink-erasers

****

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

****

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

****

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

Then the pain came.

time_travel

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

****

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

****

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

Thru-Truss-Bridge-drawing

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

****

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

****

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

“Read this”, he says.

“I don’t read books.”

“Read it.”

On a Pale Horse

****

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

****

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

****

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

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

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

“Write it.”

****

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

****

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

****

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

****

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

It’s a new world.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

Spider-Man: No Way Home Trailer Thoughts

I must admit… I watched the leaked version a few hours before the official release of the trailer. However, I’m not sorry. The version I saw actually had subtitles which helped me comprehend everything I was seeing a little better.

Anyway, in light of the trailer being released, I’ve noticed this thing that fandom loves to do is happening now with Spider-Man: everyone is playing guess the movie. They are picking apart things that don’t make a ton of sense in the trailer while relying on 2 minutes of randomish footage. In fact, I always find it is best to enter into watching trailers with an eye towards doing exactly that. I mean, how else are you possibly going to make up your mind about something coming out in December. Better to make a ton of snap judgments on this rather than wait to see the actual movie and then, if the inconsistencies which were hinted at in the trailer do manage to remain without a satisfying outcome – hey, feel free to rip it apart.

What’s strange about this phenomenon is I pretty much only hear it in these big genre movies. Star Wars certainly gets held under the microscope. Marvel has graduated to this level as well now. But otherwise, with most movie trailers the only things people might bitch about is a casting choice or the special effects or dialogue. I don’t seem to remember people tearing apart the trailer for something like Bill and Ted. Or maybe they do, and I’m just hanging out in the wrong corners of the internet.

Still, the trailer is something that is supposed to excite you. To get you hyped to see the movie in question. It is certainly there to make you ask questions. With this movie in particular, the rumors have been running for some time about what the plot would be about or who might show up in the movie. The trailer certainly delivers on the first part (at least the broad strokes) and by a couple of reveals lend additional credit to spoilers regarding the cast.

First, the plot appears to be that after the results of Far From Home, Peter Parker has been outed as Spider-Man. This single fact causes his whole life to turn upside down to the point that he ventures to see Doctor Strange in the hopes that there might be a spell to undo that knowledge from the world. Something goes wrong in the casting of the spell, and off we go into the greater multiverse.

In comics, normally a hero makes the decision very early on whether to have a secret identity at all. Most tend to opt to keep their lives separate for the very reasons we’re seeing play out in the trailer. The sudden super-stardom which accompanies it. The idea that there may have been crimes your alter-ego committed that your true identity is now responsible for. And the biggest key piece is that your enemies now can target you through your family and friends. This last reason is the most important one, and in those stories where the hero is outed, it never goes well.

In the comics, Spider-Man once chose to reveal himself to the world. During the heroes’ Civil War, in an effort to convince others to register with the government, Peter Parker revealed himself on live television. Reading at this time, I both knew that this change in status quo wouldn’t/couldn’t be a long-term thing, and I also knew it was a terrible (just terrible) idea. Soon enough, the Kingpin of Crime set hitmen to target Mary Jane (which resulted instead in Aunt May getting shot and led to things we do not speak of).

So for the purposes of the movie, having a portion of it showing how bad things can be for Peter should be cool (though, I am extremely interested in seeing how Flash Thompson reacts to this knowledge given how much he appears to hate Peter Parker but loves Spider-Man).

The second big piece of this is traveling to other versions of reality. In the comics, characters have been meeting alternate versions of themselves for decades (starting with DC’s “Flash of Two Worlds”). Heck, Into the Spiderverse did an excellent job with exactly this idea.

Whether they are going to lean into this being a situation where he is actually visiting these other worlds or if those other worlds are threatening to overwrite our own, I can tell from the trailer.

But it leads us to the other members of the cast and the big reveals near the end of the trailer. We see a Goblin Bomb and William Dafoe’s laughter. We see lightning in the sky conjuring thoughts of Electro. There are a couple of other things people are speculating might be The Lizard or Sandman, but the one, concrete person we do get to see is Otto Octavious, Doc. Ock not only makes a big appearance but also knows Peter (even this version) which is as curious as anything else to me making me wonder is this a world where Doc. Ock didn’t die? Maybe he is a redeemed version?

Or are we actually going to get our big fight against the Sinister Six in this movie? And the only way to potentially defeat them is to find a little help from some fellow Spider-Men?

I half expect that in the final trailer they release (probably around Thanksgiving) we’ll get some shot with our 3 versions from the last 2 decades all standing together. And while it might not be Endgame level, that should be extremely cool.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Movie Review: Parallel

The idea of other versions of ourselves… those who might have made very similar choices to the ones we have made so that their reality and ours aren’t that much different. If that were the case, and you found a way to reach across the veil of our reality into theirs, what could you do with that ability?

That’s the fundamental question at the heart of Parallel.

A group of four post-college adults who are struggling to make their business (app development) a success, find that there is a secret attic space in the house they are renting. More curious than the secret room is that it houses a mirror which when passed through, can lead the traveler to a world nearly their own, with subtle differences to be sure. However, the more important aspect of this parallel world is that time moves much much slower there. Hours can go by in the alternate world while mere minutes pass on our own. Armed with this knowledge, the group of friends begins to use this “extra time” to their benefit allowing them to finish projects in days when it should have been weeks. When they later discover that even though the world at large is pretty similar to their own (down to their own doppelgangers), they find that artistic choices aren’t always the same.

And with those minor differences, they recognize an opportunity to effectively plagiarise these alternate worlds for their developments in technology to increase their own stature in our world.

Opportunity becomes a chance at excess, and the movie begins to change. As these types of stories often do, the darker side of having this power begins to fracture the group to the point that they are no longer sure they can trust the others.

To say more would be to give away some of the middle and last acts twists and turns, but the thing about most movies about the parallel worlds (or tv shows for that matter) is that they normally go for the bigger changes to the timeline. It’s not enough to have a world that is virtually the same, minus some historical footnotes, those films would have us in a world were Rome never feel, or Germany won WWII, etc. This movie focuses more on the characters’ reactions to this newfound power. Really leaning into the whole “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” theme.

What makes this interesting is the idea of these nearly identical doppelgangers from the other realities. While our group uses their mirror to ensure their own successes, very little is given to those versions of themselves they are potentially screwing over by: committing crimes, spending their money, and even living out their own fantasies with others. It’s a movie where the mirror is merely a way to tell a story about how easy it is to lose your own identity. As the movie progresses towards its ending, the characters no longer resemble themselves from the start of the movie, making us ask the question of whether or not they’ve effectively become their own doppelganger.

It’s those character moments which will drive the movie once you strip some of the sci-fi aspects of things from the story. What happens when a group of friends discover something to make them rich? How long does it take for that money and power to drive a wedge between them? And at the end of the day, are they even the same people they were at the start. Parallel takes all of that and then adds that bit of science fiction to tell that story while showing us that the grass isn’t always greener.

***

One other thing, the poster at the top of this blog makes me think more along the lines of a spy vs. spy movie than something to do with parallel worlds. Just an odd thought.

***

I enjoyed the movie, but then again alternate worlds and living different lives is right in my wheelhouse. In fact, I wrote a book that is definitely in that same vein where a man has to figure out what his own personal reality actually is as he experiences worlds very close to our own, but not his original one.

It’s called The Echo Effect and you can get it here.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

My Comfort Movies

If any time has expressed a need to sit back with some comfort watching, this last year (and a half) have certainly answered the bell. I used Firefly as a part of that process by watching a couple of episodes every Friday night (and lamented that we only got the partial season). But when it comes to movies, I certainly have cycled through ones throughout my life where the amount I saw them was in direct correlation to what kind of mood I might be in.

A little Depressed as a teenager – Pump Up the Volume was the go-to for that version of me. I’m not sure exactly why as the movie isn’t really a “feel-good” movie. I’m sure it had more to do with Christian Slater and pretty much loving any movie he was in for the longest time.

Enjoying a night in during college attempting to destroy people in Duke Nuk’em? – Clerks and Mallrats to the rescue. My college roommate and I watched those two so much that I doubt we really needed to have them on, we could have pretty much done the movie dialogue in our sleep.

So when I go to my comfort movies it doesn’t necessarily mean happy-go-lucky or something that has a happy ending. Instead, I think for me, it has to be something that I simply find joy in. Something that puts me in a better mood through the skills of the writers/editors/directors/actors/etc working their crafts to perfection for those couple of hours.

Rounders

I probably watch this about 2-3 times a year. Aside from the fact that I love playing and watching poker, so a poker movie was a no-brainer. With Rounders there is an ease to the characters, to the story, and to the idea of overcoming one’s own shortcomings. At the end of the day, it really is about placing your faith in someone and having them not live up to your expectations. But really, all that does is cast a light on our own issues. How can we ask someone else to be someone they are not when we aren’t exactly sure who we are?

That struggle feels all the more real at 2 in the morning as I try and write or edit. While I’m not one of these people who can crank out a book in a few weeks, and while I should challenge myself with lofty goals, I shouldn’t lose sight of what I have accomplished and what I’m accomplishing.

Office Space

When you need to reflect on the idea that people weren’t meant to sit at desks for 40 plus hours a week doing various jobs until our brains begin to melt and all our motivations slip away. There is the fantasy at play here that we’ve all wanted to do in some form or fashion. Maybe you want to tell your boss off? Maybe you just want to quit? Or maybe you just want to get a game of Tetris in before your meeting with the Bobs…

This one features in pretty heavy rotation on Comedy Central. It has the sort of gravitational pull on me where I end up stopping on it and before I know it, I’ve watched the whole movie again. It genuinely makes me realize that all those times when you just want to call out sick to work: You don’t need to tell them what you are sick of.

Waiting…

This is one that I came upon because of the actors involved. Somehow, it slipped under my radar for a long time, and though I’ve never worked at a restaurant, watching this movie lets me know that was the correct decision to have made for my life. Even if the situations behind the scenes are over the top, we’ve all been in a restaurant when someone begins making a huge deal out of something with their food. Those moments ring true in more ways than I can even count.

The thing about this one, aside from the absurdity or its crass nature, is that it shows us a day in the life (much like a Clerks or Mallrats). Our lives can get this way very easily. The mundane becomes routine and before we know it a month has passed. For me, this is about enjoying the moment as best you can, even if they take place somewhere you might not want to be.

Tombstone

Wait. This is basically a tragedy. A tale of woe where Wyatt Earp loses almost everything dear to him and goes on a hunt for the people who perpetrated the crimes on his family. So how can this be a comfort movie? And my answer is that it probably comes from that simple idea of one man who just wants to get away from his past and start a career in this new town. Be in on the ground floor, as it were.

But our past is always there. It helps to shape the person we are today. The challenges from those earlier times allow us to have a better idea on how to prepare for the next obstacle. I don’t know why it helps ease my thoughts and any burdens I might be carrying. Maybe it is the power of friendship? Family? Revenge?

Or perhaps I’m just a sucker for a good western?

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things – A Review

This past weekend I conned my wife into watching a Time Loop movie. Now, I normally have to qualify this in a way because she isn’t a fan of Groundhog Day. This in and of itself is beyond blasphemous, but I think it is because she hasn’t actually sat down to watch the movie. Oh, she thinks she’s watched it, but even then she claimed that she fell asleep during it, woke up in the middle, and then felt like nothing had changed. Like there were portions of the movie she missed, but because of the Time Loop, she really didn’t need to watch it at all.

So, when it comes to Time Loop movies I have a little bit of an uphill battle.

It’s a good thing that the last novel I wrote didn’t have anything resembling a time loop or repeating lives or anything (check out Echo Effect here!).

However, I have recently figured out the secret sauce to getting her buy-in on such things. You take a simple (or maybe not-so-simple) Time Loop movie, and then add young adults to it. She’s a sucker for that. Which is how we ended up watching The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (based on a short story by Lev Grossman playing on Amazon Prime).

So the thing with Time Loops is whether we get to see our main character’s first Loop or do we enter it in after they’d already done dozens (or perhaps thousands). Groundhog Day shows us his very first day and then he is stuck in that Loop. In this movie, they very quickly show you that this isn’t Mark’s first time through the day. In fact, I kind of wonder if he’s closer to thousands. We watch as he makes his way through his day only to see he is trying to have a good interaction with a girl. Trying to replay the day to set up these moments in the hopes that she might like him.

It goes about as well as you think.

But those attempts are what cause him to run into Margaret… who turns out to be stuck in the same Time Loop as Mark. And that’s where the beauty of this little movie begins, because Mark, in an attempt to try and impress “the girl” begins showing her some of these Little (Perfect) Moments he’s discovered in his time going through the day. And he’s not alone in noting them as Margaret has a few of her own.

Thus begins their attempt to document all those great moments that happen in a day. The little things we might not notice as we go about our lives. It’s the shape of a cloud. It’s a moment between two people when they think no one is watching. It’s the interactions that occur every day for each and every one of us.

That’s the key to this movie. Where other Loop movies are about improving yourself or discovering/atoning for something you had done. This movie is about showing the viewer they don’t have to ignore the small, seemingly insignificant moments. Instead, those should be the very things that make up a joyous life. And that doing those things alone might not ever be as good as when you have someone beside you, experiencing those same instances… bonding the two of you in those moments.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Repost: Roleplaying for Fun and Profit

It’s not a secret, not really. I wasn’t embarrassed… not exactly. Much in the way that many things I have done in my life which fall under the heading of “geeky” or “nerdy”. Before the days when telling people about comic books was shunned.

I mean, I keep hearing about how the nerds won. As if it was for the very soul of the world. That they’ve done what we all predicted would happen when that first “nerd” started messing around with the family computer. They have overthrown their jock-overlords and have claimed the top of the mountain.

Rise up in the cafeteria and stab them with your plastic forks!

Rise up in the cafeteria and stab them with your plastic forks!

