Hacky Sack


It was the year 2002, and I was in my ’87 GMC pickup truck coming back from a movie that had just released: Star Wars Episode I. With me were my six best friends in the whole world: Keith, Bob, Kenny, Renee, Tina, and Bonnie. We were all stuffed into the tiny cab of my truck because Keith’s van had broken down a week before and obviously we needed to see this movie now, today. That it turned out to be a bad movie was the discussion being held between various noises of discomfort, especially from Renee.

Despite my young age of twenty-one and the clearly bad decision to let seven people exist in this infinitesimal space, I drove carefully. It wasn’t just a ticket I wanted to avoid. Even more so, I was determined not to hear from my father how young and stupid I was…again. A rash of speeding tickets and dumb wrecks were my M.O. after all, and this would just be another bullet in his ever-growing arsenal against me when I tried to argue with him that I was, in fact, an adult.

In fact, I absolutely was being careful. I didn’t drive fast. Hell, I wasn’t even going over the speed limit. I didn’t try switching lanes just because I got behind someone driving slower than me. I stayed in the right lane, the slow lane thank you very much, and minded the road more than the radio or even my friends. I was driving. Driving in the boring manner they demanded in all the manuals.

Keith’s house was just on the outskirts of the city, maybe two miles from the center of town. Camdenton is not a big place and doesn’t want to be. I sweat the hardest while creeping past the town square stoplights. Surely there, everyone would see that I was breaking the law, and the cops would stop us right in the middle and arrest all of us for our grand idiocy. But nobody looked at us funny, nobody noticed the seven kids riding in the cab of a tiny truck, nobody cared. We were home free!

And we were, save for two small details which, each in singular, would never have mattered. Together though, they spelled doom for my hopes of avoiding the police. Detail number one was a police officer posted up in his car in an area they had all but given up on for several months. It was a long stretch of land right next to the road that someone cleared to make a parking lot, but it never got made. I don’t know why, but we often used it, in large groups, to chill and play hacky sack. Often in the middle of the night. It was long enough to have two entrance/exit points, and the police car sat at the entrance closest to us.

The second detail was Keith getting elbowed in the nuts by the continuously ungrateful Renee. To this day she’d swear it was an accident, but let’s be fair, Keith had been badmouthing her for not enjoying the discomfort for twenty miles. It was totally on purpose. And Keith is not a small boy. At 6’4”, 387 pounds, when his nut-sack screamed its pain, he moved. And when he moved, he tilted the truck. Not a lot, not like he nearly pitched the truck on its side, but enough that you could see the tilt from outside. And this happened just as we were passing the stretch of land which should have been a parking lot.

As soon as Keith cried out in pain, red and blue lights flashed on. When the siren song came, I knew my hopes of proving my adulthood were over. I passed the police car, which quickly swerved onto the road behind me. I pulled into the second entrance to the non-parking lot and stopped, sweating from my forehead to my ass crack. I kept my hands on the wheel, which were shaking because I knew this cop would be some wannabe big shot trying to make a name for himself and pull out his gun just because this is clearly a very dangerous situation with kids who mean to destroy the whole of society. Keith told me to calm down and I heard him, but he sounded far away so I stared straight out my windshield and did not reply with anything but a shiver going down my spine. Everybody else, smartly, shut the hell up.

The police car door opened on the driver’s side, and I couldn’t help but look in my rearview mirror as a black clad officer began the short walk to my door. His hand was on his hip, and he even wore mirrored sunglasses. I hate the ones who wear mirrored sunglasses to this day, and it’s partially this fella’s fault. My back spasmed again but it didn’t rock the truck like Keith. Everything felt frozen, save for this figure moving in on me from behind like some donut-eating predator. I was scared.

Finally, he reached my window and tapped on it with his night stick. Why did he pull that out? I rolled the window down. He was tall enough he had to stoop to look into the truck. He saw me in the driver seat, and just beyond me, a mess of limbs and bodies on the passenger side. I wonder if he thought they were dead when his eyes first fell on them. Keith broke the silence, because of course he did,

“Good afternoon, Officer.”

I swear the cop snorted before demanding my license and proof of insurance. Getting my license out proved easy enough, but my insurance card was in my glovebox, and required Renee stretching in unnatural ways to make room and open it. Handing both to the officer he again leered at the sheer number of people in my truck. He told us all to get out. I complied immediately. The other six had to untangle from the eldritch mass they’d created in order to fit into the cab. One by one, they stepped out, each body seemingly bigger than the last: Renee, Tina, Bonnie, Kenny, Bob, and finally the culprit of this stop, Keith.

As they were untangling and coming out, the officer’s partner opened the passenger side of the cop car, stepped out, and hung on the door as he watched this procession. The longer it went on, the bigger his smile got until he saw Keith step out and he actually laughed.

My very important main officer had gone back to his car to check my credentials. He stepped back out and looked me over.

“You got any drugs, paraphernalia, or weapons in that truck?”

I had three knives on me. Why? Because I was an actual badass. A martial artist. And mostly because nobody could tell me I couldn’t. I told the officer the location of my three knives and of the hunting knife which I kept in the truck. As far as drugs, I told him no, I was very much against drugs, which was the truth. He didn’t ask about my friends, so I felt he didn’t need to know that they regularly puffed on the mary jane.

While my very important officer was in my truck checking for the hunting knife, Kenny pulled a hacky sack out of his pants pocket and started playing by himself. After a few seconds, Bob motioned for him to kick it over, which he did. Soon, despite my interjections that this was not a moment to play, all six of my friends were playing hacky sack while my truck was searched. Clearly, my very important officer was looking for more than the knife, which simply slid under the driver’s seat, and he’d been in there now for nearly three minutes.

I looked at my very important officer’s partner to see if he was going to make my friends stop their nonsense, but he was still hanging on the door, casual as could be, laughing to himself. I refused to stop being an adult and awaited my arrest with the seriousness of a man preparing to be hanged on the gallows. My friends, meanwhile, laughed and played hacky sack. Someone, I couldn’t tell who because I was being serious as an adult and not watching, accidentally kicked the hacky sack towards the casual officer. He let out of loud “whoof!” and ducked.

My very important officer decided he was no longer interested in what was in my truck. He shot up and pulled his gun at the same time, comedically unsure where to aim his weapon. Everybody ducked, and the hacky sack finally landed somewhere behind the casual officer, crackling in the leaves.

“Johnson, put that goddamn thing away,” the casual officer yelled in a suddenly very adult, very cold voice. Johnson, my very important officer, realized his overreaction, and sheepishly put his gun in its holster.

The no-longer casual officer got into the car and yelled inaudibly, at least to us, at Johnson for nearly five minutes. Then, he got out of the car alone.

“Okay kids. Get back into that truck.”

            His voice was still very adult, but less cold. We did as we were told. Once we were in, he walked up to the passenger side, looked in, and laughed.

“Alright, get out, then do it again.”

That cop made my friends and I jump in and out of that truck two more times after that, then played a full game of hacky sack with us. He wasn’t good at it, but we didn’t care. Once the game was done, he watched us pile into the truck one last time and walked up to the driver’s side. I rolled the window down and he leaned in. With a gentler, but firm tone, he said,

“Don’t ever do this again son. It’s not safe and, had someone hit you, someone would’ve died. Now, have a good night.”

