Down the Dark Path Home of novelist and painter J Edward Neill

Preview – Darkness Between the Stars

January 23, 2017 | Books!, Sci fi novella | Permalink

DarknessKindle

It’s true.

I’m done writing philosophical books for now.

I’ve got no plans to publish anything else like this weird little thing.

And I’m pretty much out of horror ideas.

So it’s like this. I’m getting back to my roots. It’s time for more darkness, more shadows, and more end-of-the-universe type books. It’s my bread and butter. It’s my dice-move on the dance floor.

My new book? It’s called Darkness Between the Stars. It’s out now. Here’s the Amanda Makepeace cover art:

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Oh…and here’s the entire first chapter:

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Earthbound

  

Many years before they selected me to save humanity, I knew who their choice would be.

Maybe that’s why they picked me. Maybe they planted the idea in my head when I was only a little boy. Or perhaps it was a simple matter of me guessing right. But somehow I knew.

I’m meant for something else, I remember thinking.

I’m not destined to be earthbound.

Those were strange thoughts for a six-year old boy. No, they were beyond strange. They were surreal. It was the year 4901, and I had no concept of what those feelings meant. I didn’t know anything about deep space travel, the Thousand-Year War, or humanity’s exodus from Earth. Everyone else in the world knew about these things, but not me. Not little Joff.

All I really knew were my father’s wheat fields, my mother’s love for me and my sister, and my teddy bear, Alpo, who was missing his right arm.

Alpo’s story was a funny one. He was named after an aluminum can. And it wasn’t just any can, but a three-thousand year-old one I found in the dirt in one of Dad’s fields. ‘Alpo,’ it said in faded yellow print. Maybe that’s why Dad used to say our fields were the most fertile of all. Something about being on a landfill. Something about wheat growing better on top of thirty-century old garbage.

Whatever.

I didn’t care. I was six years old. The same night I found the ancient can, I sprinted home and renamed my teddy bear. Everything in the world seemed right.

Those were the best of days. We were happy, all of us. We lived in a valley with mountains on three sides. Our fields of golden wheat swayed to breezes that never stopped. All around our little stone house, pale streams tickled the earth, clean and crisp as anything. Life wasn’t always easy, but it was quiet. Our family was untouchable, a last island floating on an ocean of technology.

Although weren’t entirely isolated.

A city lay just outside our valley.

By modern standards, Donva was a small town. To a six-year old boy who’d rarely been beyond his valley, it was awe-inspiring. They’d named Donva after the woman who’d first suggested a settlement there. Like most cities back then, it was all blacks and whites. Not the people, mind you. The buildings. Skinny dark towers jutted skyward from its heart, while warrens of pale, impossibly clean dwellings sprawled in the towers’ shadows. People lived in the little white houses and worked in the big black spires. Donva was so tight-knit that almost everyone walked everywhere. The only time anyone took a train or a hover-truck was to leave the city entirely, which most people rarely did.

I remember one of my earliest visits.

We were in the car on a warm, sunny morning. It was Mom, my sister Aly, and me. We weren’t piloting one of those fancy, matte-grey hover-trucks, but instead we rode in a combustion engine car. Yes, those. The same kind they say fouled the air centuries ago. And so rare in 4901 that only a hundred or so existed, while even fewer actually worked.

So when we rolled into town on a shiny white road everyone else used for walking, we got the best looks from people. They smiled, waved, and stopped to say hello to Mom. They didn’t begrudge our pretty chrome prize, but instead welcomed the sight. It was the way things were in Donva. It wasn’t like the big cities, the scary cities.

I’d have had more fun that morning if not for Aly. She always made it a point to start little wars with me every time we were in the car. That day was no exception.

“You’ll never get to sit up front,” she told me for the thousandth time.

“Yes I will,” I argued. “I’ll be bigger than you someday. Dad says so.”

“But I’ll always be older.” She made a face. “Which means the front is mine. Forever.”

I felt myself getting angrier. If there was one thing I hated, it was injustice. Aly saw me grinding my teeth and grinned at me. I waited for Mom to stop our brewing battle, but she didn’t. I think she wanted us to fight it out without her help.

“We’ll run out of gas someday,” I told Aly. “Dad’s big tank will go dry. Then we’ll have to walk. There won’t be any front seats. You’ll see.”

She laughed at me. “It’ll be funny, you on your skinny legs. You’ll get half a kilo, and Mom will have to carry you. Isn’t that right, Mom?”

In her fancy black shades and wide-brimmed white hat, Mom didn’t say a word. She turned the wheel and drove down a side road. I think I saw her shake her head, but from the back seat it was hard to tell.

“I’ll break your dolls.” I decided to fight dirty.

“I’ll tear Alpo’s other arm off,” Aly shot back.

“I’ll steal your books,” I huffed.

“I’ll chop off your hair while you’re sleeping.” She smirked.

“Oh yeah…well…I’ll steal your skypad,” I dared.

Aly’s mouth fell open. Mom slowed the car and took off her sunglasses. I knew right away I’d gone too far.

“What did I tell you about the skypad, Aly?” Mom stared at my sister, calm as a cloud before a storm.

Aly glared at me. If she’d have turned any redder, her head might’ve burst.

“If your father catches you with it, he won’t even bother to sell it,” Mom continued. “He’ll throw it in the combine and grind it into powder. You know how he feels about those things.”

“But Mom—” Aly tried.

“Tomorrow we’re coming back here,” Mom cut her off. “You bring the pad. We’ll sell it, and you can use the money for whatever you want. But no tech. No vids, no sprites, and no dream-makers.”

“Mom—”

“Non-negotiable,” said Mom.

And that was the end of it.

We kept driving. Aly hated me, and I didn’t say another word. I hadn’t meant to get her into trouble. I’d just blurted out the thing I knew would win the argument. I’d always been good at winning. Not so much at surviving the aftermath.

If Aly was heartbroken, she had every right to be. Our father’s disdain for technology was legendary. He didn’t like vids, which usually just spouted ads for other tech. He really didn’t like sprites, which floated around people’s heads and played whatever media their users wanted them to. And he really, really disliked dream-makers, which were known to be addictive, so much that some people never slept right after just a few days of using them.

But above all those things, Dad didn’t like skypads. Skypads were like pieces of almost indestructible paper. You cold bend them, stick them to walls, wear them, whatever you liked. And using a skypad, with the right hacks, you could connect to and view everything. If you wanted to watch a signal from a satellite on the far side of Earth, you could do it. If you fancied eavesdropping on feeds from near-orbit space stations, it was easy to make happen. But worse than anything, if you wanted live video of world news, which Dad despised, all you had to do was click a button, and every channel in the world opened up beneath your fingertips.

I was sure all Aly used her skypad for was to vid-chat with her friends, but that wouldn’t matter to Dad. He assumed the worst of most technology. And therefore he’d banned it from our household.

That night at dinner, Aly and I sat in silence at the table. Dad heaped potatoes and greens on our plate, and both of us nibbled. It didn’t take long before Dad noticed us.

“What’s on your mind, Joff?” he asked me.

“Nothing,” I fibbed.

“Aly?” he pried.

“Nothing.”

Dad took another bite. He knew something was up. But as was ever his way, he didn’t get angry.

“Nothing?” he said while he chewed. “The funny thing about nothing is that it’s always something. You went to Donva today. That’s something. You brought home salt, spices, and a new kettle. That’s something more. And I’m sure you both saw your mother’s new hat. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? That’s definitely something.”

Aly dropped her gaze to the floor. I knew what she was thinking. And I also knew our father.

He knew about the skypad.

He’d already found it.

“Just tell him, Aly,” I whispered.

“Tell him what?” She stared a hole through me.

“You know…”

Dad gave both of us The Look. We knew what it meant. Whenever he broke The Look out, it meant he wasn’t going to say another word. No one at the table, Mom included, was allowed to speak, eat, or leave until The Look was answered.

And on that night, the only right answer was for Aly to admit she’d been hiding a skypad in her room for almost three months.

I wanted to answer for her. My sense of justice told me that the sooner we fessed up, the better. But The Look that night was less for me and more for Aly. Dad wanted her to fess up, not for me to protect her.

I’m not sure how long we sat there and waited. The steam stopped rising from our potatoes and our greens got cold. Aly looked to Mom for an escape, but Mom just sat there with her hands folded in her lap. She and Dad were a wall. There was no getting around them, no climbing over. The only way to get through was to tell the truth.

“I…” Aly’s voice cracked. “I have a skypad. And I know what you’re going to say, but…it’s not what you think. I don’t care about watching the fights in the wasteland. I don’t hack into the space stations. I just talk to Sara and Melina. That’s all.”

“And?” Dad still wore The Look.

“…and sometimes steal a show from the satellites. But nothing gory, Dad. No war feeds.”

I knew she’d told the truth. Not because I believed her, but because Dad lifted his cup and took a deep swig of warm milk. He wouldn’t have done it had Aly lied. It would’ve gotten a lot worse.

“So…does that mean I can keep it?” Aly asked.

Our father let out a great gust of air. I sensed he was just a little sad.

“No,” he said.

“But why?” Aly pleaded. “I’m not using it for bad stuff!”

“I know you’re not. But the answer’s the same. It’s done, Aly. It’s gone.”

She looked angry at first, then stunned. I think her plan had been to blame me for everything. But it was obvious Dad had known all along. He’d destroyed the skypad while we’d been in the car arguing about it.

Which meant it wasn’t my fault.

 

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The next months were a strange time.

The same as every day, we worked in the fields. It was summer, which meant keeping up the irrigation trenches, feeding the chickens, and doing lots of maintenance on our aging machines. Dad was teaching me to be a blackthumb, which meant I had to learn all about machinery, and that I came home every night with oily hands and dirty clothes. At six years old I probably should’ve been attending school in Donva with Aly, but Dad didn’t want that for me, and I didn’t mind.

“We’ve got enough tech designers and programmers to last ten generations,” he’d say. “So here you’ll work, learning machines. And if ever you need a job in one of the cities, you’ll be the best damn blackthumb they could hope for. You’ll be a master, and you’ll command whatever salary you want.”

And so I watched, worked, and learned all the things my father wanted, even though being a blackthumb wasn’t what I cared about. I did it because Dad wished it and I loved him, though in my heart I wanted something else. I didn’t know exactly what that something else was. But I felt it inside me, a dream smoldering in my mind, a hot thumping in my chest that wouldn’t go away.

I suppose, if I’d understood it better, I would’ve tried to snuff it out.

I don’t know if life would’ve been different. Maybe they’d have picked someone else.

Maybe not.

It wasn’t until near my seventh birthday, on a cold winter’s eve after a long day’s work hauling wood down from the mountains, I learned something about why my father was the way he was. I don’t know why I decided to go to the storage barn instead of rushing home to dinner. Tired as dirt, I wandered off the path and dropped my last stack of firewood against the barn’s outer wall.

And then I pushed the sliding door open and walked inside.

The barn was dark inside. We didn’t have any animals in it; the cattle were in a different barn. I slid inside to escape the howling wind and catch my breath before dinner, and I pushed the door shut behind me. The smells of old wood, of tools that hadn’t been used since summer, and of cold, hard soil drifted through the air. I reached out for the old bench that sat just to the door’s left, and I sank onto it, limp as a dishrag.

If I’d had a blanket, I might’ve slept the night in the barn. I was that tired.

