San Diego Comicon!

Hello, friends!

Next week is San Diego Comicon!  I will be there!  Along with several other dumb authors!

WHERE WILL I BE?

PUTTING THE EPIC IN EPIC FANTASY

Thursday 7/24, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM, Room 25ABC

Signing to follow.

Swords, magic, and chivalric knights on white horses — or should that be morally ambiguous knights?  In the age of Game of Thrones, the epic fantasy genre is changing.  Join Patrick Rothfogg, Robin Hoob, Jore Aberglumbie, Raymond E. Foop, Django Wochles, Morgan Roads and Sam Sykes as they discuss their recent works and epic fantasy in general.  Moderated by Bront Wooks.

If you don’t see me there, I can be found all over the place!  Please come by and see me!

Yay!

YAAAAAAAAY!

The City Stained Red

Just like I said I would, I did.

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Every city has its secrets, every man has his demons.

The city of Cier’Djaal has grown rich from the silk its horse-sized spiders spin.  From their unimaginable wealth, the fasha ruling class built a city the likes of which legends strain to capture: spires that glitter gold in the desert sunlight, streets choked with people carrying burdens of coin and silk, a world where the differences between thieves and nobles are so small that an outsider might not even know.

And where there is wealth, there is war.

A radical upstart cult has risen from the slums and sewers of the city, intent on toppling its wealthy masters and spilling their gold upon the streets for the downtrodden.  The ruling thieves’ guild has come to meet them with fire and blade, intent on preserving the rule of their own bloody law.  Foreign armies intent on conquering the city and their opportunity to use the violence as an excuse to seize the city’s vast wealth for itself.  And beneath human heels, the tribal shicts and ferocious tulwar clans seethe, waiting to strike back against the society that has trampled them underfoot.

And into this, Lenk comes seeking a new life.  A life where he can set his sword down and leave the violence of his adventuring life behind him.

But there are whispers of something darker behind the wars, a sinister hand moving pieces across a board, intent upon ushering in a new world, free of gods, of fear, of humanity.  And its gaze has just settled upon Lenk.

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The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes

Available from Orbit (US): eBook 10/28/14, Print 1/27/15.

Barnes & Noble Preorder

Poisoned Pen (Will Ship Once Available)

Available from Gollancz (UK): 10/30/14.

Amazon Preorder 

Hey guys, I made a comic

I’ve got something I’m real excited to show you guys.

Now, while I haven’t thrown out an actual official announcement just yet, most of you are aware through twitter that I’ve been signed for a new trilogy with Gollancz in the UK and Orbit in the US.

Bring Down Heaven will be a new adventure of Lenk and friends taking place in the desert city of Cier’Djaal.  Grown amazingly wealthy from its horse-sized spiders that spin highly-coveted silk, Cier’Djaal has found itself at the center of a conflict.  The highly delicate and highly corrupt peace kept between the fabulously wealthy Fashas and shadowy thieves’ guild, the Jackals, has been threatened by an upstart revolutionary group.  Preaching an end to the oppression, the Khovura are a gang that seeks to overthrow the Jackals and the Fashas alike, but rumors persist that a sinister force from deep beneath the earth is the true force.  Meanwhile, the desert shict tribes and tulwar clans begin to rankle under the heel of human growth.  Foreign armies have arrived in the city and are keen to exploit Cier’Djaal’s resources for their own gain, no matter who they have to kill to do so.  The city is rife to explode in a frenzy of war.

And this is where Lenk arrives, wanting to put aside his sword and start a new life.

What a dope.

I will have a proper announcement soon, with a synopsis and everything, and you could read that.  Or you could just check this out.

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Flesh and Blood, Steel and Gold is a small eight-page comic book that I made with the amazingly talented Ashley Cope, the brains and talent behind the truly brilliant comic, Unsounded (and she’s currently running a Kickstarter for her second book, which you should definitely be a part of).

Have a look at what we’ve done!

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The comic features eight pages of illustration and six pages of text, an excerpt from the first book in the new series: The City Stained Red.

It’s long been my theory that you can self-promote as much as you want so long as you’re doing it in a fun way.  This, I thought, would be very fun.  I’ve always wanted to create comics and I think this will be a great way of interesting people in the new book.

I know what you’re thinking.

Wow!  This is super cool!  Where can I get one?

The comic itself will be available on my website in its entirety in the near future, for view whenever you want.  I will be bringing physical copies with me at whatever convention I’m going to.  Details for said conventions will always be up on the website.

We’re not quite in the infancy of this project, but we’re still a chubby little toddler, awkwardly running around the room, so there’s no way to purchase physical copies online yet.  I hope to add a means of doing so through my website at some point in the future, so don’t sweat it too much.  It’s my utmost desire that anyone who wants one of these should have a means of getting one.

Amazing!  What gave you the idea?

Honestly?  I just got tired of having to pitch my book to curious people.  I thought, this way, I can just hand them a comic and they’ll either be interested or they won’t be.