Throughout middle school, through high school, and college, and for some time afterward I role-played. And I think it has made me a better writer.

How’s that? Well, let’s see.

Character Creation – One of the biggest things in role-playing is that initial character creation. Maybe you are trying to balance out the team that already exists, or maybe you’ve had the nugget of an idea swimming in your head for the last few weeks and now you get to try it out. Sure there is the rolling of dice for your stats, and you would love to roll well to get them higher. But the character is something more than just numbers. There is a history there. A personality that you want to play with and figure out. Sometimes it is tropes, the disgraced knight, the reclusive wizard, the thief who walks the line between good and evil.

But the best characters are those ones who begin to mold themselves as you play them. As your Game Master puts you through the paces on an adventure. As the other players begin to speak with your character… a true personality emerges that you could have never expected… not 100%.

In writing, at least for me, I’ve found it is much the same. I may have the barest idea of how a character will react to something, but time and time again, when that moment comes something crazy happens.

The character surprises me. In the same way that those characters I role-played needed to act a certain way a month after I created them, so too does the written character need to be true to themselves. In fact, I sometimes learn more about them in that moment than I did in any of the moments previous to it (and then I have to go back and tweak a couple of things to help seed that “turn” or “moment”).

ddi_characterbuilder

World building – A lot of times this is the domain of the Game Master, but a good player can help develop the world in lots of different ways. Through their personal histories: maybe your uncle is a local lord (what is he the lord of? are you in line for his property? would someone want you dead to get their hands on it?), perhaps your best friend died in a conflict across the great sea (was it a conflict or a war? is this the first volley or the last? ), or maybe the village you came from was burned to the ground (who did it? why? are they still coming?).

I’ve heard that writing for comic books is a lot like playing with someone else’s toy box: you want to leave it with more toys than it started with. A good Game Master will take these toys from you and weave them into their world, creating more cohesion, and more stakes for the players.

Heroes – Most of the time I have played the hero (or one of the heroes) of the story. And in that, I push the villains as hard as I can. I want to escape their death traps, foil their master plan, and save the maiden. But if I’m paying attention, I can see the obstacles that the Game Master is throwing in my way. You see, it is his job to not quite let me win… at least not for a while. Small victories will keep you going until that final big battle.

In my writing, it is the same way. My job as the writer is to figure out what my character wants to achieve and then put as many obstacles in the way of them succeeding in their goals. In overcoming those setbacks, I learn more and more about how my characters think and feel and maybe even what it might take to completely break them.

Villains – I’ve played a couple of villains through the years. And it is fun. It is fun to mess with the other players and sometimes even catch the Game Master off guard with a line of play. Mostly I’ve found that while sometimes the Game Master isn’t looking to flat-out kill your character, another player who is opposing you has no such qualms. That’s where fast thinking comes in handy. But it is also the point where you can fill a villain with more traits than just “he’s evil”.

Not that there is anything wrong with that!

dice

The End – I’ve played in epic novel-length campaigns. They have that feel of a good book series where the heroes get a victory towards the end of the book, only to have something else happen which will propel the series forward for books 2 and 3, and 4. So I can identify where a good breaking point for a chapter, a section, and even the end of the book should be. It is a more subtle thing, but I believe it is there all the same.

Plus it never hurts to end something so that later you can get those heroes out of the mothballs and send them on their one final adventure. Everyone likes a last-ride story, right?

I take those old sessions to heart. What might have been cool and what moments might have caused groans. Either way, I continue to sift through my memories to see if there is more buried treasure somewhere in there.

I’d like to think there are tons.

 

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Is It Enough?

When is enough, enough?

I’m in the process of doing an edit on my current novel: S.O.U.L. Mate and am approaching the finish line with it. Well, relatively speaking, I have about 25% of the book left to edit. And once that’s done I’ll have all the notes from my Alpha reader (Courtney) to address certain deficiencies with the current draft.

This book has been a little different than my other books in not only the subject and the style (first person is something I’ve only played around with in some of my short stories). It is also one that I went through a bit of writer’s block to the point that I set it aside and actually wrote an entirely different book before finally coming back to it early this year.

It is still a little incomplete if I’m being honest.

You see, I had a rough outline for the book. I’ve tried the write by the seat of your pants way and I’ve tried outlines, and outlines work better for me. It provides a bit of a roadmap, but it doesn’t tell me every stop along the way. It makes sure I reach my final destination but also doesn’t limit what exits I might take. It- you know, I think you get it.

But even with the outline, there were things missing. And I actually mean “things”. A very vague and non-specific amount of things. To the point that I had to tell Courtney, I knew things were missing from the draft, but I had no idea what they might actually be. So I asked her, begged really, to tell me what was missing. Where had I ignored something that she expected to read about within the book? Had I neglected any characters (yes, it turns out, I really had). Was there moments we needed to see (absolutely missed a couple of perfect moments that I’ll need to go back and finish up or add a new section/chapter).

The weird thing is thinking about what needs to be added when normally at this point in the process my job is to trim things. It is to make the prose tighter where possible. Say something in 5 words instead of using 10. That sort of thing. But this book has been different because I’m using writing muscles I don’t normally use.

I’ve been thinking about the idea of pencils down recently. It has popped up in my day job where certain reports have been edited and edited to the point where we are taking sections out in review 5 that we added back in review 3 because they no longer work. Which, to me, is an indication that we need to stop trying for perfection. Perfect is the enemy of done.

So I think about that, and then think about the editing and wonder, when is enough, enough? When will the work be ready to put out into the world? When will I be ready to have it out there?

And then I also think about the idea that nothing is ever really finished.

Or maybe the thing is finished when I have put all my best efforts into it?

Or maybe it’s finished when the missing pieces are all filled in. If writing a book is like a puzzle, I only need to find the missing parts and then add them into all the blank areas, right?

So, I’m not there yet with this one. I still have a little ways to go, but it is getting closer with every chapter I print out, with every word I change or cut or add or tweak, and it is slowly becoming the end thing I’ve been trying to get out of my brain and onto the computer.

Soon.

Well, soonish.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

 

Free Short Story by John McGuire – The Secrets of Storytelling Part 2

A few years back I had the opportunity to write a short story for an anthology collection Beyond the Gate (Free!) taking place in the world of The Dream Engine (by the guys from the Self-Publishing Podcast, Sean Platt and Johnny Truant) which was a Steampunk novel set in a place where a great Fog surrounded the islands where the book takes place. Those who can avoid it, for within is a collection of nightmare creatures from the stories of old.

Anyway, my story was “The Secrets of Storytelling”, which focuses on one of the pilots living in this world, someone who is like a Rock-star on our world… and used his mouth and mind to tell the greatest stories.

Part 1 can be found here.

***

Lukas barely paused long enough for the shaw to touch down before leaping from the vehicle. Under his seat, he pulled out a metal box and opened it. Inside was a small pistol and a light stick, which he ignited. Shoving the gun into the back of his pants, Lukas pointed to the rear of the ship. “There’s some rope in the back, grab it.” Lukas stalked towards the crash, but still Isaac did not move. “What are you waiting for?”

Even at this distance, maybe a hundred yards, it didn’t feel far enough away to be safe. He shouted from his seat in the shaw. “Do you really need me?”

“What is wrong with you? A man could be dying over there. Now get the rope.”

Isaac gathered what courage he could muster and eased out of his seat to the rear of the shaw. The rope was heavy in his arms. Approaching the craft, Lukas held his light in front illuminating their path. When the beam reflected off the hull, he saw the damage. Flames licked at the edges of the fallen craft, but that didn’t stop Lukas from probing where he could. He surveyed the craft’s rear without any luck. He moved around the edge, near the barrier but stopped cold. “I’ve got tracks over here.”

Isaac shuffled over to look. With each movement, his body threatened to rebel. He wanted nothing more than to drop the rope and run away from this spot as fast as his legs could carry him. Yet, he’d seen Lukas’s disappointment before. Sure enough, he saw the marks on the ground, dragging through the fresh grass up to the Fog and disappearing into the white.

“You ready?”

Isaac took a step back. “Go in there? Are you insane?”

“Kid, we’ve got chalk here. Just nothing. Only way to be sure whether the pilot is alive or dead is to go in there.” Lukas pointed to the barrier.

“No sane person should go in there. Madness waits inside.”

“Guy could’ve crawled from the wreckage; he could have hit his head in the crash. Might be addled. Either way we’ve got to go in.” Lukas took the rope bundle from him and began tying it around his waist. Finished with the harness, he gave a few feet of slack and then did the same around Isaac before fixing the end to a portion of the wrecked ship.

Isaac wasn’t sure. The stories said to go into the Fog meant death for those who might dare to venture inside. To pass the threshold meant to make a final choice. Mostly he couldn’t get Penelope out of his head. All those years and she… maybe she had been right about everything…

“We’ve got to go in there. We’ve got no choice. Plus, I have this.” He withdrew the pistol from his pants, tugging on their lifeline to make sure it was secure. “In and out before anything in there could possibly know we were ever there. Right?” Isaac couldn’t tell if the man was giving reassurance or asking for it. Taking a deep breath, Lukas plunged into the unknown.

Isaac waited, his feet glued to the spot. He’d left out one piece of the story. How his sister spoke just prior to entering. With one hand hovering over the mist, she stared at him. “We both will have to go in there at some point. I’m just choosing my time.” He should have gone in there when she asked him. Maybe if she hadn’t been alone, she wouldn’t have let her mind get lost.

Now at the precipice, those words echoed back. The rope connecting him to Lukas stiffened from somewhere within the Fog. He passed through and felt the barest of resistance to the effort. As if a thin membrane needed to be pierced before he could enter.

No choice, indeed. There never was.

***

Isaac didn’t know how Lukas found the pilot in the soup. One minute they were stumbling around in the darkness, with the only light from a flashlight to guide them, and the next the pilot was there… still breathing, barely. Scratches scarred his arms, burn marks pocketed his face, and one arm dangled at an unnatural angle.

“Help me grab him,” Lukas ordered.

Isaac grunted, lifting the broken pilot as best he could. Then he heard it.

A mixture of a growl and a cry pierced through the air. The hairs on Isaac’s arms stood at attention and his grip began to slip on the injured man. Lukas must have sensed the slip and locked eyes with him, attempting to will him more strength in light of the animal nearby. In that look, Isaac saw his fear reflected back at him. Yet there was something else. A determination and a glimmer of someone else, long since buried, attempting to surface.

A claw materialized and slashed across Isaac’s arm. The pilot’s form slipped to the ground with a thud. Glowing eyes, red in the mist, belonging to something terrible and awful watched. A blur of razors tore through the air, finding their home in his flesh. He brought his arms up to protect his face and was rewarded by more blood. The ground rushed up to greet him and he felt the grass underneath, brittle and torn, the dirt a slog which clutched and tore at him trying to pull him under. Then came the jerk, first on his foot, before the tendril wrapped itself around like a vine on a tree, twisting and turning… and pulling.

Isaac gripped the ground for salvation, clutching broken blades of grass while they shattered under his touch. Within each moment that passed the grip strengthened and pulled on him further.

A scream escaped his lips. A name carried on the wind for help.

“Lukas!”

Isaac saw the man, his hero, with his gun, firing wildly into the mist attempting to ward off any other crawler who might want to take advantage. The gun flashed repeatedly, and suddenly his legs were free. He twisted back around, looking to lift the man they’d risked everything to save… and found nothing. The pilot’s body was gone. Track marks led away from the struggle, torn into the dirt, blood marking his path until it couldn’t be seen anymore.

Something collided with him, and he stumbled to the ground again. He groped for the rope still tied to his waist, but found it slack in his hands. He scrambled to pull it towards him, hopeful that Lukas was still there on the other end. A frayed end greeted him. Hacked and slashed, by either blade or razor or teeth, Isaac studied the piece and realized the loss.

This is where I’m going to die.

“Get up and run!” Isaac saw a hand in the mist and clutched it. They both raced from the spot, back the way they came, back to reality where monsters only existed in storybooks and legends. A place where he erased Penelope from his thoughts, at least for a little while. Yet, what should have taken seconds to traverse appeared endless. Isaac knew they could not have ventured far beyond the barrier, maybe twenty feet… certainly no more than thirty.

So why can’t I see the other side?

Lukas greeted the hiss behind them with more gunfire. Discarded shells littered the ground at they ran. Another black tendril snaked out from the miasma and Lukas slashed at it, cutting it away.

The Fog pressed its sudden weight down on them. It thickened, growing more oppressive with every step they took. And those steps came with a conscious effort, pulling his feet from the thick muck underneath them. They slipped and strained – the monster called out again, angry its dinner was attempting to flee. The ground rumbled beneath them. The shake lasted only seconds, but Isaac continued to feel a similar shaking in his legs as they continued forward.

Finally, he saw the outside world. The crashed ship became a beacon. Tantalizingly close, the knowledge reinvigorated Isaac, propelling him forward. Somehow, his strides lengthened.

With a snap, Isaac felt his stomach clench as what was left of the rope around his waist snapped to life. It choked the breath from him, but somehow he kept his feet and pulled. Tug of war, with a nameless death awaiting him if he lost. He grasped at the rope binding him, tugging at the knot. His feet dug into the ground, that same ground which had felt like muck, was as light as dust. His fingers began to bleed, but the knot… come on!

And he was free. Wasting no more time, he sprinted to the barrier. Between the two, the membrane that birthed them tore under their sudden pressure. A release so sudden they both tumbled onto the rolling Alterra fields. Isaac gasped for his breath, anxious to taste the clear air. Behind him the Fog pulsed, as if it were about to spew all its contents, not just them. Behind that was a hiss, but a louder rumble began to overpower it. A sucking sound emanated from the darkness.

Those same tendrils slid out from the Fog, ebony snakes slithering along the fresh grass, inching their way toward them.

“We’re not out yet, get up and run!” Lukas shouted.