My insides fluttered. My father was right after all, I’m not an adult. Despite all my caution and following the rules, I’d still managed to put people in possible danger. I nodded back at the causal officer and hung my head for a moment.

The officer handed me the hacky sack with a gentle laugh. He knew I’d gotten the lesson, so he walked back to the cop car. I tossed the ball to Kenny, and all seven of us laughed/sighed as I started the truck and drove us the last four hundred yards to Keith’s driveway.

We never did return to that not-a-parking lot. It doesn’t feel like some ominous force or even this memory kept us away. I was already working at Wal Mart by that time, and soon Keith and Bob would both join the work force. We were growing up, and adults simply don’t have time in the middle of the night to go out and play hacky sack where, maybe, we aren’t supposed to be. It’s unfortunate, an unspoken truth as we pass from teenager to adult.

Minneapolis, Murder, and Why I Don’t Understand


On Minneapolis

George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a policeman on the Minneapolis force, on Thursday, May 25 2020. I say murdered not because Mr. Chauvin has been proven guilty of such, but because his intent was clear and blatant on video. I have judged him guilty. Thankfully, my judgement holds no kettle to what happens to him. I’m not supposed to judge, I’m supposed to leave that to God.

I also judged the looters in the ensuing riots. Back in 2014, I had a lot to say about the looters in Ferguson, MO after the murder of Michael Brown. This time around however, I want to take a different approach. I’m not going to blame the looters, or even those who burned down buildings. I’ll leave that to God. Instead, I want to focus on how I changed my thoughts.

Trevor Noah Woke Me

Knox Hill

When I look into news stories, I typically look for both sides of a story. Essentially, a “Republican” version and a “Democratic” one. Even so, Noah Trevor is not usually somebody I go to for information. I don’t like how he finds any possible angle to make Trump look bad, namely because I don’t believe he would do the same to somebody he agrees with. However, after watching the far less famous YouTuber/rapper Knox Hill’s video about the Minneapolis situation, someone in the comments mentioned Mr. Noah’s video on the same topic.

What I found in Mr. Noah’s video was a bewildered man attempting to piece together how this could happen. Not bewildered over words or logic. No, this was a funny man not being funny. He wasn’t blaming anybody except for Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. While he mentioned the Amy Cooper situation as a domino, he squarely kept the conversation on why the riots and looting in Minneapolis are happening.

Noah Trevor

I’ll be watching that video several times today. This is the first time I’ve seen Mr. Noah use his clearly wide array of knowledge to break something down so that “the other side” could understand the conviction with which black people live. He spoke on the societal contract, and how black people try to live by that contract even as it works against them.

He doesn’t mock white people, nor belittle white people attempting to understand what is going on. This video is the first time I saw him take off the filter of “comedian” and just be true, raw, and honest in his opinions. I respect that, and I appreciate not being made fun of in the process.

Changing My Eye

I cannot change the fact that I am white, nor that I grew up in the Midwest with a specific set of tenets on how life should be lived. What I can do, what I have tried to do, is understand people who grew up different from me. I’ve failed at times, my core tenets so strong and my life so incredibly different that it is difficult to reframe my mind’s eye.

Thanks to Mr. Noah, the tool I needed for that reframing is now available. I’m looking at this situation through the lens of the societal contract we are all supposed to live by. I don’t agree with the rioters, looters, or arsonists, but at least I can understand what leads them into these acts. George Floyd was murdered, on video, by a policeman meant to serve and protect the populace. That act tore the contract into tiny, unreadable bits and sent a big middle finger to a people historically looked down on in this nation. If those in power are willing to tear up the contract, what do we really expect those being dismissed to do with it?

Final Thoughts

I know that every time this happens, and black people get angry, white people turn around and seem surprised by the anger. The truth is, we are surprised. We don’t know the depths of betrayal you experience, as a whole, every time this happens. We know George Floyd’s death isn’t right, but we have trouble understanding how these events seem to affect everyone across the country. That probably seems naïve, but please understand that generally, white people don’t live in extended communities. Personally, my circle (in town) includes ONE of my neighbors, my mother, sister, her husband, my aunt, my cousin, and of course those who live under my roof. We weren’t raised to be part of the greater community so much as we were taught to watch out for blood.

Of course we have empathy, we feel the pain caused by death, especially an unnecessary one. We’re brought up to have sympathy for George Floyd’s family and friends, and we absolutely do. But until we are taught how to reframe his death as an extension of harassment and cruelty that happens across the country, we just don’t get it.

It doesn’t help that there are indeed racist men and women out there. I don’t know if it’s a minority of us, I don’t have the science to back that claim. But the greater number of white people *I* know are not…not on purpose. We’re learning, and I can only ask that you continue to be patient as we learn to reframe our perspective from our own social structures to those which you live by. It’s not easy. Patience is not easy. I understand that. But it is required. We have to be open and receptive to each other, meaning making room in our lives to understand others. Unfortunately, we have a ways to go yet.

Chasing My Personal Truths


Chasing Fog

I haven’t posted regularly as one is “supposed” to. There’s several reasons for this: the world event known as Coronavirus, starting the first job I’ve had in ten years, and also general depression.

Beyond these things, I’ve come to realize my dreams of writing novels is going nowhere. The reason is because I keep comparing my ideas, symbolism, and themes, with those currently successful in the industry. It’s killing my creativity. Rather than telling my truth, I’ve been chasing the fog, the secret sauce, or magic bullet to success.

I can’t see in the fog. And more so, I’m at a point in my life where it feels important to state truths rather than ostentatious, filler entertainment.

Chasing the Truth

This realization kicked me in the teeth. I thought I was chasing my own thing for a long time but it just isn’t true. I can’t claim to be “starting over” though. I’d barely started my journey at the height of my writing career (which wasn’t all that high if we’re being honest). However, I am starting fresh. I’ve begun reading again: fantasy, self-help books, and book industry journals (and plenty of blogs).

I sit in front of my computer every night attempting to write down words. I’ve started the same story three times with two different protagonists and three different settings. None are good and none are telling the story I want to tell, so I will start again until I get it right.

I’m chasing the truth y’all. My truth. Who I am, the very reason anybody might want to read what I have to say. That’s not easy to answer, but somehow, I know it’s the only way to move forward with any hope of telling an outstanding story.

Chasing Journeys

One rediscovered truth of myself is that I enjoy stories. Happy, sad, bitter, sour, heavy, or light, I enjoy seeing how others interact with and react to the world. If you’ve read this far, please leave me your quarantine story, how are you doing? Are you finding truths of yourself that maybe you tucked away? I’d love to hear your story.

An Open Letter to Interscope

Eminmen Missle Launcher

An Open Letter to Interscope Records

Earlier, I watched a YouTube video from NoLifeShaq titled EMINEM’S LABEL SAW THE FAN MADE VIDEO OF GODZILLA (INSPIRATIONAL). In the video, he detailed receiving messages from Randy Chriz Perera, another content producer on the Tube. As the title of his video made clear, he spoke about the ramifications of Mr. Perera’s fan-made, animated music video for Eminem’s Godzilla (feat. Juice Wrld; RIP).

Dat’s TOUGH!

Much of the video consisted of NoLifeShaq telling Mr. Perera directly to take credit for the work he put out. However, the part I became interested in, what caught me, was that somebody at Interscope who deals with the company’s digital footprint saw and heard Mr. Perera’s video of Eminem’s song. And liked it. And would like to work with Mr. Perera in the future.

That’s what you, person at Interscope, already know.

Now, I’m just another nobody, a random blogger/author with no clout and no stakes in what happens next with this story. But that’s the reason I’m writing this letter. As a creative, I love seeing other creatives receive their due. Assuming Mr. Perera’s video wasn’t demonetized or ContentID claimed, that’s a big W in your favor. I understand these decisions must be made on an individual basis; but the quality of Mr. Perera’s video stands out, especially when TV networks are putting out animation at a far lower level.

Sorry. I’m being a fanboy. Back to the point of this letter.

Thank you

I want to say thank you, Interscope. Thank you for seeing a person’s hard work born of passion and recognizing the talent. Thank you for reaching out to that person and saying you would like to work with them on future projects. By talent alone, Mr. Perera’s earned his chance. I hope you follow through and allow him to earn his keep. Thank you, person at Interscope, for not being a corporate drone that doesn’t recognize the love put into a project that wasn’t likely to make any money.

I personally can’t wait to see what Mr. Perera and Interscope do together.

“Look what I’m plannin!”

The Joker Movie Laughs at Forecasts of Violence


Hi! October has arrived, and I like to celebrate not only the cooling-down effect of Fall, but also the scarier things in life with Halloween being right around the corner. Each post made in October will feature either a subject tied to the month, Fall in general, or fear. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Fear October Banner

Joker Left SideAre you scared of clowns? Personally, I remain only slightly unsettled by them after years of horror movies (namely the original adaptation of Stephen King’s “It”), the recent ruse of public scary clown depravity, and a general distrust of anybody trying to convince me they smile that big all the time.

But, the outcry against the Todd Philips-directed, Joaquin Phoenix-starring title movie The Joker, seems to have little to do with a fear of clowns. Instead the fear seems to circle around how this fictional character, whom started existence in comics back in 1940, will inspire fanboys to execute violence in his name. Specifically, white men are being targeted with this particular fear. The likelihood is high that even CNN is only looking for hate-clicks by bringing forward this narrative, but it managed to cause a call for the movie to be banned from US theatres.

CNN Tweet
via @CNN on Twitter

The other side of the argument is that we’ve seen similar villains in movies for years. Hannibal Lecter, Jigsaw from the Saw movies, and Alex de Large of A Clockwork Orange fame are just a few off the top of my head. The idea that a bunch of white dudes will suddenly turn violent because of a reportedly slow-moving Joker film is laughable, and if someone DOES get inspired, well…

The Other Argument
via @JoeySalads on Twitter

The hate clicks didn’t cause a ban of the movie however. Instead, The Joker laughed atJoker Right Side early low-earning calls by grossing $234M worldwide, ahead of last year’s off-comic movie Venom. People wanted to see this movie despite loud warnings of nigh inevitable violence in movie theatres upon its release.

Movies are an art form that can, and do, inspire people. Much like music, paintings, prose, and poetry. They’re supposed to. Why we would look at this movie and cluck about how it might inspire violence, rather than ask why or how the movie is relevant to today, is beyond me. This movie showcases mental illness at, possibly, its worst. Not because mental illness itself is bad. Rather, it showcases how the rest of us are villainous by ignoring it, and in some sectors we’ve proven the movie’s hypothesis.Joker Full Face

Instead of looking at it for what it is, people are supposedly trembling in fear of a non-existent white-man clown laughing as they die. No. The rest of us are laughing cause it’s not going to happen, especially because of a movie whose title character has been on the big screen several times before.

Blood and Blade New SwordThanks for reading! James’ dark-fantasy novel, Of Blood and Blade, is available on Amazon. Of course, face paint is also available, so there’s that.

WFGC Hotel Online Anthology: The Machine


Accomplishment is a big word. Not just the number of letters required to spell it, but also the number of actions required to reach it. To accomplish something, in Martin Graine’s eyes, means putting up a supreme effort. Therefore, you do not accomplish making a cup of coffee or checking your mail. You may do these things, and succeed, but they are not items of accomplishment. It’s too strong a word.

No. Accomplishment takes time. Martin was extraordinarily proud of his hotel. He owned it. Built it from the ground up. The original building took twenty-eight years to complete. So many bodies used to lace together timber, glass, concrete, and metal. So many telling him the tens of thousands in debt he’d given himself, at the age of seventy-one, was a fool’s errand. He’d been sure they were right. But, when he opened those expensive front doors for the first time in 1968, he knew the truth.

He’d accomplished something great.

The Great Depression ended some years before, technically if not officially. Only the most mediocre families were experiencing its lingering effects in 1969. America was on the rise. Because of this, Graine’s hotel saw millions of visitors within its foundational years. Graine’s debts turned into profit, allowing Martin a rare accomplishment: nigh complete freedom. The American Dream lived, and it was his.

Martin Graine spent his money, used his freedom, but not without the wisdom of years. Rather than buy a house, he furnished the uppermost floor of the hotel and called it home. He got a nice car, but not one to race. Hired a chauffeur and a chef, but cleaned up after himself. Made sure his daughter went to college, and his ex-wife would never have to work again. He had the attention of powerful men throughout the world; and they all wanted some of his admittedly limited time.

He kept an open ear to the first hundred men he spoke too, but soon became bored of their limited scopes and dreary plans for freedom. Mostly, he noted, because he’d already reached the level they wanted to reach. Quickly he learned to use the word no. It became his opening line and his closer. Many a man left his hotel angry at his snubs. He did not care. He didn’t have to.

Instead, the men he listened to were those who had esoteric ideas. Those who wanted to build churches, or have a backer in order for them to search out some evangelical mystery. Over time, fewer of these men were looking for God. Some searched for nirvana, others merely wanted an excuse to get high. Martin shoveled out money for most of these men because ultimately, what they wanted was simple: a chance at freedom. Who was he to deny them?

Underneath his philanthropy, a darker motive lurked. Martin was now an old man in his early nineties. His health faded along with his weight. He had more money than he could spend, surely he could find a way to live longer. Right? But the years counted swift and fell behind him.

The hotel continued strong. Martin was beginning to realize it would live and breathe long after he had gone. He also saw that one day, his name may no longer be associated with his greatest creation. This caused him immense pain. He’d put his life into the hotel, to lose it in any capacity felt unacceptable. Death though, ended all things, and none of his explorers brought anything to him which could stop his unequivocal end.

He found himself spending more and more time in the lower reaches of the hotel with the many stored artifacts his philanthropy produced. He would stare at one for hours, begging internally for an answer. Never did they offer one, or even a consoling word. They were, after all, just things.