I basically never shut up about how awesomely talented Ashley is, so the fact that she had the time and inclination to work with me was pretty much a sign that I should do this.  People have seemed super enthusiastic about the idea and are really keen to work it out.

Is the series a continuation of The Aeons’ Gate trilogy?

Sort of.

It features Lenk, Kataria, Gariath and the others, but it takes place in an entirely new setting with an entirely new plot.  Their adventures out in the Sea of Buradan behind them, the companions are weary.  They’re tired of the violence, they’re tired of the conflicts, they’re tired of being surrounded by misery.  They head to Cier’Djaal to find a means of ending their careers peacefully.  But the city has a life of its own, and it has other ideas for them.

If you’ve never read The Aeons’ Gate series, you will have absolutely zero problem getting into The City Stained Red.  There’s no infodump backstory, no lengthy exposition, nothing to keep you from enjoying the book.  But old readers will still have a lot to see.  I think it’s going to be fun for new and returning readers alike.

When’s it coming out?

Fall of this year!

When’s the nearest time I can get a copy?

If you’re going to GenCon in August, I will have copies there.

How many instances of Kataria scratching herself are in the comic?

One.  That you know of.

Keep watching this blog and my twitter for more details!  And thanks for reading!

Bowser’s Rejected Manuscript

Today, I would like to talk about writing influences.

I really don’t like doing these posts, usually, because they almost always turn out to be like the kind of thing discussed by John Scalzi in his blog post: The Orthodox Church of Heinlein.  That is, a bunch of people quite comfortable wallowing in their reverence of tradition and absolutely, utterly horrified at the idea that people might not have read the scriptures.

But since I just came from Phoenix Comicon, I’m feeling energized enough to talk about something different.

I love Comicon.  Not just because I get a lot of fun panels where I make Myke Cole puke, nor because fans give me assorted baked goods, nor even because I get to see good friends like Scott Lynch, who in fact inspired this blog post (more on that in a second).  Rather, it’s because it gives me the chance to see just how sweeping geekdom is.  Here, comic book readers rub shoulders with novel readers bump elbows with cosplayers touch butts with video gamers.  All of them are sharing their enthusiasm and all of them are potential readers.

I’ve always been a proponent of the mixed media crowd.  If you’re writing fantasy today, then chances are very good that you’re writing for someone who consumes a variety of media.  There’s fewer diehard Heinleinists and more people who are diverse, passionate and vigorous about what they consume and that’s very good news for an author.

To that end, I’m not sure why I’ve always been so reluctant to acknowledge the diversity of media in my influences as a writer.  I guess it’s because when Tome of the Undergates came out, bloggers were lining up to decry its video game-iness.  I guess I wanted to distance myself from that.  But this was a long time ago: before I stopped giving a shit, before I started making an effort to not be ashamed of what I liked, before I started really considering what made me interested in writing.

And that’s why I decided to make a post about what video games influenced me as a writer.

Of course, Scott beat me to the punch by acknowledging his protagonist as being an homage to Final Fantasy VI.

That authors are influenced by video games should probably not be a surprise.  If we accept that our audiences are growing more diverse then we must also accept that our influences are following.  And if we accept that story is important to a video game, we must also look to appreciate them as art and all the impacts on our lives they have as an art.

Without further ado, here are the top four video games that have influenced me as a writer.

4. Icewind Dale II

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That’s right, motherfuckers.  Takin’ us back to the days of Vista!

Anyone who has read my books knows my opinions of adventurers: they are low-class, unscrupulous assholes who would gladly break into your house, steal all your shit and kill you for no reason than you happened to possess enough financial savvy to have accumulated a small nest egg.  Icewind Dale II (or at least, the way played Icewind Dale II) helped shape that perception.

As the brutish, less attractive cousin of Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale II was a game that gave you carte blanche to pillage your way across the frozen north of the Forgotten Realms.  There was no problem that could not be solved by violence and no violent solution that did not have repercussions.  While Baldur’s Gate was a professor’s long-winded lecture on morality, Icewind Dale II was a frowning mother sitting in the corner, quietly drumming her fingers on her knees as she watches her baby pound shot after shot of bourbon.

In many ways, this game showed how relative morality is.  The guys you happened to kill were mostly evil, but if there had been an orphan with a +3 Sword of Wounding, you would have beat him to death with his own kitten to get it.

Why Icewind Dale II instead of Icewind Dale?  Because 3e is better.  Come at me.

3. God of War

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I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I love God of War.  Possibly more than is healthy.

I loved it when it first came out for the PS2, loved it so much I smashed a controller when I got to the bladed pillars of Hades.  I loved it more when its sequel hit and I got to beat the shit out of a colossus.  The third installment was one of the major reasons I bought a PS3.  I own both sequels for the PSP and I loved it so much it broke my heart when the shit that was Ascension came out.

Now, no one plays God of War for its story.  There’s only so many ways you can phrase “Kratos is pissed at the gods and is out to wreck shit.”  Nor does anyone play God of War for its puzzles, its vehicle sections or its minigames in which you have sex with a number of people.  From those aspects of God of War, I took nothing to my storytelling.  But God of War does one thing and it does it very well and from God of War, I learned combat.

It’s weird.  Prior to this game, the apex of my experience with combat had come from R.A. Salvatore.  Drizzt’s numerous flurries and parries got into my head and Salvatore’s technical prowess when describing fights was awesome.  And yet it felt so…sterile.  Every mention of the word “feint” made my eyes glaze over.  God of War made things visceral, taught me how to keep a scene moving with short, vicious sentences (a lesson I hadn’t quite learned by Tome’s debut).  More importantly, it made me consider how a man would actually fight a monster six times his size.  How would he act to a blow that could kill him at once?  Where would he strike a giant demon?

Now, there’s certainly room for long, fancy footwork in fight scenes (Douglas Hulick does this very well), but it’s not the kind of fight I wanted to write.  God of War helped me discover what I was looking for in a real monster of a battle.

2. Final Fantasy VII

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You had to have seen this coming, right?  How could you not?  You’d need all the fingers of every Cid to count how many people hold this up as one of the pinnacles of RPGs.

Truth is, for a long time, I wasn’t sure why this game was so important to me.  Its plot is considerably convoluted, even for a JRPG.  Its characters are not particularly interesting, unless you’re especially into introspective angst by spiky-haired gentlemen.  The visuals certainly aren’t stunning.  So I voiced this to my friend Carl one day, who came up with a pointed answer.

Prior to FFVII, most of us had just been sort of playing video games.  We knew Mario had a reason for being on Dinosaur Island, but we didn’t give a shit.  We knew that Sonic the Hedgehog probably had people he loved and hated, but who the fuck cared.  FFVII was by no means the first video game to have a story, nor even the first video game to have an interesting story, but it hit around the time when a lot of kids who had grown up with video games were just starting to be able to recognize story, character and plot.  We weren’t used to one plot arc, let alone several: Shin-Ra’s destruction of the planet, Cloud’s identity issues, the growing love triangle and so forth.  For a lot of kids, FFVII was the first video game we played to find out what happened next.

So yeah, it’s safe to say that FFVII influenced me in a lot of core ways.  If DeviantArt is any indication, it did the same for a lot of people.  I’m not reluctant to admit that.

If I am reluctant to admit anything, it’s that I liked Tifa more than Aeris.

But if FFVII was one of the apexes of my video game influence, then my next one must be the primitive spark that started it…

1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

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Yeah.

Now, this might seem strange, given that any LoZ game has only one story that just repeats itself over and over.  But back when I first got into video games, LoZ fucking blew my mind.  Fantasy stories!  I was the hero!  Princesses!  I was the hero!  Giant suits of armor!  I was the hero!  Me!  I could be the hero!

I actually keenly recall the night I first played this game, having rented it from Blockbuster after they were out of Battletoads.  I remember popping it in, having no real clue of what I was doing, but entranced all the way.  I remember begging my mom not to return it.  I remember saving up so I could order it (in its authentic gold cartridge) from a magazine.  I remember it starting a love affair with Zelda that would haunt me forever and eventually end in me getting teary-eyed when describing Ocarina of Time.

Sure, the games are repetitive.  Sure, the characterization is non-existent.  But to my tiny, 12-year-old brain, this was fucking amazing.  The story of Zelda is extremely simple, but I think it’s those simplistic, primal elements that form the pillars that support our love of loftier goals.  The love of exploration, the fear of what might lurk in the darkness, the desire to fight against a power so vast it spans worlds: all this and more can be found in my writing and I don’t think I’d give it up.

So there you have it.  My top four.  If you’re at all like me, I suggest you consult for yourself what yours might be!

Phoenix Comicon Schedule

It’s time, motherfuckers.

Next weekend, Thursday June 5th through to Sunday June 8th, is Phoenix Comicon.

My absolute favorite convention for a lot of reasons will be probably my absolute favorite year for a lot of reasons.  You can find most of them right here.  There’s a lot of really great authors attending this year: Patrick Rothfuss, Aprilynne Pike, Scott Lynch, Delilah Dawson and more.

But fuck those guys.  If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably here to see this hairy son of a gun.

So, here is my schedule for this year’s PHXCC!

What I Learned Writing My Latest Novel

Friday, 10:30 AM to 11-:30 AM.  Location: North 126bc

One of those helpful “how to write” panels, eh?  Should be informative.  Lord knows it won’t be for me, though.  I don’t retain information well.  Where am I.

The Taco Council

Friday, 3:00 PM-4:00 PM.  Location: North 127ab

Kevin Hearne has called to assembly the Holy Taco Church to discuss dick all.  If you caught our Author Chairdancing Panel last year, this will likely be a lot similar.