The snakes surrounded where his body had been only seconds before.. Others busied themselves with the damaged shaw, engulfing it, extinguishing the flames. Metal wrenched, gears sheared off, firing like blasts from a cannon. Lukas jumped into the pilot’s seat of his shaw, Isaac wasted no time in strapping in.

“Go!”

The old beast roared to life, just as the last of the downed ship disappeared in the Fog, swallowed into the oblivion of horrors. Isaac couldn’t tear his eyes from the crash site, and while the Fog disappeared behind them, he continued to check. Still worried those snakes would trail them.

***

The ship touched the brick landing pad with a soft kiss. There had been no words spoken over the last few hours; however, Isaac hadn’t noticed. After an hour, his worry dissipated. There would be nothing else trying to get them, at least not on that morning. The world turned gray as it prepared for the sunrise to paint it anew.

When they arrived in Stensue, Isaac spilled out of the vehicle barely able to keep himself from collapsing to the ground. Beyond them, even at the early hour, dozens of happy spotters huddled outside the skyport’s perimeter. A slightly smaller crowd than the one from the previous evening, but what they lacked in numbers, they made up for in enthusiasm. Many of them had their faces painted up an assortment of rainbow colors. He watched them, these small people who had no idea how precarious their position might be. Their eyes shone dull, a lack of knowledge about the true state of the world made them less. He pitied them. One day they would see the truth and wonder how they could ever go back to their lives.

Somehow, over all the cheering, Isaac detected something else. A slow whistle filled the air, and once he righted himself erected himself, it surprised him to see Lukas was responsible. After everything they’d seen, everything they fought on the other side… how could he be calm?

“We’ve got to tell someone. Tell the Ministry. Tell someone here with the military. Someone!”

Lukas nodded slowly, reaching into his inside front pocket for his silver flask. “Aye. We will tell someone.” He brought the green liquid up to his mouth and drained the container, this time not a drop wasted. When he’d finished he looked around at the crowd waiting for their arrival. Lukas nudged Isaac toward the gathered crowd. “In fact, I know of many a charming female who would love to hear this.”

Isaac jerked away. “What? Why would I tell-”

Lukas grabbed a hold of Isaac and locked eyes with him. “No one else will listen. They never listen. I’ve told them time and again to avoid the routes too near the Fog, and they don’t care. They ignore it.”

And in that instant, it became clear to the younger man. “All those stories?” Lukas nodded, and Isaac saw the tired eyes that had seen too much over the years. He finally understood what the legendary pilot had meant when they first spoke so many hours earlier. He found the words rolling from his mouth. “The one thing that ruddermouths do better than anyone else.”

Lukas grunted. “Tell a story. Otherwise we might end up in Joffrey Columns ourselves.”

 

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Free Short Story by John McGuire – The Secrets of Storytelling Part 1

 

A few years back I had the opportunity to write a short story for an anthology collection Beyond the Gate (Free!) taking place in the world of The Dream Engine (by the guys from the Self-Publishing Podcast, Sean Platt and Johnny Truant) which was a Steampunk novel set in a place where a great Fog surrounded the islands where the book takes place. Those who can avoid it, for within is a collection of nightmare creatures from the stories of old.

 

Anyway, my story was “The Secrets of Storytelling”, which focuses on one of the pilots living in this world, someone who is like a Rock-star on our world… and used his mouth and mind to tell the greatest stories.

***

Isaac Parkes twisted and turned through the throng of people gathered around the skyport. All eager to see the ferry shaws begin their next circuit supply run. All hoping for one more look at the ruddermouth pilots before they lifted off.

Isaac raced across the tarmac but not in an effort to be a spectator. He sidestepped an older woman who had painted her face a strange blue hue, nearly causing him to collide with a teenage girl, her eyes full of stars and hope. His satchel slid down his hand in the scuffle, but he kept his grip, leapt over another gawker, and shoved his way past the perimeter guards with a flash of his paperwork, though they did very little to verify much of anything. Too concerned with maintaining the lines for the rest of the mob, it seemed just acting as if you belonged was more than enough to allow you past their blockade.

Only fifty feet to the final shaw, he heard its engines fire up and begin their lift-off cycle. With no one between him and his goal his run transformed into a sprint. Back and forth he waved, trying to get the pilot’s attention. It did him little good. There was a stir in the engine. It would be only a few more seconds before the craft took to the skies, leaving him alone on the empty platform.

Just before the final lift, his hand found the passenger door and slid it open, hopping into the cockpit as fast as he could. His stomach lurched in time with the ascent, but he managed to keep his breakfast down. With a click, the door slid back into place, locked tight.

Now inside the craft he realized how heavy his breaths came and used the back of his sleeve to wipe away the sweat from his brow. Below them, he could see the crowd for what it was. A flash of red hair behind a handmade sign gave him the briefest pause. A memory from another time… then she was lost in the mass of women crying at the loss of their true love. Nearly fifty people saw them off. Their adulation was an impressive sight. Isaac wondered if they only felt that way for tonight’s lift-off or if this was a regular occurrence.

“About left you back there. Another coupla seconds and you’d have started walking.” The pilot startled Isaac. He turned to give the man his sincere thanks and the words wouldn’t come out. He started to stutter out some words again, but couldn’t make his mouth work like it was supposed to. There he was in the flesh. Never in all his years would he have expected to get his lift to Stensue from Lukas Byron. But it was him. The strong jawline, the dark hair with just the barest hints of gray peeking out told the truth of that.

Except once he took a good look at the pilot, he realized he’d gotten it wrong. This wasn’t the Lukas he’d seen two years earlier. Isaac still remembered the smell of the bar, a mixture of cigar smoke and bodies crowded into such a small room. He and his brother Sean arrived hours early, squeezed into one of the booths near the back where they could watch everything and everyone. Then the ruddermouths came in, full of thirst and swagger. He recognized a few of them, but it wasn’t until Lukas came in that the wait had been worth it.

Sadly, something had hidden that man from the world and replaced him with a doppelganger. That Lukas was a star, with his jet-black hair grown long enough to hide his eyes, but not enough to block a full smile displaying a full set of shiny ivory teeth. Apparently the years of long hauls and spinning yarns late into the night was tougher work than it appeared. Replaced by the four-day growth on his face, gray hairs were no longer content to hide from the world, fully announcing their presence. His jacket, worn thin in some places, was stitched together with hastily placed patches that were threatening to pull away from the leather. And while this Lukas still smiled, there was no longer a toothy grin attached. Instead, he gifted Isaac with a forced smile from a shell of a man.

The Lukas Byron he knew, the one everyone knew, told legendary tales, each one more fantastic than the last. He fought river creatures one day before stopping gremlins from destroying his skyship the next. Then there was a dogfight with a dragon, if you believed in that sort of thing. He was a man who made being a ruddermouth a goal to be had, not a consolation prize for those who aren’t picked for skyships or the zeppelins. He’d weaved his way through every city and every port, spinning his lies about adventures to the far side of the world.

Isaac would know. He owned the book. More than that, he had memorized the book. He could have recited the story about the hauntings at Aerohead when a group of ruddermouths were forced to stop overnight and nearly lost their lives.

And here, in this inner sanctum of his hero, he saw the proof. Pinned and stuck to the ceiling were an assortment of clippings, sketches, and fabric pieces torn from dresses, scarves, and possibly other things. These were his gifts from an untold number of fans.

Of course, Isaac knew the stories weren’t true. They couldn’t be anything other than simple tales. But he was fine with it. He’d always been one for stories and the like. When he was no taller than a doorknob, he’d lose himself in his father’s study. Books lined the walls, some stacked in the corner, and each time he touched a book a plume of dust lifted from its home. Each one held those old stories. His father liked to refer to them as Alterra’s old secrets. He’d say, “In those books you’ll get a picture of how things were.”

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

“You mean monsters and elves used to run around?”

“No. I mean you can understand what people believed many hundreds of years ago. Those are just stories. Stories your mother might kill me over if she knew you were reading.”

The shaw hummed through the night’s sky. Lukas rummaged in the front of his jacket and produced a flask. Isaac saw a tint of green liquid leak at the edges of the man’s mouth before he offered his cargo a sip of Thunderclap. Isaac shook his head.

“So, why’d you join?” When Isaac didn’t immediately respond, Lukas filled in the silence for him. “It’s going to be a long enough flight, and I’ve never had a partner up here before. Might be nice to have someone to talk to.”

“I suppose. Well, I-”

“Wait! Let me guess… you fell for the campaign didn’t you? That whole ‘Come and see the world’ bit. Am I right?”

It was a question Isaac found himself pondering many nights when he couldn’t sleep. He’d yet to find a satisfactory answer, so he countered, “Why’d you join up?”

“To see the world.” Lukas said the words without any hint of happiness or sadness. It was a matter of fact. “I was never going to see Waldron’s Gate or Yon or Stensue where I was. Grew up in a small village in the middle of nowhere. Just was never going to happen. Being a ruddermouth was my way out.”

Isaac found himself nodding. Maybe he wasn’t different from this man. Both of them thrown into situations because of circumstance more than anything else.

“The women don’t hurt either.” This time he gave a full-toothed smile, and Isaac couldn’t help but return it.

Isaac shifted in his seat beside the pilot. All the gears and instruments clicked and hummed as the shaw made its way through the air. “I’ve heard almost all your stories. I even have the book.”

“Book?”

“I’ve always wondered what part of flying opens your mind up to weave those tales. I mean, I know it must be lonely when you are making your runs. Especially when you’re going from Yon to Waldron’s Gate. No disrespect to the Builders, but you do what they do… just in story form.” Isaac wished he’d stop gushing, but he couldn’t help it. There were so many questions he’d had since he’d first started reading about Lukas. He saved every clipping from the papers, watched every news story produced. Now he was riding in a ferry shaw with the man.

“Oh that. The writer ended up listening to my stories and a bunch from other pilots. Took ten and slapped my name on it. I don’t honestly know which ones they used.”

“Are you saying they aren’t your stories?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. I mean, I am pretty entertaining when I need to be. Ruddermouths always got stories to tell. Everyone knows that.”

Lukas stared out at the night. Below the cloud line they could still see the slow rolling fields underneath them. For some reason it reminded Isaac of what Jonah the Whale God’s ocean might be like. The grass swayed in time with the wind.

“Things are changing, though. Routes that were once sleepers… there’s a threat around every turn of a mountain or valley. Every…” Lukas trailed off. “I shouldn’t say anything.”

“What? What shouldn’t you tell me?”

“Let me ask you a different question first. Where have you been?”

“All over,” Isaac said.

“Waldron’s Gate?” When Isaac shook his head, Lukas continued, “Then you haven’t been anywhere. But it’s alright. You’ll be there soon enough.”

“Mayday! Mayday!”

The squawkbox lit up the cockpit with its flashing glow. The voice on the other end reached out through the air to try to find an anchor to someone. Static cut the words into broken pieces. “Something hit… going to try…”

Lukas touched the box. “Where are you?”

“Thirty miles out… on the way to Thestic.” Static ate the rest of the communication.

“Do you know where that is?” Isaac asked.

“Damn fool, trying to cut his route short after I warn him to stick to the tried and true ways. Yeah, I know good and well where he is.”

Isaac clenched his hands, tightening his grip on the dashboard, knocking off a random keepsake. He leaned forward in his seat, as if the movement would allow them to travel faster. Lukas shook his head at the gesture. “Oh, you’re a romantic… that’s why you want to be a ruddermouth. Well, with those doe eyes and full head of black hair, the ladies are going to love you.”

 

***

Isaac saw the crash site first when they came over the ridge. Flying low to the ground, above the treetops, Lukas pressed the shaw harder to get to the crash site. Not that it was possible to miss the blaze as it contrasted against the white-gray mist. The fallen shaw had carved a long trench, before coming to a stop at the edge of the Fog, half in and half out. Strewn pieces littered the ground, cogs and gears, as if someone had taken the Builder’s toy and destroyed it, turning the metal into nothing better than scrap.

“Hoped they’d not be this close to that blasted thing.”

No matter where you lived in Alterra, the Fog surrounded you. Maybe if a person happened to live where it intruded, it might occupy their thoughts a bit more. For most it was like the Crown or Jonah the Whale God; it just was. To Isaac, though, this was something else. He’d spent so much of his life away from this edge of the world. Horrible things pulled and probed at a person’s psyche from within that great unknown. He’d seen it firsthand.

Lukas pointed at the white curtain. “You’ve seen it before?”

Isaac croaked a reply, “Yes.” He’d seen it many years earlier.

“My sister… Penelope.” Isaac wasn’t sure why the words began to flow. Something about the pilot seemed eager to hear another story perhaps. “She was fearless. Always calling me out when I didn’t want to go exploring in the woods near our home. She’d always pick the highest tree and climb it. I can’t remember who dared the other one first, but it didn’t take any convincing. She walked right up to the edge of the Fog and reached out to touch it. That was all she was supposed to do. And then, for some damned reason she turned and looked at me… flashed me that smile of hers, and her red hair trailed her into the mists.”

“By the Crown,” Lukas muttered.

“I called for her. I screamed her name into the nothingness.” Lukas nodded and Isaac continued, “I lost track of the time… maybe it was a minute, maybe ten minutes. My voice was hoarse when she finally reemerged. I didn’t notice at the time, but there was something different. Like she’d lost a piece of herself. The light behind her eyes had grown dull.

“We didn’t notice it immediately. But all the same, something was different. She was a little off. Not big things at first. She forgot things. Time suddenly didn’t concern her. Where before she’d always hated being late to anything, instead we’d find her wandering around the farm without a care.

“One night we found her hiding in her closet with a knife. She was screaming about the darkness becoming alive. I thought maybe she hadn’t taken her Crumble, but that wasn’t the case either. She was slipping. And when she attacked our brother Sean two nights later… that was the end.”

Isaac took a deep breath, but his voice cracked anyway. “We had no choice.”