Yet no sooner did I lean back against the creaky old bench than I smelled something else. It wasn’t wood or rusty tools or dirt.

Smoke, I know.

What’s that old saying Dad made up? About smoke and fire?

I stood back up. I don’t know why I did it quietly. Most of me knew no one else could possibly be in the barn with me.

Or could there be? I wondered.

I followed my nose. Soundless as a falling star, I crept through the darkness. I’d been in the barn a thousand times in my life. I knew where the door to the tool room was.

Five steps forward.

Turn right.

Seven steps through the narrow hall.

Now touch the door.

I reached out and touched the planks to the tool room’s door. They were warmer than I expected, and the smells wafting between the cracks caught me right in the nose. I put my ear to the door and listened. A voice, so far away, made its way to me. It wasn’t Dad or Mom, or even Aly. The voice was too small, almost like it came from…

…a skypad.

I can’t remember just when I’d learned to be so stealthy. Maybe it was part of having an older sister and knowing how to sneak past her bedroom without her coming out to chase me. But somehow, someway, I pulled the door open wide enough to see inside.

And Dad didn’t hear me.

In the little room, in the quiet heart of the old barn, he sat there on a stool, his workbench laid out before him. An old-world cigarette dangled between his fingers, but he wasn’t smoking it. Nor was he working. He had his back to me, and over his shoulder I saw the skypad’s soft blue glow. He’d stuck it to the side of our red toolbox. I saw it plain as the sun shining, a crown of wrenches standing just behind it.

I stood there and I watched. My shock at seeing Dad so absorbed in the very thing he’d always said he hated didn’t last. I guess I wasn’t really surprised. Maybe I’d known all along.

The program he’d found, The Dusktime Dispatch, flickered on the skypad’s screen. It was a blurry image, doubtless stripped from a satellite thousands of miles away. To hear the voices talking, I had to tune out the entire world, which was easier than I expected.

“What we’re looking at is all that remains of the city they used to call Lun-dun,” announced a man in a flak-jacket and a black beanie hat.

“Yes, Lukas. We know that,” said the newsman.

The two men appeared in separate frames on the skypad. On the right, the newsman sat in a too-clean office somewhere in a vast city. Meanwhile the man in the black beanie, Lukas, occupied the left frame, its edges burning bright red from the approaching sunrise. Lukas looked brawny and a bit dangerous. The skeletal remains of a vast city, which must’ve been a thousand times the size of Donva, stretched out behind him. The sight scared me more than a little.

Lukas adjusted his black beanie and continued:

“Now, as we’ve talked before, today’s the day we’re sending a team into Lun-dun to test the Exodus craters for radioactivity. It’s our hope, after all this time, the levels of poisoning might’ve dropped well below critical toxicity.”

Me being not quite seven years old, I shouldn’t have understood all those fancy words. But I did. I’d read all of Aly’s school books a dozen times, probably while she was hiding and watching the very same skypad Dad and I were watching now.

“When does your team depart?” the newscaster asked.

“In one hour,” said Lukas. “They’re suiting up in their safety gear now.”

“Well…” The newscaster looked concerned. “We’ve talked about this before, about the ERM, the Exodus Reclaiming Mission. But what we’ve never really discussed, Lukas, is exactly what you and your team hope to reclaim. Now that you’re there, and now that we’ve got every skypad in the world tuned to this feed, what can you tell us? Can you say what it is you’re looking for?”

Even on the grainy little skypad screen, I swore I saw Lukas hesitate. It wasn’t even a flinch. It was something about the way he breathed.

Whatever he says next will be a lie, I thought.

“Resources,” said Lukas. “Of course, much of Lun-dun was burned away during the Exodus. But there’s still resources. Precious things beneath the craters.”

“What precious things?” The newsman sounded skeptical.

I didn’t know why, but in that moment I wanted to hear Lukas’ answer more than anything I’d ever heard in my life. I didn’t just want to know; I needed to.

And that’s the exact moment Dad flicked the ashes off the end of his cigarette and glanced over his shoulder.

“Joff?” he said.

I didn’t know how to answer. I just stood there, frozen the same as the icicles hanging off the barn’s roof. I’d figured he’d known I was there. After all, he’d always known everything.

But this time it turned out I’d truly surprised him.

And worse, him facing me meant the skypad was blocked and I couldn’t hear what Lukas said.

Oh God. I shivered. Dad’s never gonna trust me again.

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Look for Darkness Between the Stars on Amazon.

In the meantime, if you liked this little chapter, you’ll definitely like A Door Never Dreamed Of.

J Edward Neill 

A Door Never Dreamed Of – the Countdown

January 18, 2017 | Books!, Sci fi novella | Permalink

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For the next few evenings, my sci-fi novella A Door Never Dreamed Of is only $0.99 (or £0.99 in the UK.)

It goes a little something like…

A thousand years from today, nearly all of humanity is jacked-In.
We sleep, connected to machines, dreaming our lives away.
For most people, it’s the perfect life.
But for the few who never jacked-In, it’s exile.
Abandoned, persecuted, and betrayed, the Outs plot their vengeance across the centuries.
And when they open the Door, only one way of life will survive…

dnd

Buy A Door Never Dreamed Of here.

And learn more about my other titles here.

Thank you for reading,

J Edward Neill

 

Ashes for Ande – Sketching a pretty girl

January 10, 2017 | Art!, Books! | Permalink

Sometimes…every once in a while, I decide to step up my art.

Usually I work on abstract paintings with lots of deep, dark color, like these.

But lately I’ve set my sights on something realistic.

I’m calling my newest painting Ashes for Ande. It’ll eventually (hopefully) be a book cover for my next series, Ashes of Everything. For now, I’m going to catalogue her creation. As I complete each step, I’ll update this article. If you want to see the finished piece, keep checking back. I’ll post more pics and descriptions along the way.

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Step 1 – The sketch

ashes-for-ande

On a 16″ x 20″ canvas, I began my work. I used a twenty-year old pencil (not kidding) to outline, shade, and fill. No inks here. To perfect the shadows on her shoulders, neck, and face, I typically over-shaded with the pencil and later used a fine-edge eraser to remove excess. I was very pleased with how she came to life.

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Step 2 – Adding the blacks

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After the initial sketch, I took a deep breath. The easy part was over. The time-consuming (and risky) part began. With deep black acrylic paint, I began filling in her hair, her shirt, and the deep shadows on her neck and left arm. Any slight overuse of paint would have doomed her. Also, at this point, the background may or may not remain. Not sure I’m in love with the grey streaks.

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Step 3 – Deep shading and darkening her eyes

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This part was challenging. I had to use black acrylic paint to shade our girl’s features darker than a pencil alone could handle. Ideally I’d have used a charcoal stick, but I didn’t have a good one on hand. After blacking in her eyes, nose, and mouth, I applied the barest amount of paint to a small, flat brush and worked for a few hours deepening the shadows. Despite my nerves, she turned out pretty well.

Now on to the final step…

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Step 4 – The End

Andes Daughter

Darkened borders. More shading. A little touch-up around her eyes.

Finished…

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The painting is called Ashes for Ande. The girl is a not-yet-named character appearing in a sequel to this fantasy book series.

For more of my art, go here.

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

Darkness Between the Stars – Cover Art Reveal

January 10, 2017 | Art!, Books!, Sci fi novella | Permalink

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In a few weeks, a new brand of sci-fi fantasy touches down.

A young boy will journey into the Darkness Between the Stars.  And he may never return…

I’ll have 20 softcover editions to give away as ARC’s (advance review copies.)  If you’d like one, and if you’re willing write an honest Amazon review, look me up on Facebook, Twitter, or via email.

And now, the amazing Amanda Makepeace cover art:

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A free preview (the entire first chapter) is here.

Darkness Between the Stars – look for it any day now.

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J Edward Neill

Author of sci-fi hit, A Door Never Dreamed Of

Creator of the Coffee Table Philosophy series

The best video games ever – decade by decade

January 10, 2017 | Video Games! | Permalink

Ok. So. Let’s get this started.

First, a few disclaimers:

1. This list doesn’t include sports games, indie titles, fighting games, or sandbox games. And it’s not because I don’t love those kinds of games (a few favorites are Limbo, Inside, Killer Instinct, Crackdown, and Tecmo Bowl) but more because I’m focusing on the big guns. The literal game-changers. The kinds of games one can sit with in a dark room and lose oneself for days.

2. Also, this list represents my personal favorites. These might not always align with popular opinion…I get it. Rather, these are the games I grew up with and love as part of my life experience. In other words, don’t get butthurt if you don’t see Madden 7,000, Halo, or Grand Theft Auto on here. These games are all cool in their own right, but didn’t impact me as much.

Enough.

Here are my top three video games for each decade, starting with the 70’s.

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1970’s

In 1978, I was just two years old. I didn’t have a game system. My only real exposure to the medium was during my dad’s trips to the local tavern, during which he’d plunk me down beside him while he played Asteroids. So…in other words…I played these games a decade after they came out, which serves only to illustrate just how awesome they were and still are.

Combat

Combat (1977)

Combat was one of the first games I ever handled. Featuring two-person, head-to-head matchups between tanks and planes, this bad boy was awesome. I consumed 100’s of hours with friends and family blasting and getting blasted to smithereens. After everyone else got tired of the action, I’d sit down by myself and practice shooting from angles and while moving. My dedication to Combat was a sure sign of an addiction soon to come.

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Breakout (1976)

Beautiful simplicity is how I describe Breakout. You’re a paddle hitting a ball and blowing up bricks. Much like other games at the time, the difficulty was ever rising. The ball moved faster…your paddle got smaller. This game was hard in a way modern games don’t really embrace anymore. You were going to lose. It was only a matter of time.

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Adventure (1979)

Not just among my faves from the 70’s, but definitely an all-time favorite, Adventure was pretty much the industry’s first attempt at building a role-playing game. You’re a dot, and your only mission is to return the holy grail to the golden castle. Only trouble is, the dragons are after you. Somehow, as a little kid, this game terrified and enthralled me. I must’ve played it a thousand times. And again, unlike modern games, victory was not assured. If the dragons get you, it’s game over.

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1980’s

The 80’s for me were a fun, fun time. I had three game systems: Intellivision (with the little slip-on gamepad covers) an Atari 2600, and the original NES console. For a kid growing up in a place where winter reigned for 5-6 months a year, video games were key to my not becoming a career criminal. I’m kidding….mostly.

Tarmin

Treasure of Tarmin (1983)

Without a doubt, ToT was my most beloved game on the old school Intellivision. It was difficult, engrossing, and scary (to an eight-year old.) The theme was more complex than 70’s games, but still direct. You’re a guy in a vast labyrinth looking for a fabled treasure. An army of monsters and traps lies in your way. You will die…a lot (much like a retro Dark Souls.) The scariest part of the game still resonates with me. I remember the noises the monsters would make when they cornered you. Played in the dark, it was enough to capture my imagination for many years to come.

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The Legend of Zelda (1986)

Do I really have to tell you how awesome the original Zelda is? In an era of arcade style clones, Zelda broke away from the pack. As one of the first games allowing players to save games (without a clunky, 30-digit password) it broke every mold. I can still remember sitting in my dark bedroom during winter. Everyone else was asleep. I didn’t have a game guide or a map. I played Zelda hardcore…and still do sometimes.