Magic Systems: Urban Fantasy vs. Epic Fantasy

Friday, 4:30 PM-5:30 PM.  Location: North 132

This one I am actually really excited to be a part of.  I’ve wanted for a long time to discuss the ramifications of magic systems on epic fantasy and whether they’re important as we think they are.

But if there is one panel you absolutely must see…

AUTHOR BATSU GAME

Saturday, 4:30 PM-5:30 PM.  Location: North 132.

This is my own little pet project.  Some months ago, I saw a Japanese game show that did not reward knowledge, but punished ignorance.  I saw men being hurled down cliffs, shot out of catapults and beaten with oars for failing to perform a task and I thought “I must do this.”

Naturally, I can’t beat anyone, but I can feed them very hot salsa if they don’t perform to my satisfaction.

The rule of this game is very simple: do not laugh.  Any author caught laughing will be punished.  I will do my best to enforce this viciousness upon Leanna Renee Hieber, Delilah S. Dawson, Patrick Rothfuss, John Scalzi, Aprilynne Pike, Chuck Wendig and Myke Cole.  Winners walk away unscathed.  Losers suffer the consequences.

Do join us, won’t you?

Drinks With Authors

Saturday, 8:00 PM-11:00 PM.  Location: Renaissance Salon 5-8.

Once Author Batsu is done, come join the losers for a jovial good time.  This is basically your chance to come chill with as many authors as possible.  Giveaways, prizes and more!  MOAR!

The Really Epic Fantasy Panel

Sunday, 10:30 AM-11:30 AM.  Location: North 132.

More epic fantasy than you can possibly handle.  First one to say “first, let’s define epic fantasy” gets slapped.

Writing Rogues

Sunday, 3:00 PM-4:00 PM.  Location: North 132.

Degenerates, skullduggers and thugs.  Join a host of best-smelling authors to find out how they write jerks.

And that’s it!  When I’m not at these panels, you can find me in the Author’s Alley in the showroom/exhibitor’s hall/whatever you want to call it.  Feel free to drop by to get anything you want signed: books, kindles, foreheads, puppies, whatever!

Hope to see you there!

Lavos’ Second Form

Around a quarter of an hour ago, I turned 30.

I turned 30 while I was driving home in a car by myself down a highway that was largely empty.  I felt fine.

I’m not quite sure how I was intended to feel, really.  My friends (who all turned 30 earlier this year) all seemed to think it was fun to joke–in a not really joking way–about how they feel so old, their wild ways are over, the best years of their life are behind them.

And so on.

And I still feel fine.

Come to think of it, most of the milestones of my life have passed by me without me really acknowledging them in the way that I should.

When I turned 25 and could legally rent a car, I was sitting in a dark room feeling very upset.

When I turned 21 and could legally drink, I was studying for finals for a subject I hated full of people I didn’t like.

When I turned 18 and could legally drive, I was crying near nightly over a world that I didn’t want to be a part of that I felt was passing me by.

When I turned 16 and could be considered more of a man than a boy, I was just starting to realize how unhappy I was with myself.

When I turned 10, I got out of bed and ran outside into a living room full of presents as my dad congratulated me to making it to double digits.

Honestly, I feel closer to 10 than anything else right now, considering what I’ve done with my 30 years so far.  And these last few ones, especially.

But what have I done?  I sold a new trilogy to a bigger publisher whom I’ve become immensely fond of even in my one year of knowing them.  I’m continuing to do what I love for a living and I’ve proven to myself that my success wasn’t a fluke and I’m actually good at what I do.  I’m alive and healthy enough to enjoy it all.  But these almost seem like a cop-out, things anyone could be happy for.

So what have I really done?

I kissed more people than I thought I would.  I got into a fistfight with my best friend and we are still best friends.  I drank a lot, threw up some, said a lot of things I didn’t mean to people who were smiling and I was glad to see smile.  I cleaned up some dog poop, not as much dog vomit.  I learned how to drive a powerboat and I figured out that it was okay to like Drizzt Do’Urden.

But even that seems totally shallow compared to what I really did.

I learned to love myself.

For a dark period that feels like it stretches a very long time in my life, I was desperately unhappy.  I didn’t like the way I looked.  I didn’t like the way I felt.  I didn’t like the people around me.  I didn’t like what I was doing.  I didn’t like anything, really.

I can’t really say what changed.  I started working out, of course, and that helped a lot.  I learned that there qualities in people around me that I enjoyed and I learned to not be afraid to cut people out of my life who were adding nothing.  I learned to not only love what I was doing, but love that I was doing it.  I learned that I think a lot of people are just plain awesome.

Maybe all the darkness that came before was necessary to figuring out how to be able to put it aside.  Maybe it trained me to deal with it or maybe I just got tired of having it around.  I don’t know.  But I moved past it.

Which is why I hate that a lot of people around me are still in it.  If I can say there were unhappy moments in this year, I’d say that they were the moments I saw people I trusted and admired turn to bitterness, give into fear, succumb to hatred.  I’d say that the moments I saw people bristling with fury, viewing each other with suspicion and mistrust, were difficult.  I’d say that the moments where people I had once understood speak languages I just straight up didn’t get anymore were all but heartbreaking.