Lukas said the words for him, “Joffrey Columns.”

Isaac nodded and wiped the wet from his face, long-repressed emotions resurfacing. Lukas placed a hand on his shoulder. It was an awkward movement, though the meaning behind it was well-intended. The final descent jarred both men back to reality and the burning ship below.

***

Check out Part 2 next week.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Movie Watch

There was a post going around Twitter this past weekend where you are asked to name 5 movies you’d seen at least 10 times. Considering the people I follow, I saw many of the usual suspects mentioned (Star Wars being the big one). Of course, this got my mind going on those movies I could claim that I’d absolutely seen at least 10 times. Now I think for it to count, you would have had to sat and watched at least 90% of the movie. So if Shawshank Redemption is on TNT this weekend and you catch it shortly after Andy arrives in prison, I think that counts, but if they are well into him doing the taxes for the guards… then that doesn’t count.

The weird thing about this little exercise is not so much identifying the greatest hits of my own life, but trying to determine those movies that I have really and truly seen 10 times. Fundamentally, viewing a movie ten times is a lot. When you think about it, it’s a bit harder to do, especially as you move from your childhood into adulthood. Back then you had summers and random weekends and probably random afternoons where I decided to watch Young Guns for the twentieth time. As the list builds, anything that came out in the last decade or so is almost immediately eliminated. There are movies I feel like I’ve seen 10 times, but do I really know that I’ve seen The Replacements 10 times (I mean, I pretty much watch it every time it pops up on TV)? I love A Knight’s Tale, but I gotta be honest, it’s probably more like a 7 or 8 time movie for me at this point. Even something like Avengers is around 6 or 7 times, but there is almost no way it is 10.

But really, what does the list tell us about ourselves and our friends? There is a comfort in rewatching something over and over. I see it in my own household constantly as my wife has certain TV shows on a continuous loop (Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, Lucifer being only a few). You’d think she’d rather watch something new (and we do), but she uses the shows as a way to unwind and de-stress. She also uses them to fall asleep, training her mind to shut down as the episode plays on in the background.

There is also something to the idea of needing those familiar movies (or TV Shows) to help us through certain times in our lives. They can be a bonding mechanism or just a way to appease the next generation.

During last year, I definitely found it helpful to get a level of comfort in the familiar by watching something like Firefly on a weekly basis during the summer (about 2 episodes every Friday to really have a sort of throwback to “better times”). Revisiting those characters that I’ve loved through their handful of adventures is always a nice way to spend some time. I don’t have to worry about following every word since I nearly know all of them by heart. Even more than that, on first watch of nearly anything you are going to get caught up in the big moments (whether it is a small comedy or a big blockbuster). A single rewatch allows you to see what you missed in the first place.

Back in college, Clerks and Mallrats played over and over from the same VHS tape. It was a beat-up version copied from a rental so on my old-ass tv we had to turn the volume to its limits in order to hear it (even in our small dorm room).

Also during college, whenever I returned home for Quarter breaks, my sister and I would make a point to watch The Breakfast Club and Weird Science. Those movies became our way to bond in a real way that we didn’t or hadn’t been able to do when we were living together 24/7 and annoying each other day in and day out.

Casting my mind even further back, rewatching the pair of Ghostbusters 2 and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was the only thing that would calm my younger brother down enough to let my mom sleep (she worked nights, so during the summer we babysat). Again, it was a VHS copied from HBO with both movies on it. Over the course of two summers that tape was played nearly every day. It got so bad that my sister hid the stupid tape… but my brother found it time and time again.

Much like music has an ability to recapture a moment in time for the listener, I think movies can remind us of who we were when we first watched them, and then later, on the rewatches, we are able to glean different and new things from those same stories, finding a way to apply them to our current lives.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

The Van Gogh Experience

Van Gogh – Stary Night Over The Rhone

This past weekend my wife and I headed out to Atlanta to see the Van Hogh Immersive Experience. Prior to going, I could say that I might have known a couple of his paintings (Stary Night obviously being the big one) and maybe knew two things about him (he died young and cut off his ear for some reason). So you could say this was definitely something we were both walking into a bit blind.

The first portion of the exhibit showed many of his paintings along with information about what inspiration he might have drawn from when he was painting. And while the paintings themselves varied from the more mundane subjects (bedrooms and flowers and the countryside), it was still an amazing accomplishment (a true feat of brilliance by one man). Here was someone who did the majority of his oil paintings and artwork in the final two years of his life. To have a creative output of that level is beyond my understanding, but I could definitely appreciate everything I saw and read about a man who seemed to be so troubled by his own brain that perhaps through his painting he was exorcising the demons within himself?

The main portion is in a very large room where his works are projected on all four walls and the floor. The move to music, telling a story of a man’s passion for capturing the beauty he saw within the world. The images move and flow, they warp and change from darkness to light, from self-portraits to a wheatfield where a murder of crows fly into the night. The music they chose to accompany it is remorseful at times before morphing to match the images we can see.

This is the Immersive Experience. To be able to live within his works, even if only for a little bit of time. To be able to peer inside his head in order to gain a small understanding of what he was trying to say to the rest of the world. Sitting there on the floor with my back against the wall, the rest of the world was only what Van Gogh chose to paint. Reality was a series of short and long brush strokes. Life was a collage of images drawn by someone who had no choice but to bear his soul on the canvas.

Van Gogh – Wheatfield with Crows

Finally, we had a VR experience where we could see the world around him for ourselves. They had a digital recreation with frames suspended in the air where the painting would take shape. The idea that perhaps, for a second, we might be able to see the beauty he saw in the world and understand why he was moved to paint it.

Yet, as we left the rooms and ventured back to our own reality, the thing that resonated with me the most wasn’t the paintings. Instead it was the various quotes they had from his numerous letters which struck home with me. He wrote so many letters where he bared his soul in a different way than he could do in his art. Those words hit me in a way I wouldn’t have expected. There was clarity to each thought.

Sometimes because it was a beautiful thought:

“There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.”

“There is peace even in the storm.”

 

To tragic:

“I put my heart and soul into my work, and I have lost my mind in the process.”

“Art is to console those who are broken by life.”

 

However, two stood out and really hit home. The first because I’ve recently begun to resurrect a project about Dreams so it felt as if Van Gogh was talking about it directly:

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

 

And the second because it is something that I need to remember whenever doubt enters into my mind, for it is a singular truth like no other:

Choose to push through the doubts, the adversity, the days when you don’t want to do anything, the days when you can’t do anything, the days where the blankness of the page is so intimidating that you nearly cry…

“… then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

Silence the doubts.

***

To find out more about the Van Gogh Immersive Experience by going to their website.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Books That Changed Me – Part 3

I love horror movies. Since I was around 9 or 10, I’ve loved them. Somehow, I managed to watch the first Nightmare on Elm Street and that was it. I was taken down the path. Over the years I’ve watched slasher films, metaphysical films, bad zombie films, good zombie films, and everything in between.

But I haven’t read much horror over the years. Which seems like it shouldn’t be an issue at all. I mean, if I love the genre, then I should read some of the novels that are out there. But I stayed more in the Fantasy or Science Fiction worlds growing up (once I started reading for fun). It wasn’t until I decided that this Stephen King fellow might be onto something with his movies here and there that I’d catch. So I went to the library (back when you did that sort of thing) and picked up Misery.

 

Misery – Stephen King

In some ways this book managed to teach me about the idea of a story inside of a story. I probably knew of the technique (1001 Arabian Nights being one of, if not the biggest, example), but I’d never read anything that tried to do it. Effectively having to write one book about what the author was going through (just trying to survive his crazy, obsessed fan) and then being able to read the story he was writing. But not only that, once he’d finished the pages, he’d hand them over to Annie and he and the reader had to hope that she enjoyed the pages as he went along, otherwise, she would end up punishing him for it.

I’ve wondered if there could be a version of the overall novel that merely hints at what the “other” story was about. And the more I do, the more I realize that it is important for the reader to really get involved with this fictional character’s creation. Somehow it helps to make his plight all the more real when trying to please someone who is mentally damaged. We’re rooting for him to find a way out of the situation, but all the while reading along with the pages he “writes”. Those interludes offer a slight respite from what’s going on the rest of the time… a way for the reader to catch their breath a little bit.

I’ve since gone on and read some of King’s shorts, a couple of other books, and The Dark Tower series, but there is something about the pure horror of being under another’s thumb, with little to no hope of changing your fate.

World War Z – Max Brooks

Where Misery takes the story within a story motif and runs with it, World War Z approaches the horror in a different way, focusing on smaller stories as part of an overall theme: a reporter who is doing a retrospective book on the War with the zombies.

The key part of that is where the stories themselves are not directly related, they still are interconnected by the bigger theme: a world at war with a supernatural threat that may not being able to be stopped. But because it is a reporter “covering” the story, the reader is pulled along into the different lives of regular folk just fighting to survive. And then, just when you are settling in, you are pulled into the war effort itself with a focus on the war the armed forces were coordinating.

And while we know that humans won the war, by focusing on smaller tales, we can never be sure who within the story may or may not survive- furthering any tension they might be dealing with.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Free Short – Til the Last Candle Flickers

From the Machina Obscurum Anthology:

 

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

* * *

Til the Last Candle Flickers

 John McGuire

Dave Simms wished the world would just end already. He didn’t care if it swept away in an enormous tidal wave that washed everything from the land. If a meteor struck his very spot in an extinction level event, he wouldn’t have minded. If the dead clawed their way through filth and earth and wooden coffins into the sunlight with a new desire to eat the living’s flesh, he would sigh in relief.

For then, maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t have to put up with people like Steven Kingsley anymore.

“The world’s supposed to end this week, right Dave?” The nasally sound of Steven’s voice boomed across the hunting store causing Dave to gnash his teeth and clench his jaws.

Though, hunting store wasn’t the correct term for this place. Part hunting shop, part grocery store, and part gas station, the Tilly Mill Shoppe sat at the edge of civilization. Old highway twenty no longer roared with traffic the way it might had some thirty years earlier. Like most places just outside the suburban beltline, this area was wilderness for most city-folk. The store would be crowded with customers traveling north to the mountains from Atlanta on Friday evening, their trucks towing a boat, or a camper, or just hunting equipment. Each of them convinced they were recapturing some primal essence long since lost to them in their weekly routine of desks, emails, and deadlines. This place represented the last stop before complete anarchy. Somewhere the strong ate the weak. So the store would be very busy nearly every weekend. Filled to the brim with patrons trying to reconnect to that lost animal inside.

Those very reasons summed up why Dave only visited during the week. A trick he used so that he only needed to deal with the regulars. Maybe give a few of the old timers a nod as they lived out the last days of their lives, sitting outside, swapping stories, and counting every car which drove past.

That was, of course, as long as they weren’t giving Dave grief. Three of them had left their perch outside and followed him in, ever curious about his plans. He’d dealt with their type his whole life. In high school, they were the jocks, the cool kids, and he was the nerd who needed to be pointed at and laughed at for being different. Scrawny, glasses wearing, wimp of a kid, they saw him as weak and it was a moral imperative to ensure that they terrorized him throughout his adolescence.

“Big day for you, huh Dave?” When he made no move to acknowledge the comment, Steven cleared his throat and tried again. “This is the week, right?”

Dave looked up quickly, taking care not to lock eyes with Steven before immediately dipping his head downward again. Under his breath, he muttered. “Yes, sir. Noon on Saturday.”

Steven grinned, flashing his yellowed teeth back at Rick and Sam. “You hear that, fellas? We best be saying our prayers if ole’ Dave is to be believed.”

Rick decided to join in on the fun. “You ask me, the apocalypse happened a couple of years ago. Whole world’s going to Hell.”

Somewhere, along the shelves in the back, Dave Simms examined his shopping list a little closer. In front of the squirrely man stood the shelf with various dried packaged food, and he didn’t need to grab anything that might not sit well with his nervous stomach. His eyes darted from shelf to paper and then back again before he made his decision. His arm shot out and proceeded to scoop a dozen packets into his basket. A few more passes up the three aisles the small store offered and Dave sifted through the basket once more before grunting his satisfaction at his haul.

Rick chuckled and reached into the front of his shirt pocket to find the dip can waiting. Using two dirty fingers, he pinched a piece and set it between his front lip and gums. “Well I got ah question for you, Dave. How is it that about every three months or so you come in here and stock up on all sorts of,” he grabbed one of the pouches from the shelf, “Re-hydro-ized vegetables?”

Sam interjected, “That’s not real food. You know that.”

Dave remained silent, waiting for Rick to finish whatever point his feeble brain was trying to make. He kept his hands at his sides, fighting the urge to clench and unclench them with every word spat his way.

“Every three months you think that the world is going to end, and every three months go by and we’re all still here.”

Dave could tell that a reply was required. “That is true.”

Steven broke into a big grin before pointing to the radio sitting on the counter behind him. “I sometimes listen to those late night shows, you know with the crazy callers about aliens and the like. And they talk about the end of the world too. Ain’t none of them mentioned this particular time though. Why do you think that is?”

Rick poked him in the chest with the pouch. “So how is it that the world hasn’t ended if you’re so sure that this is the time. Last time was the time. And the time before that.”

Dave did his best to keep his expression neutral. “I only have to be right once.”

“What’s that?” Steven cocked his head and for a moment looked more like a confused dog than a man.

Dave spoke the words a little louder, a little clearer. “I only have to be right one time.”

The three men exchanged looks before they each let out a howl of laughter. Dave couldn’t blame them for their reaction. He took their jabs because he knew that it didn’t make sense. None of it made sense.

They weren’t wrong about his previous predictions. A quick bit of math told him that he’d made almost thirty-seven different predictions about the end of the world. He was far past crying wolf. Nobody would believe him, and if he were being honest with himself, he no longer believed it either. Yet he continued to make his weekly visit and monthly predictions.