His prayers did little, he just couldn’t hear God anymore. How had he believed in such a creature in his younger years? All knowing? Seeing everything? Caring? No. If there was a God, he watched you age and laughed at your incontinence. At your ineffective attempts to beleaguer a system set up against you. And he certainly didn’t care how much any of it hurt.

It was during one of these sessions that Martin noticed he wasn’t alone. In a moment of clarity, understanding of God opened up in his mind, an epiphany which settled his soul and quieted the angrier spirits within him.

Yet in the quiet, he heard whispers. They surrounded him like ghosts humming in the early moments of twilight. When they converged as a physical thing out of that twilight, it was a man of many years Martin’s junior who stepped out.

Despite the aging face, the man was dapper. Proper. His black suit melded with the shadows cast by machinery Martin himself hardly understood. A smile remained plastered on the newcomer’s face, even as he spoke. The hint of an old London accent surprised Martin.

“Good day to you, Mr. Graine. Strange time to be down to the nethers.”

Martin shivered. The words didn’t seem spoken, more like they were rippling out from the man, striking his flesh. Each syllable crawled along his arms and face toward his ears.

“I uh, suppose it is. Mr.?”

“You may call me Kel. Full name Kellufer DeStrange. And I’ve something you migh’nt be interested in. If I may be up front however, tis’nt a free proposal.”

“I’m not interested. I don’t do business with men who give me false names.”

“Hmm. You caught me to the name. But you do want what I have to offer. Shall I take due time to explain my deal? Would you listen, or wave me off like the other sack-skins you deal with?”

The stench of fear wafted up from Martin, and he wondered if his dreadful companion cared. He disliked this man. Never before had he been afraid inside his own building. His creation. His stamp on the world. How dare this popper take that away from him? He needed to put up a show of strength, even if every muscle screamed to run.

“I need to know your name before I listen to a word more.”

The stranger lowered his head. Martin wasn’t sure if he was showing annoyance, or acquiescing. Seconds passed before he raised his head back up. The wolf grin remained, but a hint of respect shined in his eyes.

“Right then. I am Miles Baker. And I may save your life, but it will cost you nigh everything.”

“My life is over. I have done what I am going to do. My hotel is my legacy, until it too falls by the winds of time. Nobody gets to be immortal, Mr. Baker.”

“That’s just it, yeah? We were taught from birth that death is the only logical outcome. Then we try to fight as it nears. Then, we come to terms. Accept the story as it’s told. We stop asking questions. Might I ask you something: do you believe I’m of the world as you know it?”

Martin put thought into his answer. About the creepy-crawlers from the man’s voice. How he formed out of, essentially, solidified whispers. Men did not do this, no. These were abilities left to angels…or demons.

“No. No, I am led to believe you are not born of this world. What are you? Demon? That’s my guess. I shouldn’t be talking to you, that much is clear. You cloud my mind with hope of the impossible.”

“Are you so short-sighted? You have given men the money of kings to search for answers beyond what logic dictates. I needn’t have your money, but I do require your soul. The Machine demands it.”

“So you are a demon.”

“Fine. I’m a demon. In my world, I am not. I’m called an engineer. In others, a sorcerer. In still others, I am named a god. In all of them, I haven’t but done the same thing I wish to do here.”

“Which is?”

“Save the world. And you are in a place and point that match my own goals.”

“Speak plainly, demon, or leave.”

Fear-sweat poured from Martin’s face as he said the words. Any moment the figure calling itself Baker would sprout claws and wings and eradicate Martin Graine from the earth, leaving little more than blood and bits of bone, surely. But he hoped keeping the creature talking would allow him an avenue of escape.

“I built The Machine by accident. As a Guardian, my job was to search for new truths to mathematics and/or magic, and create tools for the higher members of society. One equation kept slipping my fingers for years. My Pandora’s Box. Have you one, here? Some haven’t yet discovered it.”

“The story of Pandora’s Box is well known, but it is merely a parable.”

“Right,” Baker grunted, “a parable. When I touched that elusive equation, I found myself transported. At first I thought I was merely portaled to the past of my world. Turns out, much of the plant life never existed in my world. Ever.”

“What do you mean, touched an equation?”

“A man of your stature, Mr. Graine, surely knows the touch of something very few people have even dreamt.”

Martin nodded, “Freedom. I know freedom like few others.”

“Yes! Exactly. I hold knowledge few, if any, ever held. Maybe your God holds it. I don’t know. When I touch that knowledge, it takes me to somewhere else. I call it ‘Slipping.’ More like hopping, really. Right, you don’t care. What you do care about is this: the equation led to the creation of The Machine, which was built to house every possible world within it. Now, that comes with a lot of power, holding such a machine. Powerful people, the most powerful people, will come for it. I need to hide it.”

Martin tried to take stock of the story Baker told. An equation, a machine, and innumerable worlds in one place? It seemed impossible. Yet, he found himself not ready to be rid of the popper just yet. But one question made all of Baker’s claims ridiculous.

“All of that, and you think it will be safe in a hotel? I can promise you, it will be found. Probably by accident.”

“No. I don’t wish to hide it in your hotel, Mr. Graine. I want to have your hotel part of The Machine. In doing so, it will have infinite spaces throughout every realm to hide itself. Which means, of course, your hotel becomes part of every single instance of every single world. And don’t worry, the machine will fill in its creation and backstory. Here’s the big reveal though.”

Martin furrowed his brow at Baker, “There’s more?”

“So much more. I’m chasing my own ghosts. You’ve put yours to bed. You’re free, as you spoke it. I’d have you to watch over these instances, run the hotels, so to speak.”

“Mr. Baker, as you can plainly see, I am nearing death. Five years, were I a lucky man.”

“Not if you enter The Machine. Your body is old, but your soul is still wide and deep as the ocean. The Machine would place you at the center nexus of all worlds, and rebuild the hotel around you, but in all worlds. I cannot promise the décor would remain the same, or even work the same as it does in your world. But it would be there, and you would always be there watching over it. Your one expectation from me being keeping all the powerful beings from finding The Machine. You, and your hotel, would live forever, everywhere.”

Martin rubbed his hands slowly, unconsciously. He licked his lips. The deal was on the table. Leaving it there meant accepting the cycle of life and death. Taking the deal required a supreme amount of trust on Martin’s part, something he’d been in short supply of these past years. But, it also meant a chance to see beyond the veil. A chance to accomplish one last thing: immortality. He’d nearly made up his mind when a thought propelled him to ask Baker a question.

“If I say yes. If I do this…I lose all the freedom I’ve built up throughout my life. Isn’t that right? I’m stuck, in the hotel, in countless worlds, but I won’t be able to explore those worlds? That’s why you don’t do it, isn’t it?”

Baker looked like he was about to reject the idea, but nodded instead.

“Yes. That would be true. Your position as a ward would prevent you from seeing…everything. I refuse to be stuck. I honestly believe this would give you what you want. Isn’t losing a little freedom worth it to see your hotel in every possible timeline, every world, and you be at the center of it?”

“I want to say yes. I have a lot of pride thanks to this hotel. But it stands as a testimony to something larger. That freedom I have? It goes beyond money. I get to say no, or yes, to whomever I wish. And I don’t have to come up with an excuse either way. I escaped a system men created to control those below them. Re-entering servitude is not an accomplishment. Rather, it’s a failure.”