This isn’t to blame them, of course, nor even to suggest that there is someone to blame.  What I call bitterness and hatred, some might call justified anger.  That’s fine.  I am perfectly okay with not understanding certain things or even people.

But I do think that a number of people out there are not unhappy by choice.  I do think that a lot of people are bitter, angry and terrified for reasons that they think are beyond their control.  And some times, they are beyond their control.  But some times, they are not.

If I can say one thing about this year, it is that I am very happy now.  If I can tell you how I think you can be happy, as well, it is to forgive yourself for your indiscretions, to love yourself for the people you love, to be okay with disagreeing with people and still enjoying their company, to be okay with sometimes cutting people out of your life.

Do good.

Try your best.

Kiss someone.

Fight someone.

Eat a chicken sandwich.

‘Sup, 30.

Crowdfunding Support: Marc Simonetti and Storium

I actually genuinely adore it when I get the chance to help other people.  Possibly because I’ve committed so many sins of such grievous extents that I hope that even the most modest effort toward goodness is enough to salvage my soul from whatever dark hole it’s tumbled into.

Or maybe I just like art.

Let’s talk about Marc Simonetti.

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This is still my favorite book cover thus far.  Kataria looks like a badass, the netherlings look grumpy and Gariath is all sorts of insane in the background.

Marc did this, along with another cover for Black Halo, in the French edition.  His gallery (as you can see) is full of great interpretations of fantasy art, characters from books and more.  You should seriously consider checking him out.

You should also seriously consider donating money to crowdfund his book.

Coverama will be a feature of his best and brightest covers and favorite pieces.  Not only is it a collection of amazing art, it’s a way to support an amazing artist without having to commission him to paint a portrait of you fighting a giant badger (not that I’ve ever done that).  Marc’s amazing at what he does and he deserves to keep doing it.  I wholeheartedly encourage you to check it out.

…and since I’m already extolling you to give up your money, how about we discuss Storium?

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I’m really intrigued by this idea.  Just as YA was great for introducing millions of people to reading, I feel like Storium is going to be hailed as a means for burgeoning writers to really get started.  The way you teach anything to anyone is by making it into a game and I can’t help but feel like Storium is going to be at least partially responsible for a lot of the best books we’ll see in the next twenty years.

I could try to summarize it better, but why not check out their Kickstarter here?

They’re already well past their goal, but the stretch goals keep coming, including one that features yours truly.

When I was approached by Storium to create a world for them, I thought something along the lines of Middle-Earth: Ten Years Later would be fun.  Not the fluffy “peace is everywhere and mankind rules benevolently” version, but the idea of a world where we now have to figure out what to do with a conquered people.

Where do the orcs go now that their homes have been destroyed and their armies crushed?  What do the dwarves do now that they’ve run out of holes to hide in?  What happens to the elves that don’t want to fade into the West?  How can we trust men to rule wisely when they’ve seen so much war and hatred and where do the go?

The answer is Coldrock.

A city that hosts a diaspora of a conquered people, a dying race, a corrupt kingdom, Coldrock is where urban fantasy and high fantasy meet.  It’s a tale of what happens when orcs want their civil rights and elves want to bring everyone else in line with their own kind of degenerative ailing.  It’s got wickedness, grit and violence aplenty, but I’ll leave it to the storytellers to provide the hope.

Anyway, if you’ve got some dollars kicking around, I urge you wholeheartedly to contribute to these projects.  They’re not only amazing, they’re a way to support artists you love and artists you will love in the future.

Do it.

Do it for Sam Sykes.

The Hyrkanian Dating Scene

I imagine my blog sounds a little like your friend who has just found a new girlfriend or boyfriend right now.  All going on and on about how great it is to find someone that understands you, how awesome it is to be getting someone touching your butt when you want it.  In my case, of course, I’ve spent the last month going on about my rekindled love affair with comics.

Fuck if I’m going to stop now, though.  Let’s talk about Gail Simone’s new Red Sonja.

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The first arc of her new series, Queen of Plagues, has just wrapped up and is available here.  Having followed this series since it started, I was an immense fan from the get-go.  Red Sonja is a favorite heroine of mine: someone who makes absolutely no apologies for anything she does, someone who routinely forces the world to play by her rules, someone who faces a hard world and carves her own little piece of it out with a broadsword and a bad attitude.

All of this and more is on full display in Simone’s run.  Aided in no small part by the amazing artwork of Walter Geovani, there’s something hugely charismatic about the way she writes Sonja’s complete unwillingness to bend to a world that demands she does.  In all things does Red Sonja make her own rules: in fighting, in hunting, in copious, copious drinking…

And in sex.