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Metroid (1986)

1986 was a good year for games, and a great year for a game geek like me. When Metroid came out, the first I glimpsed it was at a friend’s house. He let me play it for all of fifteen minutes before (justifiably) taking his controller back. I was hooked. Completely and utterly.  The only hard part: I didn’t get to play it again until a year later. And then, after I stepped into Samus’s boots, I didn’t play anything else for months.

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1990’s

The 90’s were a strange time for me. I skipped several years of game-playing entirely, but also spent months at a time locked in my room at night, playing until my head hurt. The raw brilliance of the 80’s was over, and a new era of polished titles hit the market. Moreover, I hooked up my first PC computer, which opened up an entirely new world of entertainment for me (and the rest of the world) to consume.

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Civ

Sid Meier’s Civilization (1991)

In 1991, I got my first real job. I was in lawncare in the deep south, which meant days and days of grinding away at grass in 95+ temperatures. I loved it. But what I loved more is that before each workday began, I drove to my coworker’s house and played a few hours of Civilization while waiting for the rest of the crew to show up. If you’ve played Civ, you know about the addiction. One more turn, people. Just…one…more…turn.

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Baldurs

Baldur’s Gate (1998)

This was the first game I played on my very own PC. As a diehard role-playing guy (dungeon mastering inspired my epic fantasy book series) Baldur’s Gate put into pixels everything I needed. Build a party, gather weapons, master spells, and go forth to battle a powerful evil. I mean c’mon…who didn’t love this game? Right?

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Diablo

Diablo (1996)

It’s true Diablo came out before Baldur’s Gate, and also true I didn’t discover it until nearly the turn of the century. But ohhhhh, when I sat down to play it for the first time… The dark themes and unbelievably good music sold me immediately. It was creepy. It was engrossing. And truthfully, it was one of the first action games allowing players to win using such a vast variety of tactics. I always played as a wizard…because I like dying a lot apparently.

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2000’s

By the time Y2K rolled around, video games had become mainstream. Everyone I knew had at least one system. It was no longer something only nerds did in their basements. It was a part of daily life, a stress reliever far more powerful than regular television. I was extra lucky in that I had a girlfriend willing to let me play for hours every day (before shoving me aside and taking the controller for herself.) In other words, the 2000’s were a beautiful time.

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Beyond Good and Evil (2003)

Before playing it, I had no idea games could be this absurdly fun. I’d always played top-down isometric games or standard platformers, but this game took a newer, crazier, more beautiful take on things. If you’ve never played BG&E, you owe it to yourself to pick up the remastered version. I honestly can’t even remember the complete plot (because it was pretty out there) but I can definitely recall how much fun I had playing it.

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Half Life 2

Half-Life 2 (2004)

When I picked this game up (as part of the Orange Box) I’d never before touched the Half-Life universe. But by the time I was done fighting headcrabs, using grav-guns, and scaling giant alien towers, I’d played it through three times without touching any other game. Half-Life took storytelling to a new level. It was also serious in a way other games hadn’t quite mastered yet, embracing its dark, futuristic subject matter without the need for laughs. Just writing about it makes me want to go back and play it again…because seriously it’s still better than most modern titles.

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Dragon Age Origins

Dragon Age Origins (2009)

I didn’t care about the two sequels. I never minded the kooky combat controls. I liked the original Dragon Age so much, I wanted it to last forever. Maybe it’s because I’ve always wanted to date a girl like Morrigan (ha) or because Alistair is pretty much every doofus I’ve ever befriended. Whatever. I’d never before had a game make me agonize over which dialogue option to choose.  And I’m not sure I ever will again.

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 The 2010’s

Is that what we call ‘em? The 2010’s? Hell if I know. What I can say is that the modern era is the greatest time ever to be a gamer. Retro games, indie titles, and unbelievably realistic graphics are all a thing now. It’s true games are getting a bit ridiculous to pay for ($60 for a typical modern title) but it’s the price we pay for quality. And usually…it’s worth every penny. Also note, it’s possible or even probable that new games will come out before 2020 that are good enough to make this list. Technically that means this part of the list is 2010-2016…and therefore somewhat incomplete. Probably. Maybe.

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Mass Effect 3 (2012)

Let’s forget about the kickass action. Let’s pay no attention to the amazing cutscenes. Let’s not even discuss the unreal amount of customization. ME3 is all about decisions…decisions. With one slip of dialogue, your characters can be lost or changed forever. Which in a way makes this the ultimate thinker’s game. Who gets to live? Who gets to die? I loved the entire Mass Effect series. It probably helped to inspire this novel. And it definitely pulled me into the story without any resistance on my part.  I hear there’s a new Mass Effect coming out someday soon. I’m there.

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The Witcher III – Wild Hunt (2015)

It’s true I’ve gushed over The Witcher before. What can I say? It’s probably my favorite game of all time. Heartstopping action. Smokin’ good graphics. An absolutely killer story. I’m not gonna apologize for all the superlatives. The tale of Geralt, Siri, and the world-swallowing war they fall into is among the best in gaming history. I liked games like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Far Cry, but really they don’t even sniff the same league as The Witcher.

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Doom 2016

Doom (2016)

Twenty years ago, I remember the original Doom. I played it after high school. I played it during high school. I got fired from a job for playing it. I lost countless hours death-matching friends and even girlfriends. And in 2016, the heavens opened up and delivered unto me a gift I’ll not soon forget. Doom 2016 is fast-paced to the extreme, gory to the max, and fun as HELL. It taps into all the retro glory of the original while bringing a whole new level of intensity to the mix. I mean…have you fired the BFG yet? Have you?? Please…make more Doom games like this. Thanks.

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Honorable mentions:

Utopia (1981)

Burgertime (yes seriously) (1982)

Super Mario Bros (1985)

Metroid Prime (2002)

Halo 2 (2004)

Zelda – Twilight Princess (2006) Gamecube version

Crackdown (2007)

Deus Ex – Human Revolution (2011)

And many, many more…

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Hope you enjoyed the list.

For a different brand of entertainment, try this.

And to scare the #$%& out of yourself, go here.

J Edward Neill

Apocalyptic Takeover – A Door Never Dreamed Of

January 2, 2017 | A Door Never Dreamed Of, Books!, human evolution, Sci fi novella | Permalink

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A few days ago, a friend asked me which of my books I’d most want to make into a movie.

‘This one,” I answered. “A Door Never Dreamed Of.”

It goes a little something like this:

A thousand years from today, nearly all of humanity is jacked-In.
We sleep, connected to machines, dreaming our lives away.
For most people, it’s the perfect life.
But for the few who never jacked-In, it’s exile.
Abandoned, persecuted, and betrayed, the Outs plot their vengeance across the centuries.
And when they open the Door, only one way of life will survive…

DoorNeverDreamedPaperback1

Get your copy today, and open the Door.

Your reviews are appreciated.

J Edward Neill

Author of the darkest dark fantasy series ever

And creator of the Coffee Table Philosophy series

New Painting – Specter Ship

January 1, 2017 | Art! | Permalink

My first painting of the new year…

It all started with a challenge when a good friend dared me to:

A. Painting something using a rainbow theme

B. Don’t include any trees (which is kind of my calling card)

When I started, I had no idea what I’d end up with. I slathered a canvas with a full spectrum of watercolors…

…and went from there.

side-view

And some more action shots:

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Specter Ship

36″ x 12″ watercolor on deep-edge canvas

For more of my (slightly less cheerful) art, go here.

For a little something to keep the mood lively this year, hit this.

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

The official Tyrants of the Dead glossary

December 27, 2016 | Dark Moon Daughter, Down the Dark Path, Nether Kingdom, Writing! | Permalink

Three Books

Six Nations

Dozens of Characters

One Civilization bent on Mankind’s destruction

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Welcome to the official Tyrants of the Dead glossary. Herein you’ll find descriptions and blurbs for every major character, place, historical event, and artifact appearing in the Tyrants’ trilogy. This appendix is for all the folks who’ve read the books and for those who are thinking about it. Fear no spoilers! No major event taking place in any of the three books will be revealed.

Scroll down to begin!

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CHARACTERS:

Andelusia Anderae – A young woman from the tiny Grae village of Cairn, Ande (as she’s known to her friends) dreams of a life that is not hers. She is the title character in Dark Moon Daughter.

Archmyr Degiliac – Also known as the The Thillrian, The Pale One, and the Pale Knight.  The son of a hated Thillrian lord, Archmyr murders so many of his father’s rivals as to be branded a butcher and forever exiled. He comes to prominence after being captured by the Furyon Empire and recognized for his ruthlessness.

Bruced (Bru-sed) – Fiercest warrior of Gryphon, but soft-hearted and loyal. Bruced’s hatred of the Grae province of Mooreye is legendary.

Dacin of Dageni – The youngest of the Furyon warlords…and the most powerful. Dacin was raised in the brutal Furyon province of Dageni, largest of the slaver colonies. He defeated the hated Davin Kal in the span of three years, and is swiftly recognized by the Furyon Emperor as the warlord most capable of destroying Graehelm.

Daedelar – A swarthy Thillrian captain-for-hire, Daedelar boasts of having once sailed to Cornerstone and back.

Dank – Also known as Dancmyrcephalis or the Little Man, Dank is an advisor to House Gryphon, a well-traveled sage, and (as some believe) a sorcerer dabbling in black magicks. His oaths to himself far outweigh any promises he makes to Graehelm or its lords.

Emperor Chakran – Furyon’s suzerain. To seize the Furyon throne, Chakran allies with Malog, rumored stronghold of the world’s last (and most wicked) sorcerers. Chakran desires the rebirth of Tyberia, a legendary nation he believes is his birthright to rule.

Emun Gryphon – Lord of Gryphon, and most popular of Graehelm’s Councilors.

Garrett Croft – Friend of Rellen, and most feared soldier of Mormist. To earn redemption for crimes against Graehelm, Garrett makes an oath to Emun Gryphon to forever protect the Gryphon household.

Ghurk Ghurlain – A captive in Thillria’s dreaded Sallow province, Ghurk is the son of a powerful Thillrian lord.

Grimwain – A swordsman and fallen knight. After being exiled from Romaldar for making threats against the Romaldarian king, Grimwain travels east to the Mohrlahn, seeking the aid of the Anderae.

Jacob Nure – Nephew to the ailing Grae king and renowned for his martial prowess, Jacob is closest in line to the throne.

Jix – A diminutive Thillrian man in the service of King Orumna. Jix is tasked with fulfilling many of Orum’s strange requests.

King Orumna – The most corpulent and ineffective king Thillria has ever known. King Orum prefers to eat his way to prosperity than do anything to advance his kingdom.

Lord Ahnwyn – Lord of the Graehelm stronghold of Gallen Hold. Leader of the famed Triaxe Knights. Warden of the south.

Lord Lothe – Lord of Graehelm’s Barrok province, and the general of Graehelm’s northern army.

Lord Tycus – An ambitious Thillrian lord. Tycus is often fair, but just as often harsh.

Marid of Muthem – A young soldier in the employ of Duke Ghurlain, Marid is woefully in love with Andelusia.

Marlos Obas – A cranky captain of the Gryphon guard, Marlos is appointed by Rellen to lead a cadre of soldiers to Mormist.

Myklokain – Rumored to be a member of Grimwain’s family, Myklokain is long-dead, but not.

Nentham Thure - Lord of the hated Grae province of Mooreye. Tall and crow-beaked. Councilor Nentham is universally disliked by his peers and rumored to have designs on Graehelm’s throne.