“Tell me,” Baker asked, “What are you doing with that freedom now? Do you really use it outside of the hotel? This is where you’ve spent the latter part of your life. This is where you make those yes-or-no decisions. Always in the hotel. Your place. Your power. It’s all centered here. And while you may lose the ability to leave if you say yes, you must realize that you don’t leave now. This is not a criticism. I’m merely stating a fact. Taking my offer allows you to continue doing what you’ve always done, from where you’ve always done it. What do you say, Mr. Graine?”


Martin stared deep into Miles’ eyes. No hint of uncertainty exuded from the older man’s frame. A slight shudder visibly shook through Miles. Martin offered him a warm smile.

“I’m afraid that isn’t going to work for me,” Miles softly replied.

Martin saw a flash of silver as pain bit into his left side and tore upward till it hit bone. He managed to remain standing for mere moments before dropping heavily to his knees. They cracked violently, but the resounding thud sounded soft in the quiet. Martin barely noticed these things. Heat roared in his ears as blood cooled in his hands.

“Why? I was nearly dead already,” Martin rasped.

“Time is a touchable resource innit, and I’m not rich enough to be giving it away,” Miles kneeled down next to Martin, “but I cannot kill you. If that holds any meaning to you in your afterlife.”

Miles stood. Martin’s head shot up to look at him, and caught a slight tilt of the chin not aimed towards him. Martin tried to turn his head in the direction of Miles’ nod, but pain flared into his side and forced him to stare at the ground, little more than the wounded animal he’d become.

Two seconds later, a gunshot went off and a thump landed between his right ear and eye. His pain disappeared. Moments after that, Martin fell over. Miles checked the old man’s pulse. He stayed until it dissipated. Time for a new plan. Whispers surrounded him, solidified into smoke, and when it disappeared, he too was gone.


The Hotel bustled with people moving through their personal hells and heavens. Of course Rebecca hoped the majority found their heaven here, but she knew all about putting on a false smile in public. Her father died forty-four years ago and she still cried in the office that used to be his. When she discovered he’d left the Hotel to her, she almost sold the building. Forty plus years later, despite the pain, imagining doing so seemed impossible.

Walking through the halls, Rebecca noticed the strange familiars. The Goat, which came out of room 107 one day chewing a cigar, and never left. The strange bellhop with no name strutted by, a smile plastered on his face underneath the undeniably fake mustache and a top hat. She wondered what his next disguise would be. Phoebe the Maid’s curvy silhouette shadowed the inside of another room, her smile lit up the room when she turned and waved. Rebecca threw a timid hand up in return. Shuffling forward, Rebecca was forced to dodge the colorful, if unwashed, ponytail that is Veronica Nowak. If anybody held more social reservations than Rebecca, it would be the younger girl brushing past her now. The biggest surprise today turned out to be a pizza-delivery boy with dark mangy hair covered with a hat which spelled out Milo’s Sicilian Pizzeria. He looked to be hunting for someone, but not for delivering a pizza to them.

Her office door stood cracked opened. Whispers reached out to her, caressing the hairs raising on the back of her neck. Only one person held the capability to scare her beyond reason…and she made a deal with him shortly after taking over control of the Hotel. Switching from a shuffle to bustling, Rebecca headed directly into her office.

The whispers rushed by her as she did, the feeling changing from a caress to a slick crawl over her skin. Somehow, they felt stronger than when she first met Miles Baker.

He lay sprawled on her father’s desk, a tan trench coat covering a slate-colored suit. Rebecca gasped. The man on her desk was certainly Miles Baker, but years younger than he had been forty years ago. Shaking her head, Rebecca stormed up to him and slammed her hand next to his right ear.

“Stop disrespecting my father’s desk.”

A slow, southern drawl came out of his smiling face, “Aw c’mon now. Ain’t no way to greet an old friend, is it? Besides, this ain’t your father’s desk no more.”

“Off. Now.”

Miles drew up to a sitting position and put his hands up in mock apology, “Okay, alright. But hey, there’s a few things we need to work out.”


“Rebecca. I warned you the deal would have to be re-signed. Time’s come, an’ I don’t have a lot of it.”

Miles drew an envelope out from inside his coat and extended his arm to Rebecca. She tore the yellow folder from his grasp, all but spitting as she did. He wasn’t lying. He’d come fifteen years ago warning that the day would come. She’d huffed at him then, but knew damn well she’d have to pithy up or lose the Hotel completely. The proof, it seemed, was in the wording of the contract she signed originally. Of course, fifteen years ago, he’d been much nicer about it all.

“What happened to you Mr. Baker? Last time we met, you were a full forty years or more aged.”

“Aw, the timestream is a wild ride. It does funny things when you slip through it sometimes. Guess I just got lucky.”

The whispers, she noted, grew in loudness.

“Yes, you did. Meanwhile, I get older. When does my immortality kick in?”

“What? Regretting your choice already? Your father made a bad decision once.”

Rebecca long suspected Miles Baker killed her father, but never before had it been so explicitly stated. She stared hard at the man before her. No, not man, demon, she reminded herself.

“You told me he refused your offer. I wish to God he hadn’t. I wish he could still be here. But he was far more proud of his accomplishment than I could ever understand. How could this damn Hotel be more important to him than seeing his children grow up? Not that you care, this is a rhetorical question. I don’t require your snide interjections.”

Picking up her letter opener, she sliced open the envelope in one practiced motion. Looking over the papers, she nodded and clucked in her throat at random intervals. When she finished reading, Baker moved as though he’d read her mind. Picking up the letter opener again, she cut her index finger with another precise swipe. Blood swelled up to the small cut. It welled on the tip, but did not overflow. She leaned over the contract.

Whispers crawled over her skin, even felt as though they were picking at her hair this time. Looking up, she watches the whispers coalesce into smoke, and from the smoke, a man appeared. The whispers die ddown as the smoke dissipates, and a duplicate Miles Baker stepped out.

A strong London accent flowed from his mouth, “Don’t sign that contract, Ms. Graine.”

The well of blood on the tip of her finger finally decided to go over and created a small river, down to her knuckle. A single drop splashed on papers below her, and young Miles Baker snatched them up.

“Too late old man. A deal in blood is a deal.”

“Hmm. Innit though? Ms. Graine, you may think to have made a deal with the devil, but this posh only pretends. Mr. Garrus, you know well that lying about details such as your true name turns a contract void. Give it to me, thank you.”

Fear ran across the younger man’s eyes, behind rage. Shaking, the younger man passed over the contract, then darted his gaze over to Rebecca. A snarl bent his lips and nose, “I am you, asshole,” then he ran out of the office.

Rebecca moved to push a button under her desk for security, but the remaining Miles gently laid a hand over hers.

“They willn’t find him, I’m afraid. He’s not the devil, but clever? That he is.”

“And you?”

“I’m dangerous. And the man you made a deal with. A forever deal. An infinitum deal. There’s nothing to sign for me ever again.”

“Then why am I aging?”