That’s right.  It’s another blog post about sex.  I understand you might feel put off by this reveal.  Beyond just tricking you into thinking I was going to spend the whole time talking about Red Sonja, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about sex in fantasy fiction and a pervasive aversion to it by readers.  In fact, I seem to do it all the time, lately.  You could be forgiven for getting exasperated, throwing up your hands and saying “I don’t want to talk about this!”

But because you might have that reaction (and because the subject interests me greatly), I feel that we do need to keep talking about it.

And it’s not like I’m going to stop talking about Red Sonja now.  Because, actually, it’s in the most recent issue (#8) featuring a beastmaster and an awkward midnight courtship that a thought hit me that sparked this whole train of thought that led to this blog post.

I had read Red Sonja before.  She’s seen a lot of iterations.  And I liked the comics well enough.  How could I not?  “Angry woman in small clothes kills dudes with swords” constitutes maybe a quarter of the stuff I write.  But something about them always failed to connect with me.  Sonja seemed very…mythic, but not necessarily in the good way.  She was very distant and hard to relate to.  I guess that was the point.  Sonja has always been about being untouchable.

Simone did a lot of new things to change that and make Sonja more approachable.  And I want to emphasize that it was a lot of things (backstory, character interactions, alcoholism) that did that, so that you don’t get the impression that it was solely one thing that made Simone’s Sonja click with me.  But a big part of making that connection was a simple fact.

Red Sonja had a sex life.

Not in the sitcommy sense.  Sonja had desires.  Sonja had whims.  Sonja had agency.  Sonja got lonely.  Sonja got rejected.  Sonja got angry.

And I remembered how many times I’ve had those same feelings.  And it occurred to me that sexual identity is a much, much bigger part of a person than we probably even realized.

Sex scenes in fantasy get a bad rep.  “It’s too fetishistic!” people cry out.  “It’s too embarrassing!” people moan.  But above all else, whenever I have this conversation on twitter, the most common complaint is this.

“It adds nothing!

And you know?  Technically, they are correct.  A sex scene adds nothing.

Because the sexual aspect is already there.

It’s ingrained in humanity.  It’s part of who we are.  It informs a lot of our decisions (for better or worse), it drives a lot of our thinking (often for worse).  And when we choose to ignore that aspect, we are not so much declining to add gratuity as we are leaving a gaping void where something should be.  And that kind of thing resonates with a reader more than we might care to admit.

“Ugh,” you might groan, “you’re just campaigning for more smut!”

Sure.  I like smut.

But that’s not the whole reason I’m speaking about this.  Inextricable to our inability to acknowledge the sexual aspect of a character seems to be the inability to acknowledge that sexuality is a vast and multifaceted thing.  I think (whether due to prejudices or past experiences), whenever someone thinks of “sex in fantasy,” someone thinks of some super gross fetish scene with lots of phallic imagery and synonyms for “dong” and “vag.”

It doesn’t always have to be.  Sex is a weird thing (hence why I’m always kind of amused when people complain that sex scenes are embarrassing; of course they are, sex is an intimate, vulnerable act.  It’s bound to be weird) and, just as combat scenes are different depending on whose point of view it’s in, anything of a romantic nature will have different priorities based on the character.

Not everyone is a master of the Thousand Palms.  A lot of things go into the moments leading up to it.  Awkward propositions, frustrated rejections, sulking in a corner, saying things you didn’t mean to; these are things that all could happen and, when they do, they will happen different for each character.  Even people who identify as asexual have a struggle figuring out their own sexual identity and where they fit in with society (a good example of this is the character of Fiona from Michael Lee Lunsford’s Supernormal Step).

“Well, I agree,” some people might say, “sex scenes done well–

And I’m going to stop you right there.  That’s such a noncriticism as to be totally worthless.  Of course, people enjoy a sex scene done well.  People enjoy anything done well, because it’s done well.  But what’s “well” for some is not well for all.  We need to accept that dealing with sexuality of characters is going to be done in the author’s voice, whether you like it or not.

I guess what I’m saying is that this is something about a character that needs to be acknowledge.  I’m not saying that every book needs to have a sex scene on every page or even one.  I’m saying it’s super weird that a lot of authors choose not to even acknowledge that this might be something people think about.

We’ve made a lot of strides in fantasy so far.  Orcs can be good.  Elves can be evil.  People are flawed.  Fantasy has embraced this idea.  We’ve not only come to expect that our heroes not be perfect, we demand it to the point that our hero can be an utter fucking bastard and still get cheers.

It strikes me as just incredibly weird that we can scoff at the idea of a hero showing a totally altruistic act, yet somehow still be perfectly okay pretending that people are not thinking about sex all the time.

Seize When Firm

I’m getting older.

And my brain is becoming less elastic.  I’m slowly becoming closed to new ideas, slowly becoming unable to process new information, slowly becoming unable to learn new things.  Eventually, my brain will harden entirely and I will be completely closed-off from an ever-changing world.  I will come to hate and fear youth, I will still be typing on Word docs when the rest of publishing is downloading streaming information directly into their brains, I will loathe people who do things differently than me and insist my way is best and I will be a great member of SFWA.