*

The first message came to him through the direct service his work employed. A cryptic line that only gave the score of the next weekend’s Falcons’ game: 24-10. Dave didn’t pay it much mind. To be honest, he wasn’t much of a sports guy, knowing just enough about the goings-on with the various ball related sports to contribute one or two lines of dialogue to any conversation which might have the misfortune to spring up around him. It wasn’t until he arrived to work on Monday morning that he thought about the note again and rechecked the final score: 24-10.

The next Friday afternoon he received the scores for every football game on the weekend slate, college and professional. They all matched… every single one of them. By the end of the weekend, he was watching the Sunday night game with a measure of both astonishment and disbelief. He cheered as hard as he could against the picked winner. Even if every other game had been right, somehow he just needed one to be incorrect. It wasn’t possible to have that level of accuracy in such things. But when the final whistle blew and he double and then triple checked the scores, they all matched.

He seriously thought about calling in sick that next day.

*

“Hey! You three better stop harassing our customers!” Dave hadn’t noticed the woman behind the counter when he came into the store. The nice thing about small town grocers was that things never changed. The bad thing about small town grocers was that things never changed.

Every week it was the same elderly man, Mr. Jacobs, who sat and listened to the police scanner, a spit cup resting alongside him on a little ledge behind the counter… not quite out of sight of the customers. A heavyset man, Mr. Jacobs never said more than a couple of words in his mixed mumble speak, and Dave was never entirely sure if he actually hated the customers or just didn’t care to engage any of them in conversation.

Dave liked that about Mr. Jacobs.

Yet, here she was, someone new, someone he’d never met before.

“Sorry, Stacy.” Steven cast a dirty look Dave’s way, but led his cronies back out the front of the store.

The woman never took her eyes off the little crew until they were outside. Only then did she turn her attention to Dave. “Sorry about that…”

Dave focused on her. Full face, dark hair that had a little too much product in it, long finger nails, some kind of dark red, and the warmest smile he’d seen since he’d relocated to the mountains.

She took his basket from him and began inspecting his haul on the day. “Do you actually eat this stuff or what?”

Most of the conversations Dave had started much the same way. A bit of disdain dripping from their voice as they tried to wrap their brains around whatever freaky lifestyle they thought he was living. He’d been labeled a Prepper, a Doomsdayer, and a bunch of other names not fit for mixed company. A person tends to become immediately defensive regardless of anything else.

“Yes! Why does it matter?” Dave felt bad immediately upon speaking the words as it dawned on him she didn’t have that sound of arrogance in her voice. Instead, while his brain replayed the question back in his head, he heard something else… perhaps a bit of playfulness. “I’m so-sorry. Those guys, they just-“

“Push your buttons. No, I get it.” The smile returned after its brief vacation, which made him all the more grateful for it.

“So, did something happen with Mr. Jacobs?”

“What? Uncle George? Oh, no. He’s just getting a bit too old to work the full week here. And my aunt is very keen on keeping him more around the house rather than hang out with the…” she pointed to the outside. “Other nere-do-wells.”

“Oh, good then. I mean, not good.” Always stammering and stuttering around women. Dave knew he was doing it again. Couldn’t find the correct words to say if they sat in his mouth and leapt out of their own accord. Still, through it all, she just gave him another smile that calmed him once more. “I mean, I’m glad he’s doing alright.”

She finished ringing his last item. “Seventy-two fifty-five is your total. And I know what you meant.”

Dave watched as she took his card and fed it through one of those old style credit card swipes that created the carbon copy, one for the store and one for him. Stacy grimaced. “I just wish he’d have something from this century for me to use. Something with a scanner and buttons.”

*

The week after the football games, the messenger changed his style. Dave began receiving the communications on his work computer, his home computer, his tablet, his phone, and anything else that could convey the missive. Every waking moment his devices would chirp or beep in excitement at a new dispatch. And they all said the same thing:

I know the future. I know when it all ends. If you want to continue living then you must follow my instructions.

Each time, Dave would press the delete button. Yet the notes haunted him. His dreams twisted under their influence until all he could see were those words. He couldn’t focus on work. He couldn’t focus on the few friends he actually had. He couldn’t focus on entertainment. None of it could distract him from the messages. What they might mean to him, and whether or not they contained any measure of truth.

That was the thought that kept him awake more than any other.

*

Dave took his card back from her, signed the bottom of the store’s copy, and scooped up his bags. “Well, I guess I’ll see you next week then.” He wanted to say more to her. He wanted to find something to talk to her about. He just wasn’t that good at the small talk. For him, small talk was just a way to extract him from the conversation rather than ease into a deeper one. He shuffled along to the front entrance, trying to will something clever to say when he heard her voice again.

“Is it true?”

Dave turned around. “What’s that?”

“Is it true what they said? That you think the world is going to end this weekend?”

What was he supposed to say? Should he lie? Did it even mean anything? If things were about to go to pot, what did pissing off one more matter?

“Yes.”

He waited for the ridicule or the laughter or anything. He shut his eyes, not wanting to see her make fun of him. It might kill the last piece that still believed in humanity. Instead, she spoke with no hint of arrogance or irony, but as someone who was genuinely interested in the potential answer. “How is it going to happen?”

Dave shook off the shock and cleared his throat before speaking. “Have you heard about the N-778?”

Stacy furled her brow. “I don’t think so.”

“It’s a meteor. Well, more than that really. We’re talking about an object in space the size of Alaska.”

She lit up. “Wait! I know about that one. I heard it on the news late one night. Some NASA muckity-mucks have said…” she paused, and Dave could see that she was trying to make sure she got the next part correct. “That it is crossing through a trajectory in such a way that in some of the simulations they run, it collides with the Earth.”

Now it was his turn to smile. She had it, well most of it anyway. “I’m surprised.”

“Surprised that I know something about one of the billions of big objects in the sky?”

“Well, yes, but only because the rest of these people I interact with wouldn’t know a tenth of what you just said.”

“Sorry, not much to do here all day. I like the Science Channel.”

“So do I.”

“Plus considering the lot of them outside barely know how to tie their shoes every morning, that’s no surprise.” She cocked her head to one side. “Still, I’m going to take that as a complement.”

“Yes.” The words flowed from Dave’s mouth in rapid succession. “And do you remember the percent chance of it actually happening?” She shook her head. “About one in one hundred trillion of crossing into our direct orbit, and then another one hundred trillion worth that it could collide with us.”

She sighed, partially for effect. “Yet, apparently you think it is a one hundred percent chance.”

“Well, I’ve seen it.”

*

Dave couldn’t recall the exactly moment when he broke down and answered the lingering message. The days blurred into a molasses of nothingness, as if he were a stranger in his own life. He watched that version of him go to work every day and count the minutes from the time he sat down until the minute changed to six o’clock and he could head back to his home. That cold apartment never greeted him very warmly. The television never did much to enhance his life. And now, he dared not go to the computer lest the bombardment of messages face him once more.

He needed a change. He needed a lifeline. He needed something, but he couldn’t be sure what it was.

So slowly, he came around. Like an addict who had a left-over bottle of liquor hidden away at the back of the pantry. First, he slid over to the chair, his fingertips hovering over the power switch. Oops, suddenly the machine was on again. As it went through its boot-up process he thought about standing back up, unplugging the machine from the wall, and being done with it. But his feet didn’t move. His ass remained in the chair. And when it came time to enter his password, his fingers did not hesitate to type them in.

What do you want?

I want to save your life.

Why? Who are you? How did you know all of that stuff? Why me?

I know when things are going to happen because for me they are the past. You are my past.

Dave stopped typing. Did he believe it? Could he believe it? Was it possible? The person on the other end seemed to be able to read his thoughts.

It is true. It is possible. And I have already proved it to you. Or do you require more proof?

What did he require? If this was the truth, what would it take for him to believe? Why weren’t the scores enough?

I need one more piece of proof.

*

“You’ve seen it with a telescope?” Dave set his groceries down on the floor and moved back over to the counter. Stacy leaned against it.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I spotted it two days ago.”
Stacy pushed back from the counter. “So if it is going to happen, why would they say that it wouldn’t?”

“They?”

“The NASA muckity-mucks.”

Dave stood and stared at the woman. She noticed his look and blushed.

“But you don’t believe them? You think they’ve got it all wrong?”

“Well, let’s look at it this way, maybe they’re right and it is going to miss us. Certainly is a long shot that we would get hit in the first place. But if they really saw that the damn thing was going to collide with us… that’s the type of information you can never let out, because if they can’t stop it, then there is no point in having mass riots and chaos for two weeks before the event is supposed to happen.”

Stacy stared at him with her mouth open a little bit. After a few moments, she seemed to catch herself and regained her composure. “That’s… probably true.”

“Yeah, so whether it is going to hit or not, we’re on our own.”

*

Within three months, Dave bought the cabin in north Georgia, quit his job, and began construction on the bunker under his house. With the money he made from the predictions, finances were no longer a concern for him. No, the only worry left was survival.

These new days brought out a man from inside him that he didn’t know existed. In the mountain air, he felt invigorated. Without the need to wake up at some god-forsaken early hour, he now chose to be up with the sun. He filled his days with work on the bunker, and his nights reading one of the many books he’d brought up from the city with him.

And when the day approached he was ready for it. He watched the internet and listened to the news from the safety below his cabin home. As the hours ticked by, he napped, calmer than he’d ever been before. Then when the day past into night and then into early morning again, the world continue to spin as if nothing had happened.

The world had not ended.

It didn’t happen.

A pause greeted him from the other side.

Hello. Nothing happened.

Hmmm.

Hmmm? That’s all you have to say? I’ve abandoned my life for this and then nothing happened? I warned the people at the shop I go to.

Why would you do that?

Why wouldn’t I?

I’m only trying to warn you. I’m only preparing you. Remember that.

But…

I was wrong this time. These things are a little fuzzy at times. But you are prepared. And I assure you, it is going to happen.

I don’t understand. I thought you said you knew what was going to happen and when.

I do and I don’t. My brain isn’t what it used to be, my memory gets jumbled sometimes on the big stuff. But I know it is coming soon. That’s why you must be ready.

*

“Show me where it is.”

Dave swallowed hard and shifted the telescope around. Stacy moved back, but not very far. He could feel her sweater brush the back of his arm. The sweetness of her breath filled his nostrils. Night overtook the day and the two stood on top of the store, her telescope focused on the clearest sky he could remember seeing. A small bit of chill in the air misted their breaths.

“There. There it is.” Dave pulled back to allow Stacy room to see. “It’s not much to look at right now, but-“

“Oh, no… it’s beautiful. I can see wisps of light trailing behind it.”

“That’s pieces of it breaking off through its trip through space. Kinda like a comet.”

“And this is the thing that is going to end the world?” This time he heard a little playfulness in her voice, but it didn’t bother him.

“I believe so, yeah.”

“That’s too bad.” For the first time that day, he thought he detected a hint of sadness in her voice. A slight quiver as she said the words.

“I’ve never told this to anyone, and I know that it’s silly, but I’m actually wishing the world would just go ahead and get it over with. It’s the waiting that’s the worst.”

Stacy pulled away from the eyepiece and smiled at him, a small amount of proof that perhaps his joke had the right kind of effect. A gust of wind whipped across the rooftop, and she moved in closer to him… for warmth. “Is this world really so bad?”

*

The world had died. Of course, that happened many years ago, though Dave Simms’ mind no longer could recall the exact date it happened. The years between had not been overly kind to his memories which disappeared as if his brain was run through a colander. Still, he had a job to do. Something to help heal his heart, even if only a little bit.

Throughout the bunker, he did his best to avoid catching a look at any reflective surface. His was a face he no longer wanted to see. Somehow, he knew exactly what he’d find. Gone would be the bit of youthful exuberance that once filled his frame. Gone would be the determination to ensure he had the right things planned out, replaced by the man sitting in front of the ancient terminal. A graying, sad, little man who struggled on his bad days not to open the sealed door.

Not let the Armageddon in.

This place now served as a tomb to the one living person who could still use it. Shelves lining the walls, once packed full of various foods and canned goods, held only dust. He had to make a trip to the far end, through two pairs of doors, to get to the last of his reserves. At last count, he probably had enough to make it through the end of the year.

It was a slow death preparing to greet him. The very reason why opening the door to the outside became more enticing every day. A growing part of him wished to see what the world looked like before his retina’s burnt away.

Beside the infernal machine’s whirling and blinking, a strained effort to keep going, was a lone portrait from the Before. Of all the objects he could have brought below with him, he cursed and celebrated his decision to bring this item. The red-haired woman smiles at him, a small amount of cotton candy stuck to the tip of her nose. Those eyes focused on a younger version of him. Somehow, she was in love with him in a way that he did not know could be possible. At the bottom there was a date, slightly smudged from his fingers. It marked those last days where he… where they were truly happy. Alongside it sat the last newspaper he ever picked up proclaiming the end of all things. Mass chaos… death… fear. The dates were only a few days apart.

Dave settled into the chair, his fingers the only part of his body that still moved with a reckless abandon. Their tips pounded away at the top of the keyboard. He had stopped looking at his fingers a long time ago, but it would do him little good to bother with such an action now. Most of the keys were blank, worn away through his furious use over the years.

Time was all he had since the End came. Dave knew it would be over, and he hoped that he managed to steer his ancient doppelganger in the correct direction for once.

I met a girl.

The words came in pieces across the screen. Dave shook his head at no one in particular and fired a missive back. He wanted to scream at the man on the other end of the line. To grab ahold of him and shake some sense into him.

We talked about this. You can’t make personal connections.

No, I know, I know. You’ve told me not to get attached, and I haven’t, but…

Dave found himself nodding. Finally, some of the words he’d been telling the man had seemed to sink into his skull.

I’m sorry, but that doesn’t really do much for me though. I’m not sure what you want me to do. You’re not right.

More anger. More disbelief. Had he really been this stubborn so long ago?