“Because you wish to, m’dear. When you decide to stop, you shall. It was in the contract. I caught wind of my lesser part in the stream, The Machine picked up on him. Even so, I barely caught him in time. You would do well to be more careful in your long, illustrious future.”

Miles Baker tore the bloodstained contract into bits. Despite his own age, he seemed overly capable, Rebecca noted. The torn bits snowed down from his hands into the wastebasket, seemingly held in partial suspension as they fell. Surely though, her imagination played tricks on her. Right?

“So the blood, the contract, it’s not a problem?” she asks.

“No. You are the original model, so long as you sign nothing, he cannit fool any other version of you across time and space. Which is why you must remain vigilant. Forty years without any major slip-ups, you’re doing a fine job, Ms. Graine.”


“Go ahead, ask.”

“You killed my father, didn’t you?”

“I had to, Ms. Graine.”


“He refused my offer. The Machine needed the Hotel. The Hotel’s original owner refused. That necessitated a new owner quickly. You proved much more lenient in its usage. I was not surprised. Somebody creates something beautiful, and they are wary of giving, or even sharing, that creation’s fundamental rights of existence with anybody. However, when the rights of that creation move to someone else, in this case inherited, the second generation owner does not feel that pull nearly so strongly.”

“You used me.”

“Yes. I did. Did you not receive benefit?”

“Yes, but it seems to me I should have known about my father’s wishes, and fate, beforehand.”

“You should have asked. I bid thee adieu, Ms. Graine. Time waits on no man.”

The whispers, and the smoke, rose up and engulfed Miles Baker. In mere moments, he was gone. Rebecca frowned. Her appreciation for surprise visits filled, she murmured a prayer not to see Mr. Baker for at least another forty years. Four centuries would prove even better.

Rebecca sighed and sat in her father’s chair. From here, she could best feel the infinite versions of herself, and most easily watch over the infinite versions of the Hotel. And sometimes, in some versions of reality, she sat not in the chair, but in her father’s lap as he whispered in her ear the secrets to freedom.


Did You Enjoy This Story?

Please consider reading more stories from authors I collaborated with over the past two months. Several authors (19!) came together to make this blog-hop/anthology happen. To find a complete list of our stories, visit the official WFGC blog here. And, normally I don’t ask, but please share this story or the list with your friends and followers, our authors put in a lot of extra work on a tight deadline to bring these stories to you!

I Stand With New Zealand, All of Her


*Quick note from author:

This blog post is in a raw, highly unedited form. I considered editing it, then considered not posting it at all. My final decision is based on one ideal: silence is complicity. I will not comply with fear.

This post is sporadic. It’s not journalistic. It is highly opinionated. By posting it I am doing what I can to stand with ALL the people of New Zealand, and fighting fear. I don’t care if you don’t agree with me. I don’t want you to follow, care about, or read me if you agree with the murderous bastards who destroyed so much in so little time.


Kiwi Heart Banner Small
In an era of mass shootings, New Zealand suddenly has to ask the question: Why?








49 dead

40 wounded

Sounds like a standard headline for the United States these days. Not surprising. Everybody’s sorry and now let’s talk about guns. Except:

This isn’t in the United States. This is in New Zealand. Paradise. Where the nicest people I know on the internet live. They call each other Kiwis, and I don’t know anything cuter in this world.

A good friend of mine who wasn’t directly affected by the actual violence is crying today because she never expected to have to explain something like this to her son. Violence like the Christchurch mass shooting terrorist attack was supposed to happen in places far away- places like the USA.

The attack was purposeful, built and planned to spread across social media. Built and planned to show the world blood. Built and planned to turn your phone into an instrument that spread violence like the fucking plague. And by and large, you did exactly what was expected. The plan worked. Video of the shooting hit social media and people gorged on it, shared it, and expected likes on their posts about it.

One thing I am proud of. The shooter’s name isn’t being amplified much. He doesn’t get all the infamy he’d hoped for.

This was an attack on unity. New Zealand is different from the USA. They’ve already figured out how to live together. Atheists, Catholics, Muslims, and more live in far more relative peace together than in my country, where it seems we’ll never even get over the color wars. And that’s why this attack is so egregious.

Some white guy wanted to break up the unity of a peaceful country because his race, and his beliefs, are better than yours. Better than mine. Better than the Muslim mosque he murdered his way through.

I’m all for protecting your home. Protecting your people on your property. With violence if necessary. This attack protected nothing. Not even the shooter’s ideals. The only way to show your ideals are better than another’s is to allow them to live beside you and live the better life.

Murdering them is grotesque. Murder en masse is masturbatory evil. It proved nothing but how little humanity the shooter had to start with.

So yeah, shooter. You’ve made me angry. You succeeded. What you probably didn’t expect is that, because of you, I’m rethinking everything. I’m thinking about how I can unite with the many people of my country and the world.

I am aware I hold little stake in this tragedy. I didn’t lose family. I didn’t lose friends. But that’s not the point, is it?

The point is, I stand with New Zealand, and all her people. We’re going to fight you. We’re going to fight your kind. We’re going to learn, we’re going to lead, and ultimately Mr. Murder, we’re going to win. That’s the only legacy you left.

If you’re reading this, and agree with the shooter. Fight me. @ me. Say your hateful comments about me, my children, my race, my convictions, my ideals, say I’m weak, say I’m stupid. I stand against you.

I promise you, there’s a much larger army around me, than you.

Kiwi Heart

A Comparison of Beginnings

Of Blood and Blade Remade

Writing Has Started on OBaB Remade

As of February 22, 2020 I began writing the first draft to the rewrite of my first published novel. Today, I’d like to present the opening paragraph as it stands, and juxtapose this new beginning with the original. I’ll let you decide which is better.

The New Beginning:

Chaos magic drizzles from the leylines in the sky, spattering fear onto Grier Solemn’s face. Would it happen today? How many would be lost to the lightning? Master Tolk shows no such fear, standing defiant against the streaming tears of gods.

What I like about this paragraph is that it asks questions all the way through. There’s a touch of purple prose. There’s a sense of scale. At this point, I’m free to describe what’s happening and dig into the story. Hopefully, in future rewrites, I can get rid of the literal questions in the middle, but still have readers asking about the lightning. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a bit for the answer. Well, actually, the questions about the lightning do get answered in Chapter One…


The Original Beginning:

Grier Solemn is facing death.  The Prince of Shadows hangs precariously from a rock jutting out the side of a massive cliff he is instructed to climb.  Not a minute ago, his poise had been cool and collected; but when he found a handhold in the small boulder and grabbed for it, the rock shifted.  Only just catching itself within the cliff somewhere, Grier still lives rather than having fallen the many meters between him and the ocean’s glassy surface.  Unfortunately, this does not solve his problem.  The top of the cliff is still twenty meters above him; and if he moves, the boulder may move again.  This time his luck may not keep the rock from breaking off the cliff completely.


Now, I do like this beginning. Unfortunately, by the time you finish reading this paragraph, every question asked has been answered. It says nothing about the greater world. All you know about Grier is that he’s hanging off a cliff…which is allegory to what he’ll face later in the novel, but in all these words, the reader is never told that Grier is a warrior and this is training. That first sentence, then, is as bad as opening with a dream sequence- it doesn’t matter. Also, I give Grier the moniker “Prince of Shadows,” which sounds all cool and mysterious, but the question of what it means never gets answered throughout the one-hundred thirty thousand-word novel.


What do You Think?

Which opener do you prefer? Also, what are your thoughts on rewriting a published work in the digital age?


Thanks for joining me today, I’ll see you soon.


Paints the Invisible Eye, James Neal, jamesnealbooks, fantasy books, fantasy book, fantasyJames Neal is the author of Paints the Invisible Eye, which can be found on Amazon. Granted, exercise machines can be found there too, but don’t tell James, he likes his chips and bread too much.





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Why I’m Rewriting My First Published Novel/ Starting Over

Of Blood and Blade, James Neal, fantasy books, fantasy book

Of Blood and Blade, James Neal, fantasy books, fantasy bookI am James Neal. There’s a lot of descriptive words one can use to help you envision and try to capture who I am: author, father, husband, artist, computer technician, blogger, and even watcher of reaction videos.

The past three years have seen me trying hard to be most of these. Back in 2014, I released my first (and only thus far) novel: Of Blood and Blade. What followed was a whirlwind of learning how to set up, manage, and write a blog. I learned how to use social media, mistakenly believing Twitter would be the best place to find readers. I wrote a novelette and several short stories, three of which I believe were worth putting up for public consumption.

I started making friends in the industry, mostly beginners like myself. Then, a horrid mix of depression, work woes, and personal crap I won’t go into here created a perfect storm which saw me give up writing. Not give up on writing, but I just didn’t have anything in me to give to the page. I was putting all my energy into being an adult and still finding myself short.

Two years ago, I started feeling I could come back. I created Tempered Wordsmith, which you’re reading now. A lot of work and thought went into making sure not only that I had a plan, but that I wanted to do this. And I did.

Then I had to move. Fuck. Mandy and Murder Bear Narrator 11 Black

So, my family and I (my wife and three children mind you), packed everything we owned, left Missouri and returned to Texas. And the next two years were non-stop worries about how the rent would be payed, how to get another car when some pizza delivery guy decided to speed in the rain and ram into us, my son getting bullied in school, and the general chaos that is raising three children.

I only survived all this because I had family near me: my sister, mother, and aunt all live within an hour of me. Anytime I needed help, they were there. Anytime I needed to talk, they were there. Anytime I didn’t realize what I needed, they were there anyway.

But I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t drawing. I wasn’t really parenting. I tried to do all of these, and more. Instead, I was swimming in a black pool and didn’t know how to get out of the water. There were no stairs, there was no ladder. I just kept thrashing my arms and hoping I didn’t get too tired.

But you get tired. You get tired of feeling like you’re drowning. Of trying. Of failing to accomplish even the simplest of goals. Clean the house? Nope. Cook? Nope, daughter did it. Work? Nope, no license (that’s another story) and again, three kids- one of which was under two years of age. Can’t leave him alone.

Then, this dystopian existence shattered. It was so simple, yet I doubt the people involved (once more, my sister, and her husband). They made the decision to take me on as an employee. My sister watches over my youngest while I work, they pay me a livable wage, my hours are not crazy, and the work isn’t back-breaking.

I’ve been working for three weeks, and already, financially, we are out of the red. I just paid two bills yesterday with my own money. I haven’t even told my wife yet as of writing.


So what does this have to do with writing?

The easy answer is- because I’m not worried about everything, it feels like I have time to begin writing again. But that’s not entirely true. I’ve had time for three years. The long answer is, I don’t know. All I can say is there is a weight off my heart, chest, and soul, and thus I am both willing and able to look at, and write, words again. If I had to guess, I’d say there’s some amount of truth to the idea that I have enough pride in myself again to be willing to jump back into writing and handle all the different hats and not be destroyed if someone says “this isn’t good.”

I have enough pride in myself again to be willing to jump back into writing

Cool. So why rewrite Of Blood and Blade instead of the sequel?

A realization. I’ve tried on at least three different occasions to write a sequel to my first novel. Unfortunately, the book did not even slightly follow the timeline I have prepared for the trilogy, and every attempt feels forced. There is also a problem in Of Blood and Blade’s structure. It isn’t a great story. It has great parts, it does have a beginning, middle, and end, but ultimately it doesn’t tie together well, nor does it present themes and plotlines in a way I can be proud of now.

I believe a much better writer exists today

While I haven’t been able to write, I have continued to read. Learn. Think. I believe a much better writer exists today, who can write Of Blood and Blade in a way that will present an entertaining, logical, thematic story- everything the current version is not.

I am James Neal. I’ve written things. I’ve published things. I’ve lived things. Now, I’m starting over. Is there any better a place for a writer to start over than with the first story they finished…and making it worth reading while in a mental, emotional, and financial state conducive to caring about the end product?

Thank you for reading about my journey. I hope you’ll stay for a while.

James Neal is a computer tech by day, buttery bread by night. Okay, buttery bread is what he had for dinner, but you are what you eat, right?

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Paints the Invisible Eye, James Neal, jamesnealbooks, fantasy books, fantasy book, fantasy

Lessons from the WFGC Hotel Blog-Hop Anthology: Part II

HOTEL Anthology logo

Hello! This is Part II of What I Learned from the WFGC Hotel Blog-Hop Project.

If you haven’t read Part I yet, I highly suggest you read it first.


In April of 2019, my friends and I from the WFGC released the Hotel Blog-Hop Anthology. As a spearhead of that project, I learned several lessons about people, leading, and what goes into creating a project. This is Part II of What I Learned. Have a laugh at my expense and, just maybe, avoid some of our mistakes. If you haven’t read the anthology yet, links to all the stories are on the WFGC website.

“Not Everyone is Going to Finish”Finish Line

When the second round of people dropped out of the project, I was getting discouraged. Brian Buhl had a conversation that turned things around for me. He told me to make sure, when people asked if they could do Thing A or Thing B, that I make every effort to say Yes instead of no. He reminded me this was not a professional contest, nor a book. We didn’t want to turn people away over silly rules that were not necessary.

He also explained that some people are always going to quit. They get excited initially, but either don’t have the wherewithal to complete it, or more likely, life gets in the way. Don’t get me wrong, I was still put out some, but it made sense. I extrapolated from this that it would be true with any contest/anthology/blog-hop, but it isn’t visible to contestants. Brian also helped ensure I didn’t hold any animosity towards those who quit by making sure I realized they were human…just like me.

What I learned about losing people on a project:

Everyone is human, and I must remember this always.

Your project may be your baby, but that doesn’t make it important to everybody else.

Everybody faces obstacles in life, and they have the right to decide what they want to take on. There’s no point in taking their decision personally.


Marketing NumbersMarketing is NOT My Strongpoint

Towards the end of the project, deadlines loomed over everybody. In a week, we were all supposed to be hitting Publish on our awesome Hotel stories, yet not many people outside the WFGC knew anything about it. And I had no plans save putting the links all over the Twittersphere the day of.

In swooped Chris Henderson Bauer wanting to know the plan. Discovering there is none, she took it upon herself to get our collective asses in gear. My words, not hers.  She also developed a tweet template for all involved authors to use for pre-published marketing. In short, Chris saved us from complete and utter anonymity after all this work.