But for now, I am still pretty young (immortal, even, if my profile is any indication), and that means I am trying to learn new things.

So now I’m writing comics.

I’ve already raved about Rat Queensbut the truth is I’ve started becoming more and more interested in the art.  I’ve been intimidated from Marvel and DC since I was a kid, but I’m finding real gems in the smaller publishers.  Gems like Jim Zub’s Skullkickers or Gail Simone’s Red Sonja.  But whereas when I was a kid, I’d be concerned mostly about swords and metal bikinis, I’m finding myself looking deeper, at the nuts and bolts…and the metal bikinis, but still.

Suddenly, I’m interested in panel layout: how does one learn to think in panels?  How does one act creatively in such an enclosed space?  What needs to be told?  What needs to be said?  How do you make the minimal amount of information look as amazing as it possibly can?

Suddenly, I’m interested in dialogue: how do you make it happen without monologues?  How can you flex your character with such tiny space?  How can you communicate in 90% witty banter?

Suddenly, I’m interested in motion: how do you convey people moving without drowning in panels?  What are the critical parts of an action sequence that absolutely, positively must be shown?  How do you make it look as cool as possible?

With these questions in mind, I started writing something.

And found that it is fucking hard.

I use too many panels.  My dialogue is too lengthy.  I’m not conveying motion well.  I can’t capture dramatic essence in a single shot.  I’m too used to having too much room to do whatever I want.  I’m not used to having to focus my prose to a sniper point and pulling the trigger.

I’ve taken three drafts of the first six pages of my script.  Each time I show them to my friend, who knows comics much better than I do, she points out some crucial flaw that I’ve overlooked.  So I go back; I tweak, I cut, I maim.  Then I come back with something neater, cleaner and tighter than I did before.

And I have new flaws.

To take a gander at it, I am pretty bad at writing comics.  I’ve been venting my frustrations daily on twitter and to anyone who will listen.  It got to the point where I thought it’d be more effective to write down a blog post about it.  So here it is.

Writing comics is hard.  Maybe the hardest creative endeavor I’ve ever done.

And that’s actually really, really, really fucking good.

It occurs to me that people are probably going through with novels what I am going through with comics: the frustration, the ire, the way you can force and force and try and try and study and study and things just don’t.  Get.  Easier.  It occurs to me that there are people who probably stare at the words they’ve written and think to themselves that it’s bound to have flaws, so why bother.  It occurs to me that there are people out there who are probably thinking of giving up.

And it’s for them that I want to say the following.

If it’s hard, you’re doing it right.

I’ve said that on every panel of every convention I’ve ever been at where the subject of how to write has even been hinted at.  Writing is hard work.  It has to be hard work.

People love talking about the business side of writing (because, as most writers have the business sense of a dumb baby, it is new and mysterious to us), but this is still a goddamn art.  We are still making art, not “product.”  We are still creating, not “producing.”  We are still pouring joy, hate, fear, love into something and shoving it out into peoples’ faces, not going down a checklist.

Because it’s a creative endeavor, the only way you’re going to get better at it is by failing.  And because it’s a creative endeavor, the only way to fail is by spending a lot of time and energy on something and then figuring out that it won’t work.  That’s just the nature of the art.  We have to build something up and then hurl cannonballs at it and see how long it takes to fall down.

But each time you build it back up, it’s a little sturdier.  Each time you make it fall down, the places in which the structure gives out are more apparent.  Each time it collapses, there’s more of it left for you to work with.

The only way to make it work and not feel hopeless about it is to see the truth in failure.

It’s a sham of an artist that flinches from failure because it’s impossible to grow without studying the ashes of what you just burnt down.  How did it fail?  What sentences wavered?  What parts of the character were too meaningless?  Where did it become sterile?  Where did you flinch?

Even this blog post is a failure on my behalf.  The advice I’m giving here is both so specific and so general that it won’t make sense to anyone else.  You’ll find our own way to look at things and your own way to figure out how to make it work.  You’ll figure out how your rhythm and your schedule works.  You might even come to refer to your book as product and start decrying about how my advice doesn’t conform to your situation, ergo my entire point is flawed.

At which point, your pedantry will overwhelm me and I will likely punch you.

So, if you want, you can take this as advice about whether or not writing is for you.  If you want, you can tear this blog post apart and see what parts work for you and what parts do not.  If you want, you can ignore it entirely and go read something someone else wrote.

In the end, maybe this whole blog post was, like any creative endeavor, for the artist first and the audience second.

Because it just doesn’t seem real to me unless I write it down.

Women Who Stab Things

I love Rat Queens.

That’s not the line I wanted to open with for this particular blog post.

wanted to tell you I was going to come to here to tell you what an important comic Rat Queens, written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and drawn by Johnny Rocwell, was.  I wanted to illustrate in no uncertain terms just how many daring leaps this story has taken and just how important that is to the growth of fantasy as a genre.  I wanted to tell you all about how this was a comic that so thoroughly rejects the baggage of fantasy tropes while so vigorously embracing their delight that it simply demands to be read.

I wanted to tell you this in a very studious, academic manner that lent itself to thoroughly serious discussion.

As you can guess, I failed at that.

ratqueens1

 

Rat Queens is awesome.  Simply, unabashedly, vigorously, humanly, tenderly, bad-assingly awesome.

A glimpse at its story should be easy enough to tell why I like it so much.  An adventuring party of an Elf Wizard, a Dwarf Warrior, a Human Cleric and a Smidgen (Halfling) Rogue have to deal with the troubles of being adventurers.  Said troubles include living large off of ill-gotten gains, causing fistfights, having sex with orcs and being general nuisances to society, oft-looked-down-upon by the authorities and probably loathed by one or more supernatural powers.

The characters are so amazingly vivid.  Hannah is a Wizard dealing with living up to the legacy of her parents and her people, Violet is a Dwarf who has rejected her society outright, Dee is a Cleric who doubts that the god she gets her powers from even exists and Betty is just so goddamn tender and good-natured it hurts.

They fight orcs.  They love orcs.  They fight assassins.  They drink a lot.  They fight wars.  They have complex relationships.  And every issue comes with a drink recipe at the end.

I can’t talk about what an important comic this is in a studiously distant fashion.  It’s too fucking good for that.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t talk about what an important comic Rat Queens is in three easy steps.

ratqueens3

1. It Features Women

This comic’s main protagonists are all female.  This is kind of the most simple and the most complex thing about Rat Queens.

On the one hand, it’s pretty simple.  I’ve ranted before how I have a hard time believing any fantasy story that doesn’t feature women in a major role; it simply doesn’t reflect my reality and I find it dreadfully boring.  The fact that we have four major protagonists and each of them is a woman is great.  The world feels more authentic to me because we’re not pretending women wouldn’t be as greedy, conniving, violent or short-tempered as dudes in the same position.

And yet…it’s so very complex because the fact that they’re women is both the biggest deal and not a big deal at all.  The characters are never doubted based on their gender.  They are never rebelling against a gender stereotype.  There is never a point of them being so exceptional because they’re women.  They’re defying everything about fantasy tropes, but they’re doing it just by virtue of existing.  They love, they fight, they bicker, they form relationships and break them, they get drunk, they loot shit, they burn things alive, they murder giant troll women in badass battles while arrows fall like rain around them because that’s what they do.

Rat Queens proves that you don’t need some trauma or rape story to explain why a woman can be strong.  Some women just are.

2. It’s Influenced, but Not by Tolkien

I mean, insofar as it’s not a story that is intently mindful of the authors who have come before it.  It’s not a comic that is very concerned with considering what literary devices will be subverted, whether or not it pays homage to what came before, or how this reflects upon the edifices erected by Tolkien and Howard.  This is a comic that, like its protagonists, is concerned chiefly with itself and what it’s doing.

But the influences are pretty important because this is a comic that’s influenced by things that it’s very taboo (in the fantasy story world, anyway) to be influenced by: Dungeons and Dragons, youth culture, glorified self-destructive behavior and…well…humanity.  There are no cold-blooded paragons of virtue, no sinister shadows who do wicked things just because, no poignant reflections upon the state of the world.  There are people who are doing what people who had access to a lot of wealth and power like adventurers would really do, there are people who display what young people under the weight of prophecy and cultural stigma really do, there are people who reject what’s come before and deal with it.

And that brings me to number three.

3. It Was Made For Me

And you, too, I think, if you’ve ever read a book review where the reviewer praises the author for “paying homage/respect/tribute” to the books that have come before and wanted to vomit.

I can only really comment from a genre literature standpoint, but Rat Queens does so much of what I’ve desperately wanted to do and embodies so many things that I think are artistically virtuous that I can’t help but like it.  Rejection is seen as something beautiful here.  Striking it out on your own is commendable.  Making mistakes and having problems is seen as an inherent part of being a person.  Giving the finger to what other people want you to do is a necessary part of life and planting your feet, taking a shot and saying “tonight, I will have sex with an orc” is among the very highest honors you can do.

It is a fantasy story that wholly embraces youth and vigor and it’s just so goddamn great.  Betty is awesome.  More of that, please.

You can find Rat Queens in any comic store, but I get it off of Comixology.  Their first volume, Sass and Sorceryis out now.  Get it.

Who is Sam?

Sam Sykes is the author of The Aeons’ Gate trilogy, a vast and sprawling story of adventure, demons, madness and carnage.  Suspected by many to be at least tangentially related to most causes of human suffering, Sam Sykes is also a force to be reckoned with beyond literature.

At 25, Sykes is one of the younger authors to have arrived on the stage of literary fantasy.  Tome of the Undergates and Black Halo are currently published in nine countries.  He currently resides in the United States and is probably watching you read this right now.

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