What?

I’ve lived this way for the past three years. The only people I seem to talk to are you and the few who mill around the store.

That is what you have to do in order to survive what’s to come. You can’t allow your emotions to cloud your judgment. You’ve come so far… and it is ending soon.

You know what? Those people in the store are right. You’ve repeated that same thing repeatedly for all this time. And nothing happens. You’re never right about any of it. The comet missed, the flash-fires didn’t happen. The moon is still shining on us from above. Whole. There were no grand solar flares that emitted EMP and wiped us all out. No mass of lightning strikes. Nothing!

I know, I can’t figure it out either. My brain is still a little bit scrambled, but I know that it is soon. You just have to have a little more patience.

No, I don’t. I’m just the idiot for believing you again and again. For building this shelter. For leaving my life and my job and any semblance of a real future… and for what? Because I’m too damn scared of life?

No! To survive. To find a way to go on living. That girl is only going to haunt you. She’ll be the one you can’t save. She’ll be the one that makes you think about ending it all every day of your miserable life and the one who convinces you to carry on in spite of those feelings.

You say that I would only lose them. That I have to worry about surviving. That I must worry about myself. How would you even know? What does it matter to you?

Dave reread the screen. Since his first contact with his younger version, he’d managed not to answer that question directly. For some reason he worried that it would change things if his younger self knew whom it was communicating with him. He had his reasons. A list of them he long since used for kindling. Now… now, he couldn’t remember one of them.

It doesn’t matter who I am, only that I am trying to help you.

I’m done. I’m finished. I’m done listening to you. I can’t live like this anymore. By myself, waiting for something that may or may not happen. So what if you are right? From now on, don’t try and contact me anymore.

But the end-

I don’t care. If it happens, then it happens. But I’m not going to hide anymore in my dungeon.

Don’t do this. Dave! Listen to me!

The cursor blinked, waiting to be put to use again. Dave watched and waited for a response. He screamed at the monitor, picked up the keyboard ready to launch it across the bunker, and then thought better of it.

An hour, then two, and then four passed him by, the machine’s whine becoming the only noise in the room. It threatened to wash away his thoughts with its anger. Yet he didn’t move. He couldn’t move from this spot in front of the computer. He didn’t dare to-

A last whirl followed by a hiss. The hiss gave way to a series of pops. Those pops crackled in rapid fashion echoing off the metal sides of the tower until they climaxed into a firework finale. The monitor flashed once and clicked off, a small trail of smoke emanating from the top.

The whole process only took a minute. But in that time, Dave saw his own life flash before his eyes. He wasn’t dying, but with this last link to the outside world… even if it had been to an ancient world that no longer existed… even then it was something to look forward to every day.

Pushing away from the desk, he shuffled over to the mirror on the far wall and took that final look at himself. It was as he feared; though, his hair was much longer than he’d realized… a far cry from the short cut he preferred in his younger days.

Alongside the mirror sat his collection of water bottles now nearly empty. From his last trip into the back room, he knew that he wouldn’t find any more there. His filters went a few months ago… one of the few things he hadn’t calculated correctly.

The containment suit felt heavy today, that old easy weight pushing his frame a little lower. For a passing moment, Dave wondered if it wasn’t the suit or his muscles at all, but perhaps the planet’s gravity going on the fritz. Looking at his skinny arms and legs, it was a nice dream to clutch to. A heavy twist to the right and the airtight seal released, greeting him with a hiss. The outside world flooded into the first room, bathing it in radiation.

“There was never enough for both of us.”

The metal groaned as he pushed the door back into place. Another day in Hell, he only hoped that he could find some bit of supplies that he’d previously missed.

But hope was something he’d never been good at.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

The Dead Don’t Die

Funny Cat Work From Home Office Meme

I have a problem throwing things away. If I’m completely honest, it’s not that I don’t recognize that I don’t currently need “The Thing”, but it is more of the false idea that I will need it at some point. This means if I throw it out, I’m going to hate myself six months, six years, or six decades from now.

But these ideas take up valuable space in our home… in our lives.

I returned to the Office for the first time in 14 months this week. It was and is a surreal experience. I’m lucky that my job of designing roads meant I had the opportunity to work from home, and for that, I am very grateful. However, even if at first I wasn’t sure how or if it was going to work, I believe I not only did a good job day in and day out, I grew to appreciate the lack of “lost time”. You know the Lost time:

The commute. The running out for lunch. The needing to get up hours early so that you are in the office by a certain time. Staying later because a task has to get done.

I think I was nearly as efficient from home as I was the office, but sadly, all things must come to an end. Which brings me to my point: when I returned to the office I took a little bit of time to go through these pieces of paper that littered my office. Oh, they were filed away for the most part or placed in very organized stacks, but it occurred to me that it had been 14 months since I’d laid a finger on any of it. 14 months after I was convinced I needed to have that particular piece of paper for all time sitting on my bookshelf.

Pretty much an actual picture from my office desk.

I hadn’t needed any of it.

I thought hard about it, but at no time during this last year did I miss any of it. At no time was I sitting at my home setup thinking – “crap, I need to run by the office to grab that folder”. Everything I needed I brought with me, and those things I really needed were online anyway.

So, it makes me think that I’d convinced myself of a reality that didn’t really exist in any form. I mean, if I didn’t need that stuff, then what else might I have kept that I don’t need? I threw out a couple of armfuls of things and felt a little better, a little more organized at work. And now I’m starting to think about some items at the house and perhaps, maybe, I don’t need those items anymore either?

It doesn’t mean it isn’t a scary thought for me. It doesn’t mean that I’ll get down to the magical 10 items and live the no material possessions lifestyle. But it might mean that I can get rid of some of these scraps of paper and printouts and videotapes (VHS!) and…

Well, you get the picture.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Books That Changed Me – Part 2

Like everyone, I go through phases where I don’t read a ton of books. Those are the days when time seems to never actually slow down any so that you can actually enjoy things. Where you have those quiet moments to lose yourself within the pages of a book to a short or whatever. My bookshelf beckons me. My Kindle mocks me with all the unread titles that I still continue to buy because “I’ll get around to them at some point”. Even my Amazon Private List has thirty or forty books that I managed to have the willpower to not actually buy at the moment but still intrigued me enough to want to flag.

It’s normally those forced days of doing nothing where I manage to come back to the love of the page. Vacations being the biggest thing to spur me back into the mode so that I can really dwell in the words of someone else. Where I can feel the character’s voice in my head, hearing it almost before I read the words. When you look up and two hours have passed and the only thing you know in that moment is you need to get back to the story. Because to not dive right back in would be nearly a sin against your very being.

There have been books that have spurred me on to continue reading more and more. As much as I could get my hands on. But there was a dark time before I really read for pleasure, and while the novel is one of my favorites, it was a forced read of sorts.

The Call of the Wild – Jack London

You see, the only reason I ever read this book was that I was grounded. Suffice to say that I had allowed our dog to come in during a bad storm, and she decided that the coffee table would look much better if she chewed on it. I didn’t notice because I was all of ten and probably watching TV or playing with my Transformers. It wasn’t on purpose and had I seen her, I would have stopped her, but neither of those things happened.

Suddenly, I was grounded for a month with the added punishment of doing a book report each week. My “out” was to get a spanking. I thought I was being smart avoiding it. I’d eventually give in after a week (which I obviously should have opted for it immediately and saved myself the trouble).

But the first book I chose was The Call of the Wild, this somewhat illustrated book that I’d probably gotten for a gift or maybe I picked it up at the book fair one day at school. Either way, I started in on it and found that I was enjoying my “punishment”. The story of this dog and the amazing and sometimes terrible things he was forced to do in order to just survive. I don’t know for sure what impression it made on me in the moment, but it lingered in there, somewhere deep in the brain… waiting for me to access it again. To determine whether something else this author had written might also appeal to me.

Luckily late middle school or possibly freshman English had an assignment to read one of Jack London’s short stories “To Build a Fire”. And with that, he graduated to one of my favorite writers. It had only taken half a decade or so…

 

The Hobbit – J R R Tolkien

In middle school and high school, my group of friends all read fantasy books. Since we played Dungeons and Dragons we naturally leaned toward all the books TSR was putting out. Those stories slowly built the various worlds they’d developed. We read the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance novels and later when they expanded into the Dark Sun universe and Spelljammer novels, we devoured those as well.

All the time, though, one of my friends kept telling me that I needed to read this book: The Hobbit. Didn’t I understand that Mr. Tolkien was the headwaters of the whole genre? Didn’t I want to see where the things I loved so much had come from originally?

Much like other people, it’s always a hard thing when someone tells you constantly that your life isn’t complete without doing/seeing/reading something. My natural tendency is to fight against it. Not always, but more often than not. Maybe I don’t want them to be right (which makes no sense, as I should want to be entertained by good things). So I put it off and put it off… until the day came where he might have put the book down on my desk one day.

So I begrudgingly read it.

Now, I assume you know where this little story is going. I tore through those pages in a way that I didn’t think was possible. And upon reaching the end of the book, I asked if he’d done anything else which would lead me down the rabbit hole of The Lord of the Rings.

You’d be wrong about all that, but it was a good guess.

Sadly, the book didn’t grab me. I was bored by many of the early scenes. And at some point, I put the book down for nearly six months (or was it nine). I had other things to read and no matter what pedigree this novel had, it didn’t work for me. But after much shaming from that same friend, I picked the book back up and finished it.

And still didn’t like it.

This is my gift. It is my curse. I love fantasy, but I didn’t like The Hobbit.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Karnivool, My Pandemic Band

The last concert I physically attended was a 10 Years concert on New Year’s Eve, 2019. We were able to meet the band before the show, and then get up on stage as they rocked in the New Year. Everything pointed to a great year ahead!

Then of course COVID happened, the lockdowns… well, it’s easier to say 2020 happened.

Through the last year, I’ve listened to plenty of music while I worked from home. Occasionally trying out new bands here and there. Some stuck but most didn’t.

Then came a band from Australia called Karnivool.

And they grabbed me immediately.

I’m not sure if it was the music or the lyrics or if I was just in the right mood on the day I discovered them (“discovered” a band that has been around for 2 decades), but I immediately listened to their 3 most recent albums online before going and purchasing them for my personal collection (I’m not a Spotify guy, I like to have some level of ownership over the music… also get off my lawn!).

Throughout the last year, a number of bands have done live concerts online. 10 Years have done 2 that we’ve watched. And while it will never be the same as being there alongside hundreds of your fellow fans as the music fills the club, amphitheater, stadium, etc. it was nice to be able to see the band and listen to the music.

Which brings me to this past Wednesday night when Karnivool did much the same in celebration of their album Sound Awake’s 10-year(ish) birthday. They played in front of an empty theater. Without the fans there, the music was as raw as it could possibly be while still filling every seat in a small way. Listening to the songs that I’ve now loved for maybe 9 months but had been written so long ago turned them into something else on that night. It was almost as if the lyrics themselves morphed to not be about what they were originally penned for, but instead now told the story of the last year. These lyrics hit me hard that night because I was expecting them, but I didn’t expect what they meant in light of everything.

Simple Boy

“I will fight till there’s nothing left

Watch the world together from this sinking ship”

At certain times over the last year, this is exactly how I’ve felt. So many days where I wondered when there would be a light somewhere to help guide us through the darkness. There is a strength in standing tall and not completely giving into despair, even on a sinking ship.

 

Goliath

“Don’t leave this too long

(It won’t take long)

Tomorrow will come

(Hang on)

You won’t have to wait long

(We’ll rise up again)

It’s your day in the sun”

A bit of an anthem here with the key piece to me “Tomorrow will come” followed by the echo of “Hold on”. That’s what we had to do on so many days when the four walls around us threatened to close in entirely.

“Hold on”

To each other. To hope. To our sanity.

“Hold On”

 

New Day

“This storm is coming

You should stay home

But I fear you won’t”

A frustration with so many in the world who think they know better. Nothing more needs to be said.

 

Set Fire to the Hive

“There’s no second chances here”

For all the souls we lost (and still are losing), it serves as a reminder of what is at stake. That if you don’t behave right, you may not get a chance to regret your choices.

 

Umbra

“Safe

No, I don’t feel so safe here

Imagine that everything’s affected by a cause

In this game you call luck (There’s nowhere to go)

Well, I don’t feel so lucky, no (Lie to yourself)

Just when I think I’ve worked it out

These pieces move and I’m back to the start”

Luck is a strange thing. Some people walk around lucky and not know it. While many others are cursed with the knowledge that their luck is seemingly always on the bad side. Again, pressing that luck this last year… when do you feel safe? No one can answer that question for any of us, but I know there were many times were “I don’t feel so safe here”.

 

All I Know

“Are you with me?

(Can we relate, can we relate, can we relate?)

Are you of like mind?

Are you with me?

(Can we relate, can we relate, can we relate?)

Are you of like mind?”

For good or bad, being of like minds can be reassuring. When those minds are diametrically opposed to your own, it feels like madness. There were days where I could only wonder if there was any way to break through to others… “can we relate”.

 

Illumine

“You seem afraid, don’t be alarmed

It’s only the face of things to come.”

A little bit of hope here, even if these lines don’t feel hopeful. Being afraid isn’t a bad thing… without fear there cannot be courage.

 

Deadman

“Still I remind myself

How I define myself

Still I remind myself

(I needed to know)

How I define myself

(I needed to know)

I needed to know

I needed

I needed to know”

I think many of us not only used this time to define ourselves (our lives) but also it gave us time to redefine ourselves if we wanted. Self-reflection might be one of the silver linings of 2020. It doesn’t make what we went through any less bad, but it could make the rest of our days that much better.

 

Change

“Don’t you feel the same?

Don’t we fear the same things?

Don’t we feel the same?

(Don’t you fear at all?)”

Another thought about shared fear. About not understanding how some can be so cavalier and for others you are white-knuckling the whole time.