What I learned about marketing:

A “day-of” plan is not good enough if you want to garner attention outside of those who already know what you’re doing.

If you can, allow an entity larger than yourself to help spread the word. In most cases, this probably involves money, but not always.

Marketing is one of the most important aspects of any project- having eyes on it and interest built up before release day is not going to hurt you. However, that means having a plan and enacting it an appropriate amount of time before the official release.


Hitting “Publish”

You can probably imagine that we had less than a perfect launch day. Imperfect (and in some case zero) systems in place, less information given out than usual, and unfinished stories all led to confusion on launch. I failed my responsibility for having systems and information in place, and it could be said I should have pushed those with unfinished stories to finish up faster.

Some might say I’m being too hard on myself. Maybe, but having a history of managing people, I think more could have been done on my part. I fell into a trap of “nobody will far apart if it’s not perfect” thinking, which I should have known better after that first week’s trials.

Regardless, the team managed to put out all the fires one by one, and by the thirteenth, every story was officially out in the world. I don’t know how much attention each individual author received from the Hotel project, and I hope it wasn’t so underwhelming that they wouldn’t consider doing something similar again.

What I learned from launch day:

If you’re leading a project, your job is not over until everybody else’s is, and you’d better be in the trenches or you’re not leading.

Having systems in place that work and are being actively used will help save you from putting out fires at the end of a project.

A “it doesn’t have to be perfect” mindset is a surefire way to ensure the end product is not as satisfying as it should be.


It may sound, at this point, like I did not enjoy the process of the WFGC Hotel Blog Hop Project. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I learned some hard lessons, sure, but a fairly large group of friends joined me in creating something cool in under three months. Sure, the process was harder than it needed to be at times. Those rough spots are behind us, the pain of them all but forgotten. The results are still live, and something all of us are proud to call our own. I’m proud of everybody who crossed the finish line with me, and even those who didn’t.

This was a project. I didn’t do it on my own, and I learned (in some cases, re-learned) excellent lessons. There’s really only one last question I have:


When are we doing it again???

Serious CircleHi! I’m James Neal, author of dark fantasy available on Amazon.

Granted, so is pizza. Mmmm…pizza.


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Donate to James Neal

Your donation is much appreciated and goes to supporting James Neal’s family- either by paying bills, feeding mouths, or possibly just saving for the future. THANK YOU for your kindness.


Lessons from the WFGC Hotel Blog-Hop Anthology: Part I

HOTEL Anthology logo

In April of 2019, my friends and I from the WFGC released the Hotel Blog-Hop Anthology. As a spearhead of that project, I learned several lessons about people, leading, and what goes into creating a project. This is Part I of What I Learned. Have a laugh at my expense and, just maybe, avoid some of our mistakes.

What is the WFGC Hotel Project?

The WFGC Hotel Project is a blog-hop/ anthology of stories which was unleashed upon the world on April 10, 2019. The story however, begins in February. As you might expect, the theme of the project is a hotel. What is WFGC you ask? It stands for Write Fight Gif Club, a group of writers on Twitter who support each other. Often, we help with writing questions. Sometimes, if you prefer, we also provide procrastination.

If you haven’t read the anthology yet, links to all the stories are on the WFGC website.

Office Man

My Role

I sparked the idea of the project by having a short story that I didn’t know what to do with. When I asked WFGC members what I should do, talk of publishing a group anthology started heating up. The reality of the idea set in eventually, but many (including myself) were already excited. We decided to do a free blog-hop instead of publishing a paid anthology that would require contracts, rights, the whole nine yards.

I became the de facto “leader” of the project. I was to be the one to keep these forty or so interested writers invested in the project, follow through on commitments, and ensure the project came to fruition. Which it did, with a grand total of 18 stories!

I did not do it alone.

I did not do it alone. Fellow WFGC’rs Rhiannon Amberfyre and L.C. Marblewood handled damn near all of the registries and people tracking required for this project. Brian C. E. Buhl developed the timetable which we worked, almost exclusively, off of. Chris Henderson Bauer actioned our very short (not her fault) marketing campaign. What did I do? I answered questions, developed the Blog-Hop logo, wrote the project’s Survival Guide (with live updates as they happened), and created the projects website which is, essentially, a blog.

So what did I learn from this role?

People will lose the fervor of the initial idea and leave the project.

If you’re doing this for the first time, you have no idea what you’re doing.

Eventually, you must solidify ideas the group can work with, and this often includes compromise from your original vision.



My initial idea for the project was simple: every story takes place in the same hotel, but within each room, absolutely anything can happen. It was even going to have the tagline: Every room tells a story. Why could absolutely anything happen? Because we wanted our authors to have room to write in any genre, and allow anything to happen, so long as the hotel as a whole wasn’t destroyed in the process.

Ultimately, it was decided that this vision was too limiting. Many people wanted to be able to exit the room and still have events happen. Several wished to have their characters meet with other author’s characters to create a sense of unity. Some people wanted to write stories outside of a singular hotel. All good ideas, and my initial vision did not support them.

We managed to make all of things possible, though it did steer my own story in a specific direction…the hotel needed to be a quantum, metaphysical space, and my story allowed that to happen…at least canonically.

This is what I learned about compromise:

The initial idea is not always best for the group.

I need to better my ability at persuasion.

Most times, it’s better to say yes, than no.


Everyone Needs to Understand What’s What. What?

Question Mark

The first three days after deciding we were actually going to do this were hectic. No, that’s an understatement. It was chaos. Forty people were throwing out ideas, nobody wanted to say no to anybody, and there was no plan of action. Attempting to answer those questions without a roadmap was pointless, but I was trying anyway (along with Rhi and L.C.).

We knew we didn’t want to limit genres pretty much from the get-go, but nobody understood how that was going to work if we kept to a single hotel. Many questions revolved around due dates, and on that we had absolutely no clue until we were almost a week out. We lost several people during this time. Not that I blame them. People are busy, have lives. If you cannot give them a simple piece of information such as “when do you expect me to get this to you,” they are not going to commit.

Rhiannon and L.C. came up with the idea of allowing people to “register into the hotel,” by assigning them a room number within our theoretical hotel. This worked wonders. People knew they were being kept track of, and would receive information as it came about.

I then created the Hotel Project Survival Guide, which put all known information in one place. I put that on Google Drive and allowed all interested parties to download it. It occurred to me soon after that the Guide would need to be updated regularly, and that is when I decided to create a website for the project. I’d never created a private one before, but thankfully, the process did not prove all that difficult.

This is what I learned about organization:

People need a clear plan of action, and it will be easier on everybody if that plan is already established.

When people do not have an actionable timetable, they will not commit b/c real life is hectic already and they don’t need to add stress to their life.

Simple systems which insure people will be informed and up to date create a sense of safety and take much of a project’s stress off your people.

This is Part I of What I Learned from the WFGC Hotel Project. Part II is also available. Thanks for reading!


Serious CircleHi! I’m James Neal, dark fantasy author with a novel on Amazon.

Granted, toilet paper is on there too…


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