Nephenia of Yrul – Daughter to a high Yrul lord, Nephenia is married off to a Romaldarian noble in the hopes of gaining Yrul’s complicity during the war to come.

Ona - A mysterious and stunningly beautiful young woman from far southern Thillria.

Rellen Gryphon – The only child of Emun and Sara Gryphon, and the youngest of the high captains in Graehelm’s military.

Revenen – The Lord of Malog. Eldest of the Archithropian line.

Saul of Elrain – After Saul’s family is displaced by raids from the north, Saul bargains with Elrain’s king. In return for the promise of his family’s safety, he accepts the grueling task of delivering an important letter to the lords of Graehelm.

Sara Gryphon – Emun Gryphon’s wife, and the wisdom behind many of his policies.

Ser Arjobec – A Furyon captain, guide, and among the most trusted of Dacin’s advisors.

Ser Endross – Hardiest (and luckiest) of Ahnwyn’s knights, Endross is perhaps the noblest soul in all of Graehelm.

The Ur – An ancient civilization from beyond, beneath, and between the spirit realm, the Ur desire vengeance against mankind for removing them from power.

The Uylen – A race of cursed humans living in a haunted Thillrian forest. In recent years, it’s rumored the Uylen have wandered far from home seeking fresh prey.

The Warlock – The son of a powerful Archithropian decendant, the Warlock’s plans for Thillria are far-reaching.

Thresher – A masked iron knight in the service of Romaldar, the terrifying Thresher accompanies Unctulu and relentlessly hunts Romaldar’s enemies.

Unctulu – A loathsome servant of Romaldarian lords, Unctulu is entrusted with the care of the Needle, an ancient Ur artifact.

Vom – A powerful pupil in Revenen’s care, Vom trails Emperor Chakran throughout the war to ensure the Emperor follows Malog’s plans.

Wkhzl – A weary old shopkeeper in the Triaxe fortress city of Kilnhome. The strange relics contained in his store are like no other in the world.

Wrail – A wicked man from the nation of Romaldar, Wrail claims to possess powers of the Archithropian line.

 

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PLACES:

Archaeus – Capital city of Romaldar. Filled with white marble towers and elegant stone dwellings. Archaeus is also home to the dreaded Wolfwolde.

Cairn – A small village in northwestern Graehelm. Andelusia’s home. Cairn is a peaceful place, but harbors more than a few dark secrets.

Dageni – A smoking, pitted, volcanic province of Furyon, Dageni is home to tens of thousands of slaves who toil to extract precious Dageni ore.

Darken – A stinking, swampy forest in southwestern Furyon. Darken was once the site of an Archithropian burial ground, and is avoided by all wise folk.

Denawir – Capital city of Thillria. Denawir’s gardens are legendary, but less so its king, Orumna.

Elrain – Far north of Graehelm, Elrain’s colonies surround a massive lake. Scholars postulate Elrian was the site of the earliest battles between Archithrope and Niviliath.

Furyon – Not quite the foul, reeking realm Graehelm’s lords predict, Furyon is a land of beauty and deep culture. Until, that is, Emperor Chakran remakes it to serve the war against Graehelm.

Graehelm – The largest of the modern nations, Graehelm is ruled by both a king and an oligarchy of councilors. The Grae lands are largely inhabited by the decendants of Niviliath, the losers of an ancient war against the Ur-worshipping Archithrope.

Grandwood – The vast forest in Graehelm’s heart. Home to the hugest trees in all the world. Grandwood itself is larger than most smaller nations can claim.

Gryphon – The home of Eumn, Sara, and Rellen Gryphon. The old-world city is placed strategically between the Graehelm capital and the troublesome Mooreye province.

Illyoc – The largest city in Furyon. During the Emperor’s rule, Illyoc is transformed from a peaceful trade hub into a stronghold of war, complete with vaulting black towers and cathedrals to house Furyon’s nobles.

Malog – The black citadel of Furyon. Home to the direct decendants of Archithrope. Not built by mankind.

Midnon – A black fortress hidden somewhere in Thillria, Midnon is the Warlock’s stronghold.

Mooreye City – With seven gates and mighty walls, Mooreye City, citadel of Nentham Thure, has long been a source of worry for the rest of Graehelm.

Morellellus – Furyon’s prime trade port, and the harbor for its armada of warships. Morellellus was once a simple trade port, but has been completely remade by Chakran into a fearsome city.

Mormist – The mountain and forest realm of eastern Graehelm. Mormist is the buffer land between Graehelm and the sea (and Furyon).

Romaldar – A realm of vineyards, rolling hills, and silver lakes. Romaldar’s people have always envied Graehelm, but have long lacked the power to make a meaningful challenge to their northern neighbor.

Sallow – In Thillria, no place is more feared than Sallow. Its twisted trees and slate-capped mounds have long sheltered the dark, dismal Undergrave.

Shivershore – Southernmost province of Thillria. Hard to reach, harder to endure. Lying next to the Selhaunt Sea, Shivershore lives up to its name.

The Cornerstone – An island created by the Ur. A twisted, magical place where nothing ages. The site of the bottomless pit built by the Ur to ensure the doom of mankind.

The Nether Chamber – A dungeon far below Romaldar’s capital city, Archaeus. Thought to be a breeding cavern for the spirits of the Ur.

The Undergrave – A network of caverns below Thillria. The caves run too deep to be man-made, and yet…

Thillria – Weakest of the world’s nations, Thillria’s sometimes brutal climate and lack of resources render it uninvolved in the affairs of more powerful lands.

Triaxe – Mountainous home of the sturdy Triaxe knights. Southernmost vassal of Graehelm. Triaxe is also home to Erewain, largest mountain in the known world, and the legendary site of mankind’s final battle against the Ur.

Verod – A crumbling castle in westernmost Mormist, Verod was once home to a vast Graehelm garrison, but no longer.

Yrul – A great valley surrounded by sharp, jagged peaks, Yrul is home to a proud, strong people who are hated by most civilized lands.

 

Grae Map Public View File

EVENTS OF HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE:

Archithropian War – The two thousand year-long war between rival nations, ended only after millions of deaths, countless cities turned to ash, and entire swaths of landscape brought low.

Destruction of Davin Kal – The precursor to Graehelm’s invasion. Emperor Chakran ordered the death of the Davin Kal as training for his protege, Dacin of Dageni.

The Rebuilding of the Five – Legend tells that during the Archithropian war, the lords of the east, having failed to subdue Niviliath after a thousand years, chose to unearth and remake five artifacts of the Ur and use them to destroy their enemy. In truth, only one was remade. The others were simply found…and used.

The End of Tyberia – Little is known about the supposed realm that once stretched from Elrain to Thillria. Scholars say it was a powerful kingdom fractured and divided by Graehelm lords of old. This claim alone is enough for Emperor Chakran to propel Furyon into war against the Grae.

 

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ARTIFACTS AND RELICS:

The Ur Blade – Though never called by its true name in the books, the Ur Blade was fashioned to be the destroyer of all other swords. When used in battle,  the Ur Blade can summon Ur fire and draw upon its wielder’s passion in such a way as to make them nearly invincible.

The Eye – Some believe The Eye was one of the five artifacts left behind by the Ur. This is untrue. The Eye was fashioned by men, and is merely inhabited by the Ur.

The Greyblade – Fashioned from a fallen meteorite by a master Romaldarian weaponsmith, the Greyblade is given to a powerful knight during his search for Grimwain.

The Moonblades – Grimwain’s twin swords. Pale as milk. Almost translucent. Utterly unbreakable.

The Needle – Several Needles have been found since the fall of the Ur, each with a different power. One in particular, the largest and most deadly, is unearthed by a Romaldarian knight in a graveyard under the moonlight.

The Orb – Rebuilt twice since the fall of the Ur, the Orb of Souls was the prime weapon of Archithrope and of Malog. The giant black sphere, lined with pale tines at its base, feeds upon death in order to enslave the living and ultimately ensure the Ur will be resurrected.

The Pages Black – A book of ten pages, each containing a different and increasingly more horrific power. The Ur despise the Pages, for the powers therein belong to them, and yet they adore whenever a mortal uses one of the spells.

The Tower – A common misconception is that Malog is also the Tower. Untrue. The Tower lies in Thillria, existing as a conduit for the Ur to influence mankind, among other things.

Wkhzl’s Dagger – A knife given freely away by the shopkeeper Wkhzl. It’s not meant to harm the living, but has a different purpose entirely.

 

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Copyright 2016 – All rights reserved

J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead dark fantasy trilogy

New Painting – Spirit City

December 27, 2016 | Art! | Permalink

With a huge canvas on my easel, I dreamed up a plan to paint an utterly realistic forest scene.

And then…

At the last moment…

I veered off course and went totally abstract.

spirit-city

Spirit City

24″ x 36″ Acrylic and watercolors on canvas.

If you like this painting, you might also like these.

And if you like to read, you’ll surely love this.

J Edward Neill

Breaking Dark Fantasy – The Tyrants of the Dead fantasy Trilogy

December 21, 2016 | Books!, Dark Moon Daughter, Down the Dark Path, Nether Kingdom, Tyrants of the Dead | Permalink

Ur Hand

Many years have passed…

And many books have I written…

And yet none are as sacred as these first three…

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It’s dark now. It’s raining in cold sheets. Thunder shakes the earth. Lightning tears away the night, at least for a half-breath.

It was on one such night, long ago, I dreamed of writing a story so deep and so dark as to challenge all books ever written.

And so I did.

And when it was finished, I named it Tyrants of the Dead.

Three books. Three individual epics. All woven together in the grandest tale I’ll ever dream of.

This is how it went:

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On Dec 26th, 2001, while lounging in my chair on a bitter winter’s night, I began writing. I’d had a dream, and I needed to get it out of my head. The first words I typed were, “Morellellus, oldest harbor of Furyon, was not always so gloomy.” Many of the tens of thousands of words in the Tyrants of the Dead series would change or vanish altogether, but not these. These have always remained the same.

And with that… Down the Dark Path, book one in the series, was born.

Soul Orb New DDP Cover Second Try

The first and (by far) the longest book in the Tyrants trilogy, Down the Dark Path is at its heart a simple story about a young woman who wanders into a world-ending medieval war. It took me more than ten years to write, rewrite, rewrite again, and finally publish. By the time I finished it in 2013, it had become much more than a tale of a girl and a war. Over the years, I’d added darker and darker elements, including merciless warlords, traitorous knights, and sorcery of the blackest kind. To counter the themes of war and suffering, a love story blossomed in the middle, though whether the tale’s heroine, Andelusia, would ever survive to see her romance through became a question only answered at the utter end.

After completing Down the Dark Path, two things happened.

First, I considered letting one book be the end of it. After all, it was epic length, more than enough to consume three books in most modern fantasy trilogies.

Second, I decided that because it was so long, I wanted to offer it in a four-novella series. Four little books would be easier to wield than one vast epic, I figured.

And so these were born:

DDP 1 DDP 2 DDP 3 DDP 4

These four little novellas comprise all of Down the Dark Path. Meaning, book one in the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy can kinda sorta be four books, depending on how you read it.

Moving right along…

Remember how I mentioned I almost let this be the end of the story? Well…turns out the little feeling in my gut lasted only about two weeks. Shortly after publishing Down the Dark Path, I realized I wanted to create a true fantasy trilogy, and that I wanted it to be huuuuge.

And along came Dark Moon Daughter.

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A few facts about Dark Moon Daughter: It’s the shortest book in the trilogy, significantly shorter than the other two entries, but no less an epic-length read. ALSO…it can be consumed as a stand-alone novel or as a prequel to the third book in the series. Meaning readers don’t necessarily have to read Down the Dark Path to get into it.

In Dark Moon Daughter, I took the themes from Down the Dark Path and tightened them into a story about one person instead of many. The deeper I delved, the darker the plot became. A budding sorceress with a broken heart decides to leave an easy life behind in favor of chasing something…only she has NO IDEA what that something is. Turns out that something isn’t something good. It’s something very, very baaaaaaaaaaad.

Something like:

Andelusia knows she is not like other girls.
More than ever, the night calls to her, the stars grant her serenity, and the shadows of black magic pool within her blood. In the dark spaces between her dreams, she feels the power of the ancient world awakening.
And as the enemies of mankind prepare for the world’s end, she must choose:
Fight them…
…or join them.

I published Dark Moon Daughter in 2014. It was my favorite of the three to write, and ironically the least ‘dark’ in the series.

A few hours after successfully publishing Dark Moon Daughter, I found myself sitting in the shadows again. I was lonely without a book to write, and I needed to get immediately back to work. I’d long ago decided how I wanted the Tyrants series to end. And for all my love of such greats as Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Rothfuss, and all the rest, I believed in my heart I could do fantasy endings better. And by better I mean more adult, more visceral, and darker than anyone had done it before.

Along came Nether Kingdom.

 NetherKingdomWebLgAt the world’s edge, Andelusia awakens to the terrible realization that all her dreams have come to nothing. No matter that her father, the warlock, has fallen into exile. No matter that the enemies of mankind have retreated into darkness. When the shadows in her heart cause the seasons to change and deadly storms to sweep across Thillria, she knows what will come:
The Black Moon will descend.
Grimwain will return.
The Ur will rebuild their haunted civilization atop humanity’s graveyard.
Unless she alone wages war against the Nether Kingdom, the world will burn.

In Nether Kingdom, things go badly for every character who survived the first two books. A villain thought long-dead is resurrected. Planet-snuffing demons roam the ether, ready to remake everything in their image. No one is fully good. Plenty of people are dedicated to evil. For all of Dark Moon Daughter’s departure from pure wickedness, Nether Kingdom brought it back. I gave the bad guys a spotlight and shoved everything else into the shadows. And I really, really enjoyed writing one character in particular, whose name I shall not utter here.

I published Nether Kingdom in 2015. It concluded the Tyrants trilogy. But…and there’s always a but, it doesn’t mean I won’t come back to the series someday. I have plans long in the making that include a prequel AND a two-book sequel. The only challenge: living long enough to make it happen.

Maybe I will.

Maybe I won’t.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse at Tyrants of the Dead. If you want a little more, I created a fun glossary of characters, places, and things from the series. Check it out.

I also hope you’ll read the books. Love them to pieces. And review the hell out of them on Amazon. :)

Until next time…

Love,

J Edward Neill

 

 

J’s Top Six Video Games of All Time

December 21, 2016 | Video Games! | Permalink

I’m in my man-cave at 11-something PM. It’s raining outside. Save for the streetlamp’s flicker beyond my window and the low-key illumination of my laptop, the world is dark. I’m happy to be alone. Ecstatic, actually. If I can squeeze in about 700% more of this kind of time, I’ll die a happy man.

So then. Like video games? Me too. They’re a passion of mine, and although I seldom play them anymore, I’ll always reserve a special place in my chest cavity for them. Anyone who’s ever been in love with video games knows there are two types available for consumption. Foremost, you’ve got games that are just that: games. You blast or hack your way through this or that horde, sort colored baubles to win imaginary prizes, collect coins and 1-ups, or just generally bust the laws of physics for fun. While these kinds of games provide an excellent way of murdering several days/weeks/months of your life, they’re not the type of game I’m talking about today.

What am I talking about? The second type. The games that aren’t just games, but mood-setters, sensory-devourers, mind-benders, and experiences.

So let’s get started:

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#6 – Diablo (The original)

Playing Diablo for me isn’t the same as it is for other folks. Sure, I get a mild kick out of the treasure hoarding, demon slaying, and level upping, but for me Diablo is all about the mood and the music. Before I ever knew I liked to write, I’d sit in the dark at my paleolithic IBM 486 and play it until my eyes hurt. I’d wander ancient ruins with the game’s masterful 12-string guitar soundtrack thrumming in the background, the pixellated rain clattering atop dead men’s roofs. Hell, in recent weeks I’ve hunted down some of the music from the original game. If I ever move into a video game city, I’ll probably pick Tristram. It’s always cloudy there, and the mood suitable for my state of mind.

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Metroid Prime

#5 – Metroid Prime

To be fair, I feel any of the Metroid games (sans the one that really sucked) fit this niche. I’ll go with Prime because if I go too far back I’ll confound the ‘what the hell is a NES?‘ crowd. Metroid for me was always more than a simple space opera. I never cared that the protagonist was a girl, nor that the villains were bland and underdeveloped. What I liked (and love) about the game is its atmosphere. One hero. Alone. Creepy music. Creepier monsters. There’s something elegant about the game’s fusion of far-out science with primeval alien mythology. I’ve always thought the game might’ve made a great movie, maybe even a killer novel. Hmmmm…

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Deus Ex

 #4 – Deus Ex – Human Revolution

When I first picked up Deus Ex, I figured it’d fall in line with most other games. There’d be some cool moments, some blah, blah shooting, and a few dramatic cut scenes. I was wrong. In many instances, Deus Ex walks the line between game and art. Forget how tense and fun the action is. It’s like Blade-Runner blended  with Seven. It’s the not-too-distant future, rain-riddled and fraught with ‘What would I do if this happened to me?‘ moments. It’s fun + gorgeous to look at + elegantly dark. I. Love. It.

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Witcher

#3 – The Witcher – Assassins of Kings

As far as games in the genre I prefer to muddle in, Witcher might be the best of them. The story (pariah accused of regicide) is pulled off better than in most movies. The love affairs, the rivalries, and the this-could-actually-happen feel as powerful as any fantasy novel. Heroes should be likeable and hateable. Love interests should be worthy of our affection and able to beat our asses. Villains should have believable reasons for hating the world. The Witcher has it all. If I didn’t have a three-year old kid, I’d buy the new Xbox and play the sequel.

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Shadow_of_the_Colossus

 #2 – Shadow of the Colossus

Never played it? Unacceptable. Set aside three rainy days and get ‘er done. If you’re not interested in video games, buy it for your girl/guyfriend and watch them play it. Yes, really. Shadow of the Colossus is not the game you think it is.  On the surface, it looks like a dude fighting huge monsters to save the world, his woman, his dog…whatever. It’s not that game. In playing Shadow of the Colossus, you’ll find out what it means to be misguided. You’re the bad guy, and you don’t even know it. You’re a murderer, a destroyer of beautiful art, a sociopath, a monster. What’s the matter with you anyway?

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Zelda

#1 – Zelda – Twilight Princess

As if you didn’t see this coming. Those who know me will roll their eyes and say, ‘Well that was obvious.’ Now, as far as atmosphere, I’ll admit most of the Zelda series doesn’t measure up to the Witchers and Metroids of the world. The music is good, but not soul-stunning. The graphics are neat, but not particularly immersive. Why then have I put Twilight Princess at #1? It’s easy. You’ve got a beautiful world worthy of saving (Hyrule), a familiar, likeable, and best of all silent hero to save it, and a dread-inspiring evil to overcome. Twilight Princess beats the other Zelda games by virtue of its edge, its willingness to embrace adult themes, and most of all, the presence of a villain you knew was coming, but likely spent the whole game asking, ‘Where is my arch-rival? I need that guy, else life is incomplete.’

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Honorable mentions:

Doom – Grim atmosphere. Pinky demons. What else do you need?

Portal – Was pissed about not getting cake…

Skyrim – Too epic not to be included, but damn so many of its characters for being cardboard.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll indulge my inner geek. I found my old Gamecube in a closet last weekend. Time to visit an old, old friend.

* * *

And if you think you know video games, take this 114 question quiz. If you score 60 or higher, you’ve got skills.

J Edward Neill

The Ultimate Video Game Quiz

December 16, 2016 | Books!, Video Games! | Permalink

So you think you know video games?

Or maybe you know someone who claims to be a video game god(dess)?

In my new book, The Ultimate Video Game Quiz, I put gaming know-it-alls to the test. The idea came from my son, who proudly proclaimed he knew everything there was to know about video games. Only…when I hit him up with obscure Metal Gear questions, requested the location of every heart piece in Twilight Princess, and asked him how to find all the 1-up mushrooms in the original Super Mario Bros, he fell silent.

Um…errrrr…can I think about it?” he said.

And that got me to thinking.

What if I made a book to test the full breadth of knowledge possessed by gamers? What if I crammed my geek experience together with that of all my buddies? And what if I tested the entire world to see who’s the most knowledgeable video gamer ever?

So here we are – 114 questions deep.

Don’t worry. In the Ultimate Video Game Quiz, I don’t get obnoxiously obscure, and I try to stick to mostly classic games. Though of course I’ve sprinkled a few off-the-grid questions around. I’ve got gamer friends who wouldn’t let me off the hook if this book were too easy. They’d go all Ganondorf, Ridley, and Bowser on me.

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The idea is this:

Each page contains one, two, or three questions.

The next page has the answers.

There are four sections, with each section containing progressively harder trivia.

Except for the final section, each question answered correctly is worth one point, no matter how easy or difficult.

After you (or your friends) get through the whole book, add up all your points.

1-15 points – You’re not a hardcore gamer. Thanks for playing! J

16-30 points – You’re pretty slick, but you haven’t quite cracked gamer god status. Go play Witcher, Metroid Prime, Grand Theft Auto 5,000, and Dark Souls III. Then we’ll talk.

31-50 points – Most impressive. All I’m sayin’.

51-70 points – You are a true gaming scholar. Or you used Google extensively to cheat. Either way, your dedication is commendable. Let’s hang out sometime.

71+ points – First of all, no person to whom I’ve administered this quiz has ever scored higher than sixty-something. Second of all, if you actually, legitimately scored this high, you’re probably a pro gamer or own every single gaming system ever made. Congrats. You win.

I encourage readers of The Ultimate Video Game Quiz to write their answers and point totals in this book. After all, it’s only a few bucks, a far cry from some of the enormous novels I’ve written. It’s light. It’s fun. It’s for every level of gamer.

And that’s exactly why I wrote it.

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Buy the Ultimate Video Game Quiz for only $5.99 right here.

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If you like it, leave a review! :)

If you like books chock full of interesting questions, you’ll probably like this.

J Edward Neill

Star Wars – Rogue One Review

December 15, 2016 | Movies! | Permalink

* Disclaimer: This review is spoiler-lite. No plot specifics, deaths, easter eggs, or other direct moments from the movie will appear. However, themes and atmosphere will be discussed.

* * *

Before we begin, I have a confession.  I’m going to deliver a particularly unbiased, un-fanboyish review…because I can. You see, I’ve never been a big Star Wars guy. While the first movie intrigued me and The Empire Strikes Back fascinated me, the rest of the movies (except mayyyyybe the final Darth Maul fight in Phantom Menace) bored me to tears. It’s for this reason I feel I’m able to give an extra-fair review. Because while some went into the theater with high or low expectations, I was in the unique situation of going in with neutral expectations. Rogue One is just one more movie to me, not another in a canonical series.

And so it began. On a frigid December night, I wandered alone into a packed theater. Modest cheers erupted when the opening credits rolled, and then everyone fell into reverent silence.

…as is to be expected at a new Star Wars film.

Mads Mikkelsen, the excellent actor of Casino Royale fame, opens up the action as Galen Erso, a character I’d never heard of. There’s a certain stillness to his opening scenes, and right from the start it became apparent this wasn’t like the other Star Wars films. The music cues were slightly familiar, but also somewhat new (and almost jarring.) The conversations were less stiff, and the atmosphere more mature. After all these years of watching (and reading…and discussing) Star Wars, one of my complaints has always been that the Empire felt rather unimposing. The stormtroopers couldn’t hit anything, the bad guys overacted, and my dread was never really inspired.

But in Rogue One, I finally found the fear I’ve been looking for.

The Empire doesn’t pull any punches. The stormtroopers’ aim is 1,000% improved. The rebels find a few foes (other than Vader) worth being terrified of.

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These guys especially…

Early on, we’re introduced to Jyn Erso (played very capably by Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (played just as well by Diego Luna.) These aren’t the Lukes, Hans, and C3PO’s of the early, almost goofball Star Wars realm. These characters are deeper. They give us a taste of the true suffering endured under the Emperor’s Imperial reign. Their dialogue is a cut above the other Star Wars’ films, and while each scene pays loving homage to George Lucas’s vision, there’s no plagiarism here. There’s no ‘we’ve got to fit this cornball one-liner’ in. Sure, we see several familiar faces, but only one scene (I won’t even mention it) felt forced on the audience.

After the early scenes, the action starts moving fast. Things jump from planet to planet. You’ve got to be sharp to keep up with it.

We’re treated to an excellent performance of the reviled Grand Moff Tarkin (played superbly by Guy Henry.) His is a standout role, and deliciously evil. While the main antagonist is somewhat obnoxious, Tarkin is better.

We get a taste of some truly vicious space battles. No cornball Hayden Chistensen & Ewan McGregor banter while slaughtering TIE fighters. Just dudes and chicks fighting to the death with some awesome space hardware.

And we finally get a sidekick (he’s a droid) who’s actually funny. He helps us forget Jar-Jar Binks ever existed. Thanks especially for that, Gareth Edwards (the director.)

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Our nemesis. He whines a bit, but works a solid amount of evil.

Now let’s talk atmosphere. Whereas previous Star Wars (and action films in general) force action scenes that tend to be juuuuust a bit too long, Rogue One gets it right. In the quiet spaces between the action, we get a little more than just a dusty desert scene or bars filled with aliens. There’s rain, beaches, canyons, and beauty. The music gets even better as the movie progresses, and in the latter half, the familiar John Williams score fires up in earnest. More importantly, we get to see the Death Star like never before. No more garbage chutes and incompetent stormtroopers here, ladies and gents. When the D Star rolls over the horizon, the effect is more powerful than all its previous viewings.

So let’s summarize. Does Rogue One have a good plot? Yes, it’s solid. Are the villains the most terrifying (and talented) we’ve seen in a Star Wars’ film? Yes, without a doubt. Do we get to glimpse our favorite historical characters without them being an obnoxious throw-in? Definitely. And is the ending good? Yes….the best I’ve ever seen out of Star Wars. I’ll be a little cryptic so as not to spoil it, but let’s just say fairy-tale endings are dull, and I wish more films had the guts to end like Rogue One.

So…did I love it? Maybe. I’m not sure yet. I will admit it had a few ‘oh come on…that’s unrealistic’ moments. And of course it has the typical Star Wars non-science science.

But…

I really, really liked it. And I will go see it again.

And I haven’t been able to say that about a Star Wars movie since a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

If this it what Star Wars will bring the table in the future, count me in.

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Read more of my movie reviews here.

And get into some seriously deep sci-fi action right here.

J Edward Neill

 

 

10 Off-the-grid Movies You Should See

December 13, 2016 | Movies!, Reviews | Permalink

There are Hollywood smash hits.

And there are bombs.

There are formulaic rom-coms, predictable horror cheese-fare, and various deadly serious films starring Matt Damon.

But as most of us know…

There are films that defy convention, break from the mold, and flip movie-goers’ expectations upside down. Many of these, you might not have watched or even heard of. They’re not quite mainstream, but not quite indie either.

Please enjoy my list of ten eccentric movies, all of which are worth viewing:

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perfume-the-story-of-a-murderer

Perfume – Story of a Murderer

It’s possible I’m starting this list with the best movie of the ten. Perfume – Story of a Murderer is among the most eccentric, most gripping movies ever to hit the screen. It goes like this: a young man with a gifted sense of smell decides he wants to capture the scent of all things. Only…that’s impossible. So rather than continue trying to capture the odors of copper, glass, and dead cats, he steps up his game and makes it his life mission to make the most powerful perfume the world has ever known.

I won’t spoil it more than that.

Featuring Ben Whishaw, the late, great Alan Rickman, Dustin Hoffman, and narrated by John Hurt, Perfume is a powerful tale of the dark places obsessions can go.

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Moon

One must be careful when describing Moon, lest one reveal spoilers.

So I’ll say only this:

A lonely, lonely man named Sam (played by Sam Rockwell) exists on the far side of the Moon with the sole purpose of mining Helium-3. Sam’s only companion is an AI named GERTY. His journey is haunting, sometimes grim, and always mysterious.

Moon’s atmosphere (no pun intended) is different than any movie I’ve ever seen, while the soundtrack is flat out beautiful and chilling.

Just see it.

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My Blue Heaven

Let’s go old school for a minute.

My Blue Heaven is my personal favorite Rick Moranis movie (other than mayyyyyyyyybe Ghostbusters.) And Steve Martin definitely has the best hairdo of any dude ever.

So…when Vinnie (Steve Martin) falls into a semi-ridiculous witness protection program, it becomes Barney’s (Rick Moranis) job to protect him. As expected, Steve Martin’s performance is over-the-top absurd, and Moranis plays it pretty deadpan throughout.

Plenty of critics will say My Blue Heaven’s premise is way better than its execution. To them I say, “Pfffffffft.” My Blue Heaven is good, silly fun.

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shadows

What We Do in the Shadows

Speaking of fun movies, What We Do in the Shadows is among the best of them.

The setup: four vampires living in New Zealand must cope with the everyday challenges of the modern world. This includes: wrangling new victims via a third-party, dealing with dirty dishes, bickering over whose turn it is to clean the house, etc. Each of the vampires is from a different era of history, meaning their interactions are flat-out bizarre and hilarious. It’s shot in a reality TV/documentary format, and it’s insane.

See it now.

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Ex Machina

Everything you need to know about this movie appears in my thorough review – right here.

But seriously, most people I know still haven’t seen this instant sci-fi classic, which baffles me. It’s probably among the best sci-fi movies ever made. It’s that good.

The quick and dirty premise: a megalomaniac scientist creates a powerful AI, which he lures an unwitting young man to perform a Turing Test on.

Big mistake.

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rocknrolla

RockNRolla

Ever seen Snatch? What about Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels? Or…ever seen any Guy Ritchie movie ever?

If so, you’ll love RockNRolla. The plot is too complex to explain in just a few sentences, but I’ll try anyway:

When a Russian real estate magnate pursues big-time property in London, the worst of the city’s criminals close in for a piece of the pie. Meanwhile, the mobster’s son, a drugged-out rocker named Johnny Quid, is the key to the whole deal working out or completely unraveling. And meanwhile, meanwhile, a gang of thieves (played by Gerard Butler, Idris Elba, and Tom Hardy, to name a few) gets in wayyyy too deep.

I’ll just leave it at this – RockNRolla is top-notch Brit crime comedy.

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pan

Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro, fantasy and horror genius, sets the stage for something truly beautiful in Pan’s Labyrinth.

In it, a little girl seeking refuge from a horrific civil war stumbles into a web of dark secrets surrounding her (sadistic) stepfather’s mansion. In typical del Toro fashion, we’re sucked out of the usual Hollywood fantasy tropes and thrust into something eerier, crawlier, and more visceral.

It’s not really a fantasy movie in the typical sense. Nor is it quite horror. It’s about a little girl trying to escape her awful reality, meaning it’s a step above most of the fiction fare you’ll ever see on the big screen.

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the-big-lebowski

The Big Lebowski

You’ve maybe/probably heard of The Dude. At least, I hope you have.

Mashing up Jeff Bridges (mellow) John Goodman (insane) and Steve Buscemi (obnoxious) to star in a movie about a missing rug, a cheating wife, mistaken identity, and bowling, was pure genius from the start. And to call it a cult classic is easily an understatement.

My favorite parts: when John Goodman goes off on John Turturro’s (playing Jesus the bowler) teammate. And then of course the big fight with the nihilists (one of them is played by Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea) at the end.

It’s a total mess. It’s weird. It’s almost without a tangible plot. And it’s awesome.

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The Prestige

“Are you watching closely?”

The Prestige (Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine) is among my all-time favorites.

The plot: when a stage magician’s wife (Piper Perabo) is accidentally killed during a dangerous trick, a cold war begins between her husband (Jackman) and the man (Bale) who may or may not have been responsible for her death.

Everything about The Prestige is a bit dark, a bit tragic, and shadowed by questions about what’s really going on. It’s not really about the stage tricks the two warring magicians pull off. It’s about the rivalry between them, and how much damage the whole concept of revenge can do to everyone involved.

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Kubo and the Two Strings

I figured I’d tie in a kids movie, because…well…so many of us have kids, and kids love movies, too.

Kubo was one of those films I didn’t know anything about when I sat down in the theater to watch with my son. We’d seen exactly half of one preview, and we didn’t really know what we were getting into.

What we didn’t know – Kubo and the Two Strings is an elegant tale about a little boy, a monkey, a giant beetle, and a tiny paper man…and all their adventures as they try to escape the boy’s dreaded (and all-powerful) grandfather. The fight scenes are somehow bloodless AND intense. The subject matter is full of quiet wisdom. And the movie itself is beautiful. My son was riveted during the action, and full of sharp questions about life, death, and love afterward.

What more can you ask for in a kids’ movie?

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Honorable mentions:

Dragonslayer – The coolest old school fantasy film you’ve never heard of

Strange Brew – Max von Sydow versus Rick Moranis? Count me in

Memento – A classic head f**k

The Machinist – Christian Bale lost a million lbs. for the lead role

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If I were to make one of my novels into a movie, I’d choose this one.

…and this one, too.

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

This article is a mirror of my original Tessera Guild spot.

New painting – Chasing Death

December 10, 2016 | Art! | Permalink

Sometimes I go off the reservation with surreal art ideas.

My latest painting, Chasing Death, is one such effort.

I grabbed a random canvas from my stash, mixed together a fairly random color palette, and voila:

chasing-death

Chasing Death – 18″ x 32″

Paintings like these are my favorite. No forethought, no plans, just colors and paintbrushes.

The original Chasing Death canvas is available here.

Prints and other materials are here.

Oh, and here’s another angle:

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If you liked this painting, you might like these.

And if you like words, try some of this.

J Edward Neill

Deep, dark fantasy – Nether Kingdom

December 8, 2016 | Books!, Free Stuff, Nether Kingdom, Tyrants of the Dead | Permalink

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Nether Kingdom

The latest dark fantasy epic by J Edward Neill

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

Nether Kingdom

Click here to buy and review!

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

It can be read as a standalone novel.

Books I and II are here:

Soul Orb New DDP Cover Second Try Dark_Moon_Daughter-InitialCover

J Edward Neill

Master of sci-fi and fantasy

Creator of Coffee Table Philosophy

 

Replacing Createspace? – Amazon’s KDP offers softcover print service beta

December 7, 2016 | Books!, Kindle Countdown Sale | Permalink

Authors who use Amazon’s Createspace or KDP services might want to take a look at the new option just released today.

Apparently Amazon has decided to consolidate some of their print-by-demand services by offering softcover book sales via KDP.

What does it mean? Situation: not quite certain

Right now the KDP softcover print option is in beta mode, meaning Amazon is testing its viability. But if it takes off, and if it expands print services to include non-standard book trim sizes, (right now it doesn’t) one wonders if the shift in focus away from Createspace will benefit authors. Will KDP-like marketing services (similar to Kindle Countdown) be made available? Does Amazon have additional marketing services in mind?

Here’s the basics straight from Amazon’s help page:

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Move Your CreateSpace Paperback to KDP (Beta):

Moving your CreateSpace paperback to KDP will consolidate your paperback and eBook publishing on a single website. You will receive combined royalty payments for the marketplaces you sell your eBooks and paperbacks to. You do not need to do anything extra – your current account settings, payment information and tax details do not need updates. With KDP, you can distribute to Japan in addition to the US and European marketplaces. We also offer a multilingual user interface and customer support in German, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, and Japanese.Although KDP doesn’t yet offer author copies, proof copies, or expanded distribution, we will be adding those features in the future.

KDP’s print features won’t affect any existing CreateSpace titles unless you choose to republish them on KDP. It’s up to you whether you want to start publishing new paperbacks on KDP.

KDP and CreateSpace feature comparison chart

Feature KDP CreateSpace
Distribution to Amazon.com (US) Yes Yes
Distribution to Europe (Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, and Amazon.es) Yes Yes
Distribution to Japan (Amazon.co.jp) Yes No
Order physical proof copies Not yet Yes
Order wholesale author copies Not yet Yes
Expanded distribution to bookstores and non-Amazon websites Not yet Yes

How to publish your CreateSpace paperback on KDP

  1. Set up a new paperback title on your KDP Bookshelf.
  2. On the Paperback Details page, enter the same metadata used for your CreateSpace book.
  3. Select “Yes” when asked whether this book was previously published on CreateSpace.
  4. Click “Save and Continue” to move on to the Paperback Content page.
  5. Under the ISBN header, enter the same 13-digit ISBN used to publish your book on CreateSpace. If you have a 10-digit ISBN issued by CreateSpace, use the ISBN converter to find your 13-digit ISBN equivalent.
  6. Click “Continue” to sign in to your CreateSpace account and validate your ownership of the title.

Once you’re redirected back to KDP, you’ll want to enter the same book details (publication date, trim size, paper type, cover finish) and upload the same manuscript and cover files you used to publish on CreateSpace. KDP’s print specifications are similar to CreateSpace, except we don’t support custom CreateSpace trim sizes. See the trim sizes KDP supports

With our Online Previewer, you can proofread your paperback manuscript online or download it to view offline.

After you publish your CreateSpace book on KDP, we’ll automatically remove your CreateSpace paperback from sale, and your KDP sales will be tracked in your KDP sales and royalty reports. You can still access historical sales reports on CreateSpace but you will not need to take any additional action there.

Files made with CreateSpace templates

In most circumstances, if you used a CreateSpace template to format your cover or manuscript file, you can reuse the same files to publish your CreateSpace paperback on KDP. See exceptions where you’ll need to edit your Cover files and Manuscript files below. If you paid for a CreateSpace cover or interior service, contact CreateSpace customer support to get your files.

If Online Previewer finds errors in your uploaded files, you’ll want to correct the formatting and reupload the files. Troubleshooting tips follow below, and you can also see our KDP Print Publishing Guidelines for detailed help with formatting errors.

Cover files
Some older CreateSpace cover templates include white space around the edges that trigger errors on KDP’s Online Previewer. If you used a CreateSpace template to create your cover, make sure it matches your book’s intended trim size and remove any extra white space. Learn more about KDP’s cover size requirements.

Manuscript files
KDP does not support custom CreateSpace trim sizes. If you used a CreateSpace interior template to create your manuscript file, make sure it’s in a trim size that KDP supports. If not, reset the trim size and reformat your manuscript file to match your new trim size.

* * *

I’m intrigued (and maybe a little bit hopeful) about this move.

Although, considering the huge issues with Amazon’s reporting of page-reads via the Kindle Unlimited program, maybe I shouldn’t be so optimistic.

What do you think?

*

J Edward Neill

Author of sci-fi hit A Door Never Dreamed Of

Creator of Coffee Table Philosophy

Ten questions to ask your tipsy friends

December 6, 2016 | Coffee Table Philosophy, humor, Life | Permalink

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It’s late. You’ve had a few adult beverages. You’re with a few friends. Or maybe you’re alone.

It’s time to break out ten questions you might not ask if you were sober.

* * *

Let’s Get Physical

 Assuming one-on-one combat, what percentage of the world’s population could you handle in a fight?

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Unshackle the Chains 

Consider the laws in whichever country you call home.

Choose three things you want to no longer be illegal.

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Buying Love

 You have $10 with which to build your ideal romantic companion.

Spend wisely:

$5 – Fantastic in Bed                       $5 – A Great Parent

$3 -An Amazing Body           $3 – A Great Sense of Humor

$3 – Highly Intelligent         $2 – A Specific Skill ($2 per Skill)

$1 – Has ________ in Common With You ($1 Each)

$3 – Morally Solid             $5- Wealthy

$7 – Will Always Love You

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Silver Tongues

 What is the worst lie you’ve ever told? 

If you’re reluctant to answer, then…

…what is the worst lie someone has ever told you?

And why?

*

The Heist 

If you could steal any one thing in the world and make it yours forever, what would it be?

It can be an object, a person, a life situation, a place.

You won’t get in any trouble for taking it.

No one will ever know.

Well?

*

On a Scale of 0-10…

…in which 0 is ‘not at all’, 5 is average, and 10 means ‘highly’:

How intelligent are you?

How physically attractive are you?

How charming?

How artistic?

How generous?

 And how narcissistic?

*

Three Drinks Too Many

 People in relationships can answer this one, too. (just make sure their significant other is cool…or not present.)

 So…

It’s Friday night.

You’re out with your friends, no date.

You’ve had a few drinks too many.

If you were to text or call any one person from your past, who would it be.

And why?

*

Let’s Just Hope They Shave  

 Think about romance during previous generations.

The Roaring 20’s

The Sexual Revolution

The Renaissance

Suppose you got a chance to sample a bit of romantic life in one of these time periods.

Which one would you pick?

And why?

*

Fight Club Time Machine

 Suppose you’re given the chance to travel back in time to fight any one historical figure to the death.

If you defeat them, the course of history will be changed in accordance with their absence.

The fight will be hand-to-hand. Your foe will be in their prime.

Whom will you fight?

*

The Ultimate ‘What if?’

 If you could be a member of the opposite sex for one single day, would you?

Assume no one but you will ever know.

If yes, what would you like to experience?

What age would you want to be?

What situation would you want to be in?

If you’re not interested, why not?

* * *

These ten questions were pried from the pages of my Coffee Table Philosophy series.

In these books, I pose more than 1,000 questions to people.

Some of which are here.

And sexier ones are here.

J Edward Neill

Painting with Darkness, Part XIII

November 30, 2016 | Art! | Permalink

It’s almost my birthday.

And I thought I’d celebrate by offering up one of my favorite subject matters to paint – demons.

Typically in the Painting with Darkness series, I reveal the entire process from start to finish.

But with this next piece, I painted it quickly and without planning…

And thus Scavenger of the Night was born.

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Scavenger of the Night – 12″ x 24″ Acrylics and watercolors on white canvas

Oh, and here’s another angle…

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The original is available for $150. Reach me here.

Prints and other materials are available here.

Previous Painting with Darkness entries: I, II, III, IV, V, VIVIII, IX, X, XI, XII.

J Edward Neill

The Ultimate Get to Know Someone Quiz!

November 21, 2016 | Books!, Coffee Table Philosophy, humor | Permalink

Available now

The very first book with cover art straight from the paintbrush of my five-year old son.

(That’s actually true ^^^)

The Ultimate Get to Know Someone Quiz

It’s the most entertainment you can squeeze into 101 pages.

Pass it around to friends and family. Bring a copy to your breakroom at work. Crash a party with a few copies in hand.

Inside you’ll find a ton of fun, quick questions designed to shine a light on your friends’ and loved ones’ hearts and minds.

The best part? It’s only $5.99. Snag your copy today!

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With cover art by Garrett Alexander.

And questions by me…

J Edward Neill

Three New Shadows

November 20, 2016 | Art! | Permalink

Finally…

I’ve settled in my new house long enough to reboot my creative engine and slather up some new paintings.

I’ve got new lighting, a cabinet stocked with all manner of deep, dark colors, and a set of brushes sharper than any sword…

Please enjoy:

sylpha

Sylpha – 12″ x 12″

Sylpha is a character from my upcoming novel, Darkness Between the Stars. Here, I give her the abstract treatment. She cuts a sad figure, doesn’t she?

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forlorn

Forlorn – 12″ x 32″

Forlorn is the first painting I finished in my new setup. The colors are powerful, and the effect really strong in rooms with low light.

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lake-of-longing

Lake of Longing – 24″ x 48″

After I finished Lake of Longing’s red companion (Forlorn, shown above) I knew I had to paint a bigger, darker version. Lake of Longing is epic-level huge, and dominates my gloomy man-cave, just the way I love it.

If you enjoyed these, you’ll probably also like these.

Until next time…

J Edward Neill

These little books make perfect gifts

November 10, 2016 | Books!, Coffee Table Philosophy, Life, Non Fiction | Permalink

Got a few stockings to stuff?

Have a friend you have no idea what to get for the holidays (or a birthday?)

Need something for under $10?

Solutions await thee.

Welcome to the Coffee Table Philosophy series. These slim, sexy coffee table books are full of fun questions and quizzes to keep anyone (or any gathering) entertained for hours. There’s something for everyone: women, men, couples, singles, et cetera!

The best part? Most of the books in the Coffee Table series are under $7.00!

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101 Questions for Humanity – The original entry in the Coffee Table Philosophy series asks short, simple questions with aim of provoking thoughtful answers. 101 pages – 101 questions.

Buy it here!

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101 Questions for Midnight – The stakes are raised and the questions darker than ever in this fun, engaging ice-breaker book. Includes questions that are slightly more serious than other entries in the series.

Buy it here!

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101 Questions for Women – Written with women in mind but accessible to everyone, 101 Questions for Women focuses on love, lust, and the breakdown of traditional gender roles.

Buy it here!

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101 Questions for Men – Geared for men, this entry in the Coffee Table Philosophy series asks questions about sex, relationships, war, politics, and much more.

Buy it here!

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444 Questions for the Universe – Meant to entertain for hours, 444 Questions is a grand compilation of serious yet fun questions. It includes four books worth of questions: Humanity, Midnight, Women, Men, plus 40 bonus ‘Questions from Beyond.’

Buy it here!

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101 Qs for the End of the World Front Cover

101 Questions for the End of the World – Definitely the most serious entry in the Coffee Table Philosophy series, the questions in this volume challenge readers’ minds regarding science, philosophy, and the meaning of life.

Buy it here!

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101 Deeper, Darker Questions for Humanity – 101 dark questions to test your morality, challenge your ethics, and entertain your friends. The questions here are slightly longer and more in-depth than other entries.

Buy it here!

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The Little Book of BIG Questions – This one is a compilation of the most serious entries in the Coffee Table series. It includes the entire volumes 101 Questions for the End of the World and 101 Deeper, Darker Questions for Humanity.

Buy it here!

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101 Questions for Couples – Love and fun collide in this lighthearted collection of questions meant to turn up the heat between lovers. Want to get to know your partner better? This will help!

Buy it here!

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101 Sex Questions – Lovers and laugh-seekers alike will find entertainment in this sexy sidekick to the Coffee Table Philosophy series. For adults only!

Buy it here!

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101 Questions for Single People – In the modern world of swiping left and never looking back, 101 Questions for Single People explores every facet of love, lust, and human romantic connection. Includes questions about every aspect of dating!

Buy it here!

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Spread the love!

J Edward Neill

If you’re into more serious fare, click here. :)

From Dungeon Master to Starving Artist.

November 8, 2016 | Books!, Life, Role Playing | Permalink

Christmas Eve 1987.

I was eleven years old.

As far as gift-hauls go, 1987 was a reasonable year. I raked in some fresh NES games, unwrapped a new pile of GI Joe action figures, and rolled my eyes at the requisite stack of clothes for school. I would’ve been satisfied if that’s all it had been. Toys, games, and clothes…what more could an eleven-year old want?

And then my Uncle John rolled into town.

You see, I lived in Chicago with my grandparents at the time, and the snows that winter were brutal, particularly that night. We’re talking piles of white powder in the yard and dirty grey slush on every road. We’re talking fifteen hours of night, and no real breaks in the clouds for weeks. Uncle John had to commute all the way from downstate, which normally takes two hours, but that night it took him pretty much triple the time. Either it was the snow’s fault, or he dreaded Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house.  I guess I’ll never really know for sure.

The hour was late. Ok, maybe not that late, but late for an eleven-year old who’d just spent the entire day begging his grandparents, aunts, and uncles to unwrap a few of all his gifts early. Having succeeded at tormenting them into a massive gift-release, I sat in my bedroom, surrounded by wrapping paper and happiness, content with my life. I could’ve died a happy child right then and there, drowning in a sea of blue inter-connectable racetracks, NES cartridges, tiny plastic rocket launchers, and socks.

But I didn’t die. I heard a summons from the living room, and out I shambled. If I was slow, it’s because my belly was stuffed with Circus Peanuts and Orange Crush. I was sleepy. I was dragging. I just wanted to be left alone for the next three months to fully soak up my gift-haul.

“Jeremy, your Uncle John has one last gift for you. Do you want to open it tonight?” I remember someone asking me.

I halted. Of course I do! I screamed in my head-movie.

“Yeah ok,” I grunted in real life.

Uncle John handed me a wide, flat box. You know the ones. I think it was from Macy’s, and it had all the hallmark signs of being another box full of clothes. It wasn’t gift-wrapped, but it did have a single red bow on top. One. Red. Bow. Uncle John wasn’t a sentimental dude, which I could (and still do) understand.

When I took the box, I had the same sinking feeling every kid does when he sees a box like that.

Great. More clothes.

I thanked him and padded back into the hallway. No one thought much of my departure. I wasn’t two steps away before all the adults (I was the only kid in the house) started talking politics again. Not even Uncle John seemed fazed by my apparent disinterest. Untended to, I plunked down in my bedroom doorway, sighed with all the weight an eleven-year old could muster, and pried the top off the box.

I guess I should’ve realized the box was too heavy to be full of clothes.

And I should’ve known my Uncle John was too cool for sweaters and school shirts.

What was inside?

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Mind. Blown.

Before that instant, I’d never heard of Dungeons & Dragons. I’d never heard about role-playing, tabletop gaming, or rolling dice to kill undead lich lords. As I picked up the first tome (the Dungeon Master’s guide was my favorite) I felt as if a sharp breeze blew away the memory of all my other gifts. It stunned me, and made me shiver both literally and figuratively. Also in the box: a set of sparkly green polyhedral dice (which my players would learn to hate) and a stack of PC stat sheets, but I didn’t yet comprehend their meaning. I couldn’t see it yet.

I was lost, but in a good way.

Winter deepened. Chicago frosted over for most of the next three months. I didn’t care. Even though I lacked local friends to game with or a real understanding of what I was getting into, I consumed the books Uncle John had bought me. When I say ‘consumed’ I don’t mean to imply I merely read them a few times. No…I memorized them. I gobbled up the D&D dialect, became a master at its mechanics, and plotted for the day I’d actually be able to run a campaign.

But more than this, more than just learning the game, I felt a door open inside my mind. I’d always had a vivid imagination, but this was something different. It changed my perspective about what creativity could be.

And in doing so, it changed the course of my life in a very real way.

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Let’s fast forward a few years.

Far removed from frosty Chicago, I found myself in a hot, heavily-wooded part of North Georgia. My parental unit had remarried and shipped us to the deep south, where summers were forever and winters were but a few weeks of rain in late January. I missed the frozen wastes, but thawing out felt nice. And more than the weather were the chances to meet new friends.

Friends who would game with me.

Friends who shared my passion for deep, dark storytelling.

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….and friends who would fight this dude at my side.

And so it began. In eight grade, I met The Kube, a friend who was willing to spend endless hours rolling dice with me. He created the legendary characters Silverleaf, Black Dragon, and the wizard who became a prime character in my epic fantasy series, Dank. Then in my freshman year in high school, I met Egg, John McGuire, and the devious Chris Griner.

And it was ON.

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I was a dedicated DM, going so far as to create my own 200-page hardcover campaign setting…

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We spent thousands of hours role-playing.

We downed hundreds of pizzas, killed barrels of Mountain Dew, and endured sessions lasting upwards of 15 hours.

My players learned to hate my dice, but I like to think (in my head-movie) they enjoyed the fact our games were about more than slaughtering imaginary monsters. We told stories. Deep stories about sacrifice and suffering. Legendary stuff that no video game can capture, that not even the longest, most profound novel can duplicate. If you’ve ever played our style of ‘storytelling’ D&D, you know what I mean. The players are a part of an epic tale, not just dice-rolling treasure fiends. The dungeon master is merely a blank page, ready to turn whichever direction the players want to go.

But the best part?

It didn’t stop there.

It began

Many years after my last epic session, sometime in the early 2000’s, all the storytelling lessons I’d learned flashed back into my mind. I missed (desperately) the feeling of sitting down with friends to weave a deep, dark tale, but I knew at the same time I probably wasn’t ever going to recapture it. We’d all moved apart and built our own lives. Some of us were married, and others were exploring new careers. Lacking a way to play the game I loved, I had to find a new outlet for my unbridled creativity.

And so I started my writing journey.

I sat down in the dark, my brain brimming with an entire childhood’s worth of ideas.

And the stories, many of them birthed a decade or more earlier, began to pour out of my fingertips.

Over the next fifteen years, I wrote fantasy novels, sci-fi tales, spooky novellas, and other fictional fare. I couldn’t stop. I was (and still am) a man possessed. Looking back at all of it, I know I never would’ve done it if not for those endless nights of dice-rolling and gold piece counting. I might’ve done other creative stuff, but the depth wouldn’t have been there. The story-telling skills I learned during a decade of D&D’ing were irreplaceable stuff. The seed had been planted on Christmas Eve 1987, and had grown into something I never could’ve anticipated.

Those three little books changed the way I thought. The way I imagined. The way I wanted to create. And after thousands of dice rolls, hundreds of hours spent preparing stories for my players, and countless nights at the gaming table, I wasn’t the same person I’d been. I’d grown to appreciate the art of a story without an end, and I’d learned to love all the crazy thought-collisions that happened while playing this simple little game.

There are those who will mock D&D. They’ll say it’s a game for nerds, introverts, maybe even losers. Some will even claim it supports anti-social, anti-religious behavior. Nonsense…all of it. Done right, D&D is a vehicle for allowing people to take part in a story. It’s better than TV, which isn’t interactive. It’s better than video games, which confines players to a controller and some pixels. In many ways, it’s the most imaginative game ever created. It was for me. And I’m willing to bet, it was for many, many others.

So here’s to The Kube, Egg, Griner, Nicky P, Jeremy II, John, and all the rest. These fine friends were inspirers of more characters than I can recollect. AD&D First Edition forever!

And here’s to Uncle John. He gave me three little books that rocked my world.

…and inspired twenty-four books of my own…and counting.

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Written in 2013. Conceived in 1987.

If I had any advice to modern parents, it’d be something like this:

Take your kids’ phones away. Give them a D&D book. And walk away.

J Edward Neill

Author and Artist

DownTheDarkPath

This article is a mirror of my original Tessera Guild spot.

How Many Stars should I give a Book on Amazon??

November 4, 2016 | Reviews | Permalink

This game sucked – One star review

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

My new windshield wipers arrived late – One star review

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

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See where I’m going with this?

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

But for books…whoa.

Totally different process.

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

Now let’s start at the bottom:

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One Star Reviews

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

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Two Star Reviews

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

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

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Three Star Reviews

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

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

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

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Four Star Reviews

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

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

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

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Five Star Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

J Edward Neill

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

If you prefer non-fiction, go here.

Three Dark Fantasy Epics…in One

November 1, 2016 | Books!, Dark Moon Daughter, Down the Dark Path, Nether Kingdom, Tyrants of the Dead | Permalink

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Deep readers, consumers of dark fantasy, lovers of epic tales…

My massive trilogy, Tyrants of the Dead, is now available as a three-book Kindle set.

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The Tyrants series contains three epic stories. Each can be read on its own or as part of a larger, darker adventure.

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Of course, the individual books are available on their own:

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Down the Dark Path is book I in J Edward Neill’s Tyrants of the Dead trilogy. When a young woman leaves home in search of a better life, she plunges into a world-ending war. The deeper she falls, the more she senses dark powers rising within her, and the more she realizes she is not so different than the enemy.

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Dark Moon Daughter – Book II in the series. Three years have passed since the Furyon war, but the memories of her time in Malog haunt Andelusia every night. When an emissary from a distant land arrives in Graehelm to beg her aid, she sees a chance to uncover the meaning of her inner darkness…and learn the source of her unnatural powers.

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Nether Kingdom -  Book III. At the world’s edge, Andelusia awakens to the terrible realization that all her dreams have come to nothing. When the shadows in her heart cause the seasons to change and deadly storms to sweep across Thillria, she knows what will come. The Black Moon will descend. Grimwain will return. The Ur will rebuild their haunted civilization atop humanity’s graveyard. Unless she alone wages war against the nether kingdom, the world will burn.

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Tyrants of the Dead

Darkest of ALL dark fantasy trilogies.

J Edward Neill