***

There were other lines, other moments that hit me in only the way that watching a singer stand in the midst of empty seats can hit you. When I said that the music can fill you, I think that’s the beautiful thing about all music. There is escape, reflection, learning, yearning, and all the possible emotions wrapped up into one experience. To be a small part of that from halfway around the world… these were my moments and emotions to take away. It can tie you to a moment and also help you to transcend that same moment. Perhaps that what this band and this moment will always be for me.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Free Chapter – Hollow Empire – Cassidy

If you enjoy this sample chapter, you can get the full Season 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 writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

The Reboot

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Normally I take the week between Christmas and New Years’ off and use it to recharge/reboot for the coming year. I take the time to figure out what my goals, both in life and from a writing perspective should be. Formulate a plan and then see how much of it I end up accomplishing. Some years are better than others, to be sure.

However, as this is being published, I will be elsewhere, enjoying my last few moments at a beach. Trying to summon the willpower to leave an island paradise to return again to the real world. I’m hopeful that this retreat will allow me to also have a nice reset on the year and be able to start the next quarter of the year as we make it into summer. I already updated the whiteboard behind me with a list of things that need to be looked at. I have prepared my spreadsheets for what pieces I want to focus on.

I have big plans, but those plans require hard work.

But for now, I’ll rest a little while longer.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

A Love Renewed?

Many years ago I was betrayed by a comic storyline.

***

When I first started reading comics, Spider-Man was easily my favorite character. Of course, I’d watched his cartoon, could sing the theme song, but reading his monthly adventures connected me to the character in a real way. And much like any kind of entertainment that we absorb in our youth, it becomes “THE” best version of things. You hear it all the time no matter what the generation, they all believe that their music or their movies or their tv or their books or, yes, their comics were the best. That if things just had ended there, it would have been fine, because clearly, it was the pinnacle of the art form.

So, when I read Spider-Man it was literally only a few months later that he was married (to Mary Jane). This was around ’87 or ’88, so never mind that he’d been single for 25ish years up to that point. No, for me it was him and MJ against the world.

I actually laughed over the years at reading various articles about Superman and Lois. It seemed time and time again a new writer lamented that the two had married. That somehow they couldn’t tell the stories they wanted to tell because they were married. Which seemed ludicrous to me.

You see, in Superman’s case there had been 50+ years of him being single. Goofy stories, serious stories, stories where he contorted around a plot that Lois was about to figure out he was Superman… etc. But he’d only been married for less than 10 years and they were already out of ideas? How was that even possible?

But then I began hearing similar things about Spider-Man.

***

I read somewhere that as a writer of a comic (or probably anything you are a temporary custodian for), your job is to leave the “toy box” with more toys than when you got there. It means that you leave the story greater than when you found it.

***

The grumblings were always there. They even launched a whole storyline now referred to as The Clone Saga in an effort to have a single Spider-Man again.

It didn’t stick and eventually, we returned to Peter and MJ as a married couple.

***

Then came One More Day.

Setting aside the actual storyline, the end result was a comic book going forward where Spider-Man and Mary Jane weren’t married… heck, they weren’t together.

It didn’t make sense to me. You had 25 years to tell your single Spidey stories. And at that point, he’d been married as long as he’d been single. They were returning the character to a version from their youths by taking away the version from my youth.

***

I’m one of those people who never quits on a comic (or nearly so). I’ll suffer through some bad artwork and worse storylines for certain comics (Avengers and Flash come to mind). You read a comic and you’re in until they cancel the book. That’s how it works in my head. These characters are my characters.

I’m invested.

***

I stopped reading Spider-Man comics at that moment.

I didn’t go online and complain. I didn’t raise a fuss on some social networks (though I’m sure some of my friends were tired of me talking about it). I figured the only way for me to show my true disapproval was to stop buying the comic. They wouldn’t have my $10 every month.

Chad Shonk (of many articles on this site) told me that it wasn’t right, me not reading Spider-Man.

He wasn’t wrong.

***

Life moves along. The seasons change. More comics are printed and read.

And still, I didn’t buy the comic.

I’d get my fill of Spidey in his guest spots here and there, but I knew very little about what was going on in his book. Considering for 20 years, I’d had a subscription to at least one of his books, there was a true gap.

***

A couple of months ago I enrolled in Comixology Unlimited (think Netflix for comics and you’re pretty close). A couple of weeks ago I noticed one storyline was sitting there to be read: Superior Spider-Man. A story of Doctor Octopus switching bodies with Peter Parker and becoming a better version. The storyline lasted over 30 issues.

I think it took me only a couple of days to get through them.

And weirdly, because it wasn’t my Peter Parker, it allowed me to enjoy the book for what it was – a villain learning how to be a hero. You see, I’m a sucker for the redemption storyline in any medium. And while I understood eventually the real Peter Parker would return and prevail, I enjoyed the ride.

***

Maybe it’s a rationalization. Maybe I’ve given up on my stances from over 13 years ago. Maybe I believe that the amount of money Marvel is getting from me through Comixology is small enough not to matter.

I’m not sure what more I may or may not read. I certainly have plenty of comics to read in my to-be-read pile as is.

Still, it was nice to have a reunion with an old friend. To be able to check in with him and see how he was doing after all this time.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Repost – Forget Me Not

I wrote this blog during the very first year of doing blogs, and it hit upon me as I was looking over it that I was just getting into the book that was released last year: The Echo Effect. This idea of how memories may mean different things for different people, and how we are all just made up of our own memories.

Normally when I’m writing something, there is a piece of me in there I’m trying to get a handle on. Or there is some need to write a type of story because it is the type of thing I would want to read. I’m not sure if The Echo Effect helped me get a handle on something specific, but it did help scratch that itch of Time Travel and Groundhog Day storytelling. Of course, having written about it once only means that I now have a half-dozen more ideas in similar veins.

***

People seem to ask writers one common question: “Where do your ideas come from?”

writing-letter

And while I’m still in my early writing career it is a very easy question for me to answer. It comes from answering what drives me as a person.

I’m obsessed with perception, memory, how time can distort both things, and what that means for a person (I am obsessed with other subjects as well: Time Travel, the future, alternate timelines, the supernatural, but I digress).

One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is how my own memory contorts and changes as I get further and further from an event. Now, I assume that for most people this is the case. Especially if it is not the most important of events it is very easily forgotten (though I seem to retain the most useless of knowledge, a gift from my Father I think). Perhaps it remains in some recess of our minds, waiting for a trigger to allow it to rush back to the surface of our mind, but mostly I think our brain just deletes that old, unused data. Kinda like my wife’s pack rat solution she (attempts to) employs upon me. “If you haven’t touched it in 6 months, then you can throw it out.”

Here’s the problem, there are moments in my own life that I have a different memory than those of my friends and family. Sometimes they have been instants where I wish it had been me there because the person feels like we’ve shared this moment and are closer because of it. So I typically go along with it, hoping that at some point it does loosen the old memory and then… but it doesn’t happen.

I can never figure out if it is a ME problem or a THEM problem.

And unless there is audio or video recordings of the event, who is to say that they are right or wrong about these things. If someone tells a story that features you in it, you have already bent in their minds to fit their version of events. Given enough time and enough retelling of that story, why wouldn’t you suddenly adopt it as a part of your own narrative? At what point would you no longer be able to know your own truths compared to those of the story-tellers around you?

Is it gaps in my memory or is he just remembering the event wrong? What do I not understand about my own self? Which is the better outcome for the both of us?

In the mouth of madness

One of my favorite horror movies of all time is In The Mouth of Madness (really, ask my friends Lee and Egg about watching this movie late on a Sunday night and Egg refusing to drive home to north Georgia because of the “guy on the bike”) (I also did not go home that night – dude on the bike is waaay creepy).

For those that don’t know, aside from being a John Carpenter flick (he of The Thing and Halloween to name only 2 classics), the main reason I love this movie, though, is that it postulates a very important question: If the majority of the world suddenly went mad, what would that mean for those of us who still had our sanity? Or, to put it another way, if reality is only this thing that we all have agreed upon, and then a large group no longer shares our same perspective… what happens then? When the inmates run the asylum, then are the remainder of us really the insane ones?

So does that mean that my reality is shaped by others because they remember things about me that I don’t? Should I take in their ideas of me and… and… what? What would I do with them?

These kind of thoughts keep me up at night, furiously typing away on the keyboard, trying to make some sense of my own world through the creation of new ones. Worlds populated with people that I can create and mold. Maybe through them I can try and work some of my own angst about this concept so that perhaps, somehow, I can find a small amount of solace in my own reflection of reality.

winter-reflection-mirror

So yeah, that’s where I get my ideas from, rantings and ravings from the inmates within my own brain.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

The Ideas Are All Around Us

Something I hear from time to time is this weird idea that writers get ticked off when someone asks them what they do and when they respond “I’m a writer” the other person says “I’ve always wanted to do that.” And then they make a similar statement about doing surgery or flying a plane or whatever. The point of the cartoon or meme is supposed to prove that writing isn’t just something you can decide to do one day. That it is a difficult thing and the people shouldn’t demean them by assuming their job is something just anyone can do.

And there is a lot there I can understand, and I can agree with.

However…

Here’s the thing…

If you want to be a writer or a pilot or a surgeon the secret is that you can certainly do it. If you make the decision tomorrow to change your path in life, you have that power. We all have that power. In fact, I think the thing that holds most people back isn’t the act of trying to be a writer (for example). It is actually extremely simple to be a writer. You simply have to sit down and write. That’s the big secret. You just have to decide to do it.

But the thing that stops people is the Fear. The Fear that whatever they write won’t be good enough. That they won’t be able to finish their great American Novel. That they will run out of ideas. That it will be a terrible read. That they’ll be laughed at and told that they don’t have the talent for it.

The second secret is that EVERY SINGLE WRITER FEELS THIS WAY. And every artist feels this way. That Imposter Syndrome is a very real thing.

So what separates those that “could be a writer” and those who are writers?

Discipline? Passion? Drive? Time? Life? Talent?

Yes to all of those things, but Fear is what ties it all together.

When you are working late at night or early in the morning or on the bus or train or in your car or wherever your writing takes place, it is you against the blank page. It means that sometimes you are going to sit down and the words just don’t flow. Or they flow but it all comes out terrible. Or it comes out alright but then you realize you’ve put it in the wrong tense. Or you’ve used too many descriptions or you haven’t used enough.

And so on and so on.

But you have to tell yourself its ok.

There have been all manner of times when I am editing something I’ve written and get disgusted at the style. It makes me sad to see certain words repeated over and over like a crutch. “This guy can’t even write” types of thoughts roll through my brain.

And yet… and yet there are also those times where the words I reread shock me a little bit. A turn of phrase here or a description there or a playful bit of dialogue… all of those things can make me perk up. They are little proofs that while I’m still learning every day (hopefully) that occasionally it all connects exactly the way I want. It is in those moments that I really do feel like a writer.

But it doesn’t mean that the random person who has always thought about doing it is wrong to think that way. Because there was a time when you didn’t know anything about how to do it. You had so many started and stopped pieces on your harddrive or in a notebook. At some point it became a passion, and you learned. And you practiced. And you got better.

I read something a long time ago which said that every story has already been written. So most of the time you’re not breaking new ground. However, YOU have never written that story before. The world may need to read YOUR version.

So keep at it. It’ll come together.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Free Chapter – Hollow Empire – Vadim

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 writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Bracketology

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

Little teams facing off against Goliaths. The blue bloods going against the mid-levels. The unknowns hitting their last-second shot. The upsets.

That’s exactly what indy comics feels like.

It feels like you are the unknown quantity and you know that you just need one chance in order to prove that you belong. But the thing is, during the regular season those big dogs never want anything to do with you. They don’t want to schedule games against you. Heck, they wouldn’t know where to go if they did. So you have to struggle and scratch and claw alongside others of your ilk. You’ve got to put in the work the same as if you were playing in the big arenas across the country.

You’ve got to create for yourself because no one else in the big leagues is going to be of much help to you.

Those dark hours you spend in front of the computer, all those loose scraps of paper with little bits of genius on them, the whiteboard where you’ve mapped 60 issues of your storyline out, and everything else you do to keep those ideas alive. Trying your best to wrap your head around the plots and put them in a coherent format so that an artist can bring your vision to life. The Fear has to take a back seat during those moments when you are creating.

 

But in the tournament it’s different. You finally get your chance to show off your skills and your stories to an even bigger audience. They can’t ignore you completely anymore. They can’t outright dismiss you, even if they would like to.

But here’s where the analogy fails. You see, while those little schools are all competing for the handful of slots just to get on the big stage, it doesn’t have to be like that for the independents. We don’t have to be competition for each other. Instead, we can be another ship in the fleet, raising the sails of anyone and everyone we can.

Hopefully, as the world begins to return to something that might resemble “normal” (though that word feels like it will always have an asterisk beside it, much like we say pre-911, I see us saying pre-Covid19), we’re going to start venturing out to the comic book conventions. You’re going to walk down those aisles where the big creators are, and that’s great. I love doing that as well, but I would say that maybe, just maybe, you take a venture down to where the indy creators are. Take your time down there. Those guys and gals have poured their free time into those books. Each one might not appeal to you, but I’m willing to bet that there are a few in there which will feel like they were made just for you.

This might be the closest thing to the Big Dance many of us are ever going to get to (and that’s ok). Not everyone is trying to work at Marvel or DC. Many creators just want to be able to put their vision of the world out there in some form or fashion. They are hoping that a handful (well, maybe more than a handful) of people are going to give them a chance. That they are going to stop and look. Pick up a comic and flip through it. To have those conversations where you can hear the excitement in their voice while they pitch you their stories.

It’s not always about the big splashy moments. Sometimes it can be about the little ones. A reader and a creator connecting with their mutual love of the form.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

New Interview Up At MS Wordsmith!

