Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

Hey guys! I write comics, too!

So, from my various rants on superhero costumes to my occasional comics depicting a sexually-inappropriate Spider-Man, you probably realize I love comics.  And if that wasn’t evidence enough, there is the fact that I had one made for my very own story with the insanely good help of my friend, Ashley Cope.

Flesh and Blood, Steel and Gold was made for three reasons: one, because I love working with Ashley; two, because I really wanted to see a comic of my work; and three, because I wanted to see if I liked writing comics.

As it turns out, I do.  I do a whole lot.

Which is good, because the good people at BOOM! Studios have asked me to contribute stories to their amazing series of Munchkin comics!


Woah there, Sam Sykes.  That’s a lot to take in!  What the heck is Munchkin?

What?  Seriously?  You don’t know?  You’re here on this blog, so you must be a nerd of some variety.  And if you’re a nerd of some variety, you must know about this awesome game.  But I guess if you don’t…

Munchkin is a tabletop game by the good folks at Steve Jackson Games in which several players take the form of aggressively belligerent adventurers out to kill monsters, get loot and backstab each other in the most wildly imaginative and bloody ways.

Sounds pretty good, but why’d you want to write comics about it?

…because it’s about aggressively belligerent adventurers out to kill monsters, get loot and backstab each other in the most wildly imaginative and bloody ways.  Sheesh.

Well, that’s it!  I’m sold!  Where can I get it?

The issue in which my story is featured will be out on November 25th in this, the year of our lord, 2015.

Please support your local comic book stores by going there and requesting it for your pull list!  Or, if you’re a digitally savvy fellow, go out and find it on places like Comixology!

I’ve had an amazing time working with BOOM! and Steve Jackson games.  I think you guys are really going to like what I came up with.

See you then!

New York Comicon 2015!


It’s almost October!  Which means it’s almost time for New York Comic Con!

I’ll be there again this year, doing both panels and giveaways!  And you can come see me!  YOU BETTER COME SEE ME!

My schedule as such for this year is…

Fantasy Draft League: Thursday, October 8th.  4:15 PM – 5:15 PM.  ROOM 1B03.

Four authors (Eleanor Herman, Sarah Beth Durst, Bradley Beaulieu and Zac Brewer) will put together their own dream team of fantasy heroes from across literature!  Naomi Novik and myself will judge them all and see which one of them cuts the mustard.

…cutting the mustard is a football term, right?  This is all like football.  What is football.

I hope to see you there or at the autographing session to follow!

But if you don’t make it, you can also find me at


At the Hachette Booth, my publishers will be giving away free a whole mess of copies of The City Stained Red!  Come get one!  COME GET ONE OR I WILL BURN YOU.

And of course, you can find me all over the show floor!  If you follow me on twitter, I’ll be posting my location pretty much all the time.  So please feel free to approach me at your leisure with questions, signings, high-fives or anything that is not licking me on the face.  I’m not falling for that one again.

It’s in one more week!  Looking forward to seeing you there!

Unshaken, not Unstirred

Hey.  You guys want to talk about heroes?

I’ve been attending some cons lately–San Diego Comicon, New York Comicon next month, and most recently GenCon, which spurred this blogpost–and I’ve been on a few panels in which authors, editors and audience members alike have been voicing a common thought on a singular sigh.

I miss heroes.

Me, too, friends.  Me, too.

If you’ve been around fantasy fiction for the past few years, you might have noticed the phase where we all decided to paint our nails black, shop at Hot Topic and post moody poetry to our LiveJournals known as “grimdark.”

There are plenty of debates on what this is defined as, so I won’t waste much time discussing that, but it is usually hallmarked by characters who lack heroic qualities.  They are often practical to the point of cruelty, cowardly to the point of irredeemable, vicious to the point of sadistic in the name of a world that demands such of them.

You can see why people weary of this.

But what people often forget is that they came about as a response to extremely sanitized fantasy stories of the bygone day where you had a triumphant hero chosen by destiny who sets out with his companions–the funny guy, the serious guy and the girl–who will probably kill a race that is all irredeemably evil as a matter of narrative so don’t waste time looking for deeper characterization there seriously stop it, kill an enemy with an unambiguously evil title like The Destroyer, The Annihilator, The Scourge, or Jeff, and then get the girl in the end (because why else would she come along).

…and I don’t think we want to go back to that.

There are some people who call for a return to the morally pure, ethically flawless hero.  I can’t get behind that.  Besides just being dull, there’s always the matter of realizing that ethics and morals are subjective and forever changing.

But I do think we crave something from our fantasy that we’ve been missing in grimdark.  And it is this.

The core of the character.

It’s a tall order, being a fictional character.  People want you to be flawed, difficult and broken so that they can sympathize with your struggle and see their struggles in you.  But people also want you to be flawless, always right and never hesitant so that they can see something to aspire to and take comfort in escaping their problems.

You could be forgiven, as an author, for viewing this as an impossible task.

But you could also be forgiven, as an author, for being frustrated when an audience doesn’t understand that characters change: they grow, they think, they evolve.  They have bad opinions, they sometimes change them and sometimes change back.  They are brave until they’re scared, they are strong until they fail, they are weak until they fight back.

All good characters should do this.

But some good characters…shouldn’t change.

Not completely.

We talk occasionally about character-driven stories: stories where the decisions made by the character are what makes things happen, rather than the plot aligning to give them something to do.  But how do we make characters who drive the story?

We make a character with a core.

Some characters need to have, at their very center, something unshakable in them.  Something that can’t be broken, that can’t be destroyed, that can’t be altered.  Their outer layers can be filled with doubt, with fear, with lust and all sorts of things.  But when those are stripped away by conflict and loss, there is something at their core that keeps them going.

The plot is a lake.  And there is a huge stone thrown in the lake–it can be another character’s decision, it can be an event, it can be an unknown disaster or just an unfortunate twist of fate.  The events of the story are the ripples across the water that go until they hit a rock jutting out of the middle of the lake.  Then, the force changes and those ripples turn away from that rock and radiate out from it.

That rock is the core of the character.

It can be a concept.  It can be a feeling.  It can be a message.


In The City Stained Red, Lenk is the character with the core.  He is the one that suffers a lot.  He is the one that does a lot of fighting.  He is the one that fails the most.  But he is also the one that continues to get up.  He is the one that never gives up.  His core is that he can’t stop fighting, no matter what.  And the plot resonates from this.

But let’s look at some other examples.  Here’s one you might be familiar with.


Captain America is a character that actually might be mostly core.  His entire concept is that he is uncompromising, unwilling to budge (as you can see from his dialogue there), and unwilling to yