The official Tyrants of the Dead glossary

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.

 

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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

Breaking Dark Fantasy – The Tyrants of the Dead fantasy Trilogy

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.

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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

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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 #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.

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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

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 right here.

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

* 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.

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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.

* * *

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

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 – 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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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

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’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

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

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:

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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

Ten questions to ask your tipsy friends

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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

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!

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

These little books make perfect gifts

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 Front Cover

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 Cover

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 Cover

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 Cover

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 Qs for Couples Front Cover

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 xxxy Questions Front Cover

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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101QSP

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.

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.

* * *

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??

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:

one

 

One Star Reviews

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

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two

 

Two Star Reviews

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

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

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three

 

Three Star Reviews

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

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

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

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four

Four Star Reviews

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

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

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

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five

Five Star Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Why I’m still convinced #NothingMatters

It’s funny the things we decide to care about.

It’s curious the flow of socio-political liquid through the masses.

Do you ever wonder if, a thousand years ago, the hashtag causes would’ve been #SanitationMatters, #PeasantsMatter, or #ArrowsDon’tKill but #ArchersDo?

ArcheryDuring World War II, if Twitter had existed, the Allies’ causes would’ve been obvious (Sadly the Axis’s would’ve been, too.) But what about during the American Revolution? Would it have been #IndependenceMatters, #RedcoatLivesMatterToo, or simply #WeHateKingGeorge?

Well?

Nearly every day of our lives, we see someone or some group expelling causes across the internet. Seems everyone has an interest in telling everyone else what should be important. ‘You should care about this,’ they shout. ‘This is important, #TheseLivesMatter,’ but, ‘That shit over there doesn’t matter.’ These days anyone with fingers and a computer has a soapbox. Some folks choose not to stand on it. But a crap-ton of other people are happy to jump on and start talking/typing.

But talking ain’t the same as doing.

And while a hundred-thousand people might appear to agree with a common cause on their Facebook pages, ultimately they’re all just individuals. With their own lives and problems. Most of whom don’t actually give two shits about the cause beyond clicking ‘Like.’

Boromir

If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, did it make a sound?

Yes.

If shit goes down and no one’s there to care, did that shit matter?

Hmmmm…

Every day globally, thousands of humans die. Some from sickness, others by accident, still others by war, suicide, and foul play. Every hour, people are wronged. People are robbed, kidnapped, assaulted, maimed, and abused. Now imagine all these terrible things if no one reported them. No news. No weather channel. No 60 Minutes specials. No hashtags made up to gather attention. Without media coverage, the only ones who’d know about localized suffering would be the survivors, the perpetrators, and a handful of observers.

Compared to the way things are now, the world would be quiet. It might even seem peaceful, even though it wouldn’t be.

Because…without the media storm surrounding the modern world, we’d never know about all these terrible things. Not even the good things. We’d never care. #NothingWouldMatter because we’d never hear about stuff. We’d be the same as most people were a few hundred years ago. The only things that would matter to us would be those affecting our village, our clique, our small sphere of stuff we could actually see, hear, and touch.

Now, I’m not going all nihilistic on you. To say #nothing has any value at all would be a tough sell to most people, especially those with children, lovers, amazing friends, close family, or even pets. However…if we peek just outside our bubble of people and things that matter, what’s out there? What’s really out there? Good stuff. Bad stuff. But mostly just stuff. Stuff that doesn’t affect you. Or me. Or anyone other than the people directly involved in it.

Now let’s take a #DoesItReallyMatter quiz:

Pretend you and everyone you knew got really pissed off at how refugees in a faraway war were being treated, but none of you actually went out to fight the bad guys oppressing these refugees. So. Did the refugees matter to you? As in really?

Let’s say you actually did get up and fight the bad guys, but that one generation later, the refugees formed a country who started doing the same terrible things that had been done to them. Did your involvement matter?

If a city a hundred miles away vanished overnight and all its people were lost, but no one you knew had ever lived there, would it matter to you? Honestly?

If a nation (population 1 billion) you’d never paid attention to were invaded and destroyed tomorrow, would such a catastrophic loss matter to you? Other than maybe make you afraid for your own nation? Other than maybe make you crap your pants? Is it even possible for one person to care about a billion other individuals?

What I’m saying is; for all the things a person really, really cares about in their life, they’ll fight like lions to defend. They’ll make huge sacrifices, they’ll go to war, they’ll spend all their money, they’ll invest their heart and soul. They’ll die to see it done. It’s that important. #ItMatters.

But for everything else, they’ll just go online and ‘Like’ it.

…or talk about it at the water cooler.

…or catch in on the news right before watching their favorite tv show.

Because, just maybe, #ItDoesn’tReallyMatter

No matter how much we like to tell ourselves we care about all the crazy stuff going on the world…

…most of the time, we don’t.

We can only really care about the things closest to us.

And that’s just the way it should be.

#NothingMatters

#Well…AlmostNothing

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Want to start a few hot debates ? Click here and here.

Want to read about people who have it way tougher? Right. Here.

Love,

J Edward Neill

My Posthumous Slayer & Anthrax Review

If you’re a fan of thrash, speed metal, or any of the hard, fast, deadly metal bands from the 80’s all the way up to the modern era, it could be said:

  • You haven’t really lived until you’ve seen Slayer perform live
  • You’ve stood in a thrash metal pit and soaked up the abuse love of your fellow concert-mates
  • You’ve gone home in a haze of sweat and Jack Daniels with your ears ringing and your throat sore

These are things I know to be true.

Oct 5th, 2016 was one such formidable night. I was lucky enough to attend a mid-week show at Atlanta’s legendary Tabernacle theater. Slayer headlined, preceded by thrash metal pioneers Anthrax and Death Angel. The evening was cool outside, while the Tabernacle was as smoky and crowded as I remember from ages past.

It had all the promise of an epic night.

And for the most part, it delivered.

First, I have an admission. I arrived late to the show, missing opening act Death Angel completely. Like any sprawling city, Atlanta’s traffic is simply awful. One mishap on any of a dozen major roads shuts the whole scene down. I had every intention of arriving in time to catch every minute of each act, but the highways had a different plan in mind. So…… After two hours in traffic, I showed up just in time to grab two double Jack Daniel cocktails and plant my boots near stage-left, where Anthrax was already taking the stage.

Interesting note: just for kicks, Anthrax allowed the guy who plays Daryl on the show The Walking Dead to crash the stage just before their first song. I don’t know a damn thing about Daryl or his show, but the girls in the crowd did, and when Daryl picked up a bass guitar and pretended to jam, they soaked it up.

And then, boom. Anthrax started thrashing. (Or is it ‘thraxing’?)

anthrax_story_

Scott Ian (right) and Joey Belladonna (left) of Anthrax.

Now it’s true; Anthrax is a much different band than Slayer, so their inclusion on this part of Slayer’s US tour was an interesting choice. Singer Joey Belladonna belts out songs more in line with 80’s hair-bands, only with slightly more ferocity. Some might perceive them as not being as ‘heavy’ or ‘gritty’ as Slayer and other deathier bands. But as for my view, Anthrax’s spot in the metal pantheon is secure.

  • They played a viciously tight set
  • They showed no signs of aging. Scott Ian, rhythm guitar god, looked shredded, as did the other members
  • Belladonna’s voice was as crisp and powerful as ever

Anthrax’s set was maybe 45-minutes long. As one of the few ‘singer-only’ guys in the industry (most metal lead singers also play bass guitar) Belladonna hammed it up with the crowd between hooks. The set-list was energetic, especially when crowd-favorite Scott Ian took center stage and chugged through several awesome riffs. One noteworthy thing: Anthax’s style has always been kinda anthemic and sing-along, which is cool. One other noteworthy thing: despite their best efforts, the Tabernacle crowd just wasn’t biting. (More on that later.)

As my first Anthrax viewing (compared to at least six Slayer viewings) I was mightily impressed. Hair-band thrash isn’t exactly my thing, but ‘Thrax did it perhaps better than anyone. In the future, I’d like to see a show they headline.

After Anthrax went silent, and after another Daryl the dude from The Walking Dead sighting, the curtain fell over the main stage. Someone (bravely) had scrawled a bloody ‘Slayer’ logo on the otherwise pristine white curtain, which the crowd appreciated.

And so I drank.

And milled about the crowd.

And drank.

And again I noticed that despite the promise of Slayer, most mighty of all thrash-metal bands, the crowd was…sleepy.

And then…

…with a rumble, a few drum smashes, and a growling bass, the white curtain lifted and Slayer emerged. The crowd erupted (kind of) and the world shook. Tom Araya opened with the title track from ‘Repentless,’ and it get better with each song. Compared to my previous experiences with Slayer (including a show at the Tabernacle back in the early 2000’s) I can say without a doubt Tom, Kerry, Paul, and Jeff Hanneman’s stand-in Gary Holt are still every bit the gods of death. While no one will ever truly replace Hanneman, Gary Holt is more than capable. His solos rattled the Tabernacle, ditto for Tom Araya’s ageless howls and Paul Bostoph’s percussive blasts.

81d4c63a-f68f-4cba-8877-9ce4cd7ccd40_113721_custom

King, Holt, Bostoph, and Araya

In case you care, here’s the setlist. (I’ve dropped an asterisk to the highlights of the night.)

Repentless

The Antichrist * A fine, fine choice for the first ‘oldie’ of the night.

Disciple

Postmortem * Probably the tightest, most energizing song in the setlist.

Hate Worldwide

War Ensemble

When the Stillness Comes

You Against You

Mandatory Suicide

Fight Till Death

Dead Skin Mask * The only time Tom Araya addressed the crowd was to explain how Dead Skin Mask is a Slayer ‘love song.’

Born of Fire

Pride in Prejudice

Vices

Seasons in the Abyss * Personally, I think this is Slayer’s best song ever. Played live, it’s twice as good.

Hell Awaits * I’d never heard this one live before this show. Completely worth the wait!

South of Heaven

Raining Blood

Angel of Death * Slayer almost always closes shows with this one. And for the last two shows I’ve seen them, they also dropped a tribute banner for Jeff Hanneman just for this song.

a35889_5a44f24ca5ee4c04b27322c738476f1b

The very cool tribute banner to fallen guitar god, Jeff Hanneman.

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Other highlights:

  • The main banner behind the stage was a massive, crimson glow-in-the-dark monstrosity depicting Jesus with thorns in his scalp and other terrifying images. It. Was. Awesome.
  • The average ‘down’ time between each Slayer song: 1.5 seconds. These guys don’t slow down. Ever.
  • This was the first Slayer show I’d ever been to in which no girls stripped off their shirts.

All of this brings me to one little thing that bothered me about the show.

It had nothing to do with the bands. They were beyond good.

It had to do with the Tabernacle crowd. More specifically, the Atlanta crowd. I’ve seen Slayer in several different cities, and yet every time I see them (or any band) in Atlanta, there’s always something about the crowds. It bothers me a little bit, their sleepiness, their reluctance to form a pit and start thrashing, their strange indifference to transcendent guitar play and machine-gun drumming. And on this night, I think Slayer and Anthrax felt the same. Surely the bands noticed the lack of moshing, the high volume of people gazing at their cellphones, and the general malaise pervading the masses.

Are we getting too old for this? I mean…I know I’m not, but are other people?

Is a Wednesday night a tough draw for heavy metal?

Or is there something about Atlanta, something about the specific mix of concert-goers making shows a little less uninhibited? It feels possible, given that I (an old dude) was one of only three people in a mass of several hundred in Tabernacle’s lower area willing to go into heavy-metal convulsions.

   Despite Atlanta’s passive approach to headbanging, the show was awesome and the venue as perfect as it’s always been. If and when Slayer or Anthrax return, I’m all in. Maybe I’ll bring a few rowdy friends for good measure.

Next up…Carcass, aka the gods of grindcore.

Thanks for reading.

J Edward Neill

Fantasy/Sci-Fi Author and Dark Artist Extraordinaire

Fifty easy ways to live slightly off-the-grid

FittyI’m not sayin’…

…but I might be sayin‘.

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At bars and restaurants, consider being the best tipper around.

Selfie sticks should be used to start swordfights, not to take actual selfies with.

Stairs should be embraced, not avoided. And whenever possible, take them two at a time.

The first pancake is usually the worst. Give it to your dog. Or your cat.

Limit your usage of ‘lol‘ when texting. Or when emailing. Or always.

Your icemaker line will eventually break and flood your kitchen. Buy some ice-cube trays before it happens.

Shrug off small inconveniences. Also…the big ones.

Conservative and Liberal aren’t the only two choices. And not everything falls on the spectrum between these two.

Reserve your highest expectations for yourself. (i.e.; demand greatness from you and no one else.)

If a child asks you a question, consider answering with a kindly, “What do you think?”

Remember: your perspective is just one of billions.

 At the grocery store, insist on using paper bags instead of plastic.

Never greet friends or lovers with complaints.

The only purpose of TV is to keep your ass on the couch…watching more TV.

Be the person who pushes your shopping cart back into the store, not the one who shoves it in the corral a hundred yards away.

Nobody likes a one-upper. Listen to your friends’ stories and shut up. :)

Avoid huge charities. Give your money, donations, and time directly to those in need.

These days, nerds can be jocks, and vise-versa.

When picking fights, don’t.

And when you feel the instinct to judge, don’t.

Consider leaving your cell phone behind. Often.

No matter how hard you believe in something, it’ll never trump the truth.

And your beliefs should never control another human being.

Unexpected gifts are the best.

Except for Valentines Day. You’d better deliver for that one. :)

As for compliments, smile and accept them. And then forget they ever happened.

Try being a third (or fifth) wheel during a night out. It’s more fun than you think.

Politicians want you to be angry about stuff. Resist it.

Somebody probably already thought of the awesome meme you’re about to post. :(

Extreme independence is a heavy cross to bear.

Think about changing your religion to humanity.

Buy a tongue brush. Use it.

Avoid the parking spots closest to the store. Park in the farthest spot imaginable. (Doubly true for parking at the gym.)

If you have kids, remember that life’s problems should go up, not down. For an explanation, watch Saving Private Ryan.

Wolfie

See this? This is a wolf spider. Don’t kill these. They eat other spiders. Put a glass cup over it, slide a piece a paper underneath, and hurl it outside.

Escalators are not meant to stand on. You’re supposed to walk up them just like stairs.

Consider never allowing your emotions to be someone else’s burden.

Crisp cold mountain water isn’t as safe to drink as you might think. :(

If you work in an office, get up and walk to the printer. Don’t keep one in the room with you.

 If someone asks to borrow money, think about just giving it to them.

Don’t underestimate the effect your words have on other people.

And don’t overestimate it either.

Think twice before tattooing someone else’s name on your skin. Get a tribal or something.

When dating, approach a new person without expectations.

But do approach with wine. :)

Shitty grammar is ok among friends, but will undermine you among colleagues.

If you don’t like to run or jog, try walking. It’s just as good for your body.

Consider that 95% of all statistics on the internet are probably bullshit. :)

And also consider that 95% of your problems can be solved with pizza and/or beer.

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Here’s the original 50 Things You Should Probably Think About.

And here are 444 things you should definitely think about.

:)

J Edward Neill

The Case for and Against Social Media

TwitSkull 

 

It’s an antisocial world.

There, I said it.

I’m old enough to remember when life was different. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining about the way it is now. I’m sitting here on my couch, laptop in lap, using my iPad as a mouse pad, streaming Hans Zimmer through my Bose Bluetooth mobile speakers. For writers like me, life has never been easier. Twenty years ago, we had to handwrite everything…offline…on paper…with strange little instruments called pencils. If we needed to do critical research, we had to shuttle down to gloomy places known as libraries. There was no meaningful internet, no Google, no cell phones. Word processing was far from refined. Hell, even the image above (created with GIMP) I would’ve had to hand-draw. Creating this document would’ve taken me the entire day. As is, I’m expecting to spend an hour on it, and not a minute more.

So yeah, we’ve got it made these days. We’ve got wireless internet, primo software, smart phones, Wikipedia, and Kindle. All the peripheral gunk that used to slow us down has been carved away. It should be just us and the words, no boundaries between me the writer and you the reader.

But there’s a catch. You know what it is. If you’ve ever sat down to write, read, or work meaningfully at a computer, you’ve been sidetracked. If you’ve ever needed to market yourself, pitch an idea, or slap the world in the face with your latest epic creation, you’re familiar with what I’m talking about. Don’t deny it. Don’t be ashamed. It happens. Look. Right there. See the space between the ‘s’ in ‘happens’ and the period? I just did it right there. I checked my Twitter account, retweeted a picture, and checked Facebook to catch up with a new follower. See? I’m guilty as charged.

Perhaps you begin to see where I’m going with this. I’m not bashing Twitter, Facebook, or any other social outlet. Far from it. I’m happy to have access to these amazing resources with which to harass my friends and frienemies, spread the word about my books, link to my blogs, and post ridiculous photos of skulls, swords, and whatever gruesome shots of myself the web will let me get away with.

It’s just that, even though we might think they are, these resources aren’t free. Not even close. If time is money (and it is, I promise you) I’m pretty sure I spend thousands of virtual dollars in web-marketing every year. For every hour I save by having access to a laptop, an iPad, and the internet, I’m willing to bet I lose nearly as much in creating a permanent web presence. I blog. I link to my blog. I post excerpts, cover art, and alternate cover art. I tweet, retweet, and  chat with other awesome artists. I edit my web stuff as much as I do my real work, and that’s because self-marketing in this day and age is real work. Anymore, it feels like writing books is the easy part. Much harder is being genuinely connected to the world around me. It’s something to consider. Don’t let the convenience of it all fool you. There’s just as much work to be done today as ever, if not more.

And so, if I dare reminisce, don’t kill me for it. I simply pine for a bit of face-to-face interaction. I crave the convenience of the web, but from time to time I’d like to converse with my contemporaries over a glass of bourbon, a smoking candle between us, and nary a piece of technology in the room. Collaboration used to mean sitting at a table with a pen, a few sheaves of paper, and an idea floating between us. Now it’s me and you and everyone else in the world simultaneously shattering the silence with our keystrokes. I don’t hate it. Au contraire. It’s intimidating, but it’s awesome. It’s antisocial, but not really. It’s all-immersive, all the time. It’s the world we live in.

And I’m just now learning to embrace it.

Until next time…

J Edward Neill

Author of every genre

Painter of darkness

Painting with Darkness – Part XII

I like to paint trees.

A lot

Sometimes, even when I start a new canvas with every intention of painting a castle, a spooky city, or some other dark imagery, my brain misfires and takes control of my brush. Before I know it, I’ve painted yet another tree. I can’t help it. I’m a slave to impulse.

Knowing this, I decided to do a series of paintings to get all the trees out of my system.

And along came four little paintings, one for each season:

Dusklight

Dusklight – for winter

IMG_0094

Deep – for spring

Midnight 2

Midnight – for summer

umber

Umber – for autumn

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I thoroughly enjoyed painting this series. These simple, yet fun paintings have a way of calming me. After working on them, I sleep better, I’m relaxed, and life feels easy.

You should try it sometime…

For previous Painting with Darkness entries: Part I, II, III, IV, V, VIVIII, IX, X, XI.

J Edward Neill