I’ve obviously done my fair share of interviews on this site, but it’s always a bit crazy to find myself being interviewed by someone else. I never know if I’m saying enough or not enough or if the interviewee is going to need to take a hacksaw to whatever my answers are just to get it into a form that someone might be able to not only read but perhaps even glean some information about me.

Then of course there is always the whole “imposter syndrome” bit. Why would anyone bother wanting to interview me followed quickly by why would anyone ever want to read such an interview? I have to remind myself that little voice in the back of my head doesn’t always know what the hell it is talking about (maybe). I have to tell myself that you want to have people read these because then they might actually learn about your books.

So I want to thank Mariëlle Smith over at M.S. Wordsmith for taking the time to talk to me and ask me questions about some of my books and my writing process. I truly appreciate it.

You can find the interview here!!

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Kickstart the Comic – The Fox Chronicles #1

You have to train. You must get better today than you were yesterday. You must be better tomorrow than you were today.

For there is something you are to do for this world and many, many other worlds.

Yet, the world around you is dark and full of monsters that appear the same as any other person who walks down the street. Those are the ones you must guard the innocent against.

You are destined for great things.

***

The Fox Chronicles #1

Publisher – Prime Direction Studios

Writers – Robert Jeffrey II & Leo Patrice Ware

Artist – Fritz Fulo Casas

Cover Artist/Colorist – La’Vata E. O’Neal

Cover Artist – Marcus Williams

Colorist – Candice Han

Illustrator/Graphic Designer – Pao Xiong

Cover Artist – Sheldon Mitchell

Kickstarter Campaign ends on Thursday, April 15, 2020, at 12:00 PM EDT.

***

The Pitch:

A coming-of-age futurist adventure. Full of action, suspense, and intrigue.

 

The Story:

In this coming of age, centuries-spanning story, Autumn Fox finds herself caught up in a galactic power struggle when all she wants is to better her world. As sinister forces, terrestrial and beyond exploit the very systems we take for granted. Our story is going to follow Autumn, an Atlanta teen, as she tries to balance overly protective parents, friends, and the overwhelming need to protect those around her. The series is a must-read for fans of such genre-defining series as “Tomb Raider”, “Far Sector”, “Ironheart”, and “Netflix’s Voltron: Legendary Defender”.

 

John’s Thoughts:

As I’ve noted in the past, I’m with Robert Jeffrey II on anything he decides to write. I’ve watched his skills as a writer grow over the years, and am proud to be his co-writer on The Crossing.

With The Fox Chronicles, he is getting to build a character who appears to have one foot firmly on Earth and another that ties her to something ancient and deadly. This young woman at the center of the story is not only trying to figure out her place in a larger world but in a very large and scary universe.

But maybe more importantly is that this book wants to use its platform to illuminate an ongoing problem: the forced labor of women and girls. From the Kickstarter page:

“Every year millions of people are victims of forced labor with women and girls accounting for 71% of all victims.”

If we can help people gain an understanding of extremely important topics through our stories, then it only makes sense to do just that.

The Rewards:

One of the first things you’ll notice is that there are three different variant covers available to order which will allow you to get exactly the cover you want for this tale ($50 level). In addition, there is an opportunity to get some Original Artwork ($100), and at the same cost, have a one on one with Robert Jeffrey II who has gone through the DC Writer’s Workshop. I have no doubt that he’ll have plenty of things to discuss with whoever goes for such a Reward.

The Verdict:

As I’ve said in the past, I’m with Robert Jeffrey II on pretty much anything he writes. But beyond that, I think that this is one of those true labors of love from the team. Seeing the artwork come in, reading the script, and just listening to them talk has me convinced.

***

Be sure to check out the Kickstarter here!

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Car Shopping Blues

Me learning our SUV had been “Totaled”

You think you have so much time. You plan out your trips. You plan out your years ahead. You mark your special occasions where the odometer crossing 50k, 100k, 150k…

And then it’s over. You didn’t even have time to prepare yourself for needing to shop for a new car.

***

That’s where I am this week after the unfortunate news that my wife’s Honda CR-V had some structural damage from a fender bender and the insurance company made the decision to “total” the car out. Suddenly we are a 1 car family.

***

I ran out of gas during my very first test drive.

Seriously, I ran out of gas with my mom in the passenger seat and the salesman in the back. We’d gotten maybe half a mile or so from the dealership when it started sputtering a little bit. I tried to compensate, I mean, clearly, it was my fault that the car was making these weird noises, right? I distinctly remember my mom saying “Just drive. You know how to drive, just drive.”

It wasn’t until the salesman leaned over the seat that he realized the fundamental truth: a car needs gas to run (or at least it did back in those days).

***

Cars are weird. I never have been a “car guy”. I know little more than how to start my car everyday and somedays I struggle to do even that. This is probably a stain on my family since my grandparents owned a junkyard for 40 years or so and worked on and around cars constantly. My dad built his first car.

But I’ve always viewed my cars as a way to get from point A to point B. I have no idea if it has a Z27 1/2 engine in there or not. Does it have 4 wheels? Can it get me where I need to go? OK then!

I can nod along when other people start talking about engine size or horsepower or some classic car, but it is all a defense mechanism. Mostly I want until the conversation turns to sports again where I might be able to contribute to the conversation.

***

Now comes the stressful part. The search to find just the right fit. Too many miles? Too much money?

My current favorite: Find a great-looking deal on a dealer’s site. Write down all the information. Find out when you get to the dealership that particular car is actually at their other location, 40 miles away.

Ugh!

We’re already tired of looking and it’s only been 4 days. We just want to be done, but I’m also obsessed with finding that “perfect” one. You know the car that falls right in the sweet spot of price and miles and accessories and everything else. The one you do a legit double-take on, then ask yourself (out loud) “what’s wrong with this car”

The unicorn of cars.

***

I’m obviously being a bit glib above, but I do think there is something to a car being a part of a family. You make memories in it the same as anywhere else. I live outside of Atlanta, Georgia, which means that many times I feel like I’m living in my car on the weekends (pre-pandemic) running errand after errand.

I traveled back and forth from Richmond, VA to Atlanta, GA during my years at Georgia Tech during the various week breaks. I’d have a stack of CDs sitting in the passenger seat and rotate through them while I made the 8-hour trip. I’ve turned up Pantera as loud as I could, screaming along with the lyrics, that one time I decided to wake up early and get on the road. All to try and stay awake at 11 in the morning. I eventually found a rest stop and napped for about an hour.

So many post-concerts where my shirt was soaked through, trying to figure out the best way not to have it seep into the seats (and never remembering to bring a towel or something for the next show).

***

I held hands for the first time with my future wife while driving back from a Braves game.

***

There are the big memories, but there are all the other memories where we just take it for granted. With this vehicle, I really thought we had 3 more years before we’d need to start going car shopping. With Courtney working from home, assuming some regular maintenance, there was no reason to think that would need to be a pipe dream.

Instead, last week Courtney had to clean her out, turn over the keys, and leave her behind. We only hope that maybe they can use some of her parts in other cars so that she might live on. She served us well. Was a great old gal, and we’ll miss her.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Books That Changed Me – Part 1

They say that the number one thing a writer should do (besides writing, of course) is reading. You should be devouring other books. I think the biggest reasons have to be:

Know what other authors (your contemporaries) are writing.

Learn the tropes of your genre.

Pick up new techniques and new skills by watching how the greats do it.

Let your mind hang out in someone else’s world for a little while.

But really, the biggest reason is that it’s just fun.

***

Many, many years ago, reading was not something I did. I’m sure it was that way for plenty of folks. If you read anything it was because the school required it. But to actually seek out a book to read on your own? That sounds ludicrous. Why would anyone choose to do such a thing?

Yet, now I can hardly find the time to just sit down and let myself go into a book. That thing that is both important to the person and the writer in me. So I look back, to remember those books that probably put me most directly on my current path one way or another.

***

On A Pale Horse – Piers Anthony

I consider this my awakening into the world of books. I’ve talked about the moment on this blog before, but my friend Lee came to sixth grade one day and put this book on the desk in front of me only saying the words “Read this.” But even more than that moment, which sealed my fate as an avid reader, it also created my first “favorite” writer. It was one thing to read this book about Death and these other Incarnations, but then I found out there were 4 other books in the series (at that point).

What?

There’s more to be read? I can hang out in this collective world for even longer? Where do I sign up?

Through a Tangled Skein (the 3rd book) is one of the first books that I ever reread immediately upon finishing.

And then I moved on to his fantasy series, Xanth, which was filled with puns and silliness, yet there was also a ton of heart waiting between those pages. I remember one particular week in 7th grade where I think I read 4 of those books in 7 days. Which, to be honest, isn’t as much reading, but simply devouring the text and then eagerly grabbing the next helping. The only thing that would stop me was if the library didn’t have the next book or if Lee didn’t. Then I had to wait until a trip to the bookstore could free me of such problems.

***

So we go from something that caused me to develop a love for the art form. Something that got me to reread something I’d just read. Something that changed the way I perceived books.

To something that caused me to realize that I don’t have to like everything I read.

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

It’s probably a bit of blasphemy, but I not only didn’t like this book, I actually never finished it. Oh sure, I know the end, I know where it was going, but for every bit that this might be a masterpiece of literature, I could not get into it. The writing style didn’t work for me, and later, when I found out that Dickens was paid by the word, I suddenly understood the role an editor might have in making a book even better.

It should have been so easy. There is history between those pages. I love history!

And I tried… I really tried. I was doing my best to get into the story and the characters and it just didn’t happen for me. I’m a fast reader, and it turned my experience into molasses.

So why did I bother with it at all? Why did I fight with it for as long as I did? Probably for the same reason many of you might have picked up the book: It was the next assignment in English class during high school. While I don’t remember completely failing the test(s?) on the book, I’m pretty sure I didn’t do as well as I normally did on those types of assignments.

I mean, I disliked it enough that I didn’t even bother with the Cliff Notes!

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

Love’s Labour’s Liabilities – Postscript

So we are about a week past the end date of our submission for Kickstarter’s ZineQuest 3. How did it end up?

 

I think Stress was the watchword on this project with most decisions that we made focusing on how to limit the amount of stress we would have in running the Kickstarter, hitting our goals, and fulfilling the Kickstarter. So you’re going to see that word a lot in the recap below.

As I noted in my Kickstart the Game post, we reached our goal in about 5 hours which made it a lot less stressful (see, there’s that word!) than our first attempt at doing a Zine back during ZineQuest 1. During that campaign, we funded in the last hour or so which meant that for the entire duration of the Kickstarter we were constantly checking and double-checking the webpage. Now, this is a normal part of a Kickstarter… or at least for me it is, but it can’t be both distracting and at times deflating. You get the little highs when you check and the number goes up, but it is almost worse when the number just sits there, mocking you.

In comparison, Loves’ Labour’s Liberated’s (LLL1) goal was set at $1000 and Love’s Labour’s Liabilities’ (LLL2) goal was set at $400.

Why the difference in goals? Well first was the hope that we might fund earlier in the process and not get down to the last few minutes not knowing whether it was going to fund or not. The second was that we knew more about the process. Going into LLL1, between the 3 of us, only I had run a Kickstarter before and that was for the Gilded Age Graphic Novel. This was an RPG-related item that we were still figuring out. And we wanted to set what we thought was an achievable goal… technically we weren’t wrong. But with LLL2, we had learned what to do and what not to do.

Finally, there was the biggest reason for only having a $400 goal. We gave away LLL2 (pdfs) to all the LLL1 backers for free. Why did we do that? Well, we were late on delivering LLL1.

Really, really, really (add about 100 more “really”s and you start to get the point) late. We all dropped the ball on that and really there was no excuse for it.

This giveaway was an additional attempt to make up for all those delays. However, this created a different sort of problem: If you give away the zine to your previous backers then you are going to have to pretty much find all new backers for the new Kickstarter. Normally, when you do sequels to previous Kickstarters, you are counting on some percentage of backers to follow you to the next project. During LLL1 we had 81 backers. Doing things this way meant we were kind of starting from scratch with this one.

I should note that about a dozen backers for LLL2 had also backed LLL1, so it didn’t completely eliminate some repeat customers.

Of course, we didn’t know what to expect, so the $400 with a potential for some stretch goals made a ton of sense. And again, funding so quickly really let us focus on getting the word out rather than worrying so much on the $$.

This brings us to the single biggest difference between LLL1 and LLL2, we had completely finished LLL2 before the campaign went live. Obviously, we needed to have it done to deliver to LLL1 backers, but it was a conscious decision by all of us that we needed to get out in front of this so that there would be no question in anyone’s mind whether they’d have to wait a year or more to receive what they’d paid for. In fact, as we look to the future, I believe this is the best way to do any additional Kickstarters we run.

When LLL2 was all done, we actually eclipsed LLL1 in both total backers and total dollars:

LLL1 – 81 Backers for $1018

LLL2 – 86 Backers for $1134

This amount allowed us to unlock 3 stretch goals which were Bonus Art X-Cards for use at your gaming tables.

We delivered the updated LLL2 pdf immediately upon the campaign ending, and are now in the process of getting the dedications put into the pdf before it gets sent out to the printers. After that, the three of us will get together and pack up the zines and stretch goals to send out to the backers (which looks like it will happen the first weekend in March). All of this means that potentially everyone will get their Zines within about 5-6 weeks of the campaign ending.

***

Now what?

We’ve started talking about what a LLL3 might look like. I know Egg is looking to do another non-5e Zine at some point down the road on his own. And recently I’ve become enamored with the idea of maybe branching out from a 5e zine and looking at some of the other systems. Not sure exactly when any of those will be done, but I’m looking forward to working on them!

For all of you who backed either Kickstarter, I just want to thank you again for placing your faith and your hard-earned dollars behind these projects. The ability to do this is really the fulfillment of some dreams that we’ve all had since we first discovered roleplaying games.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also 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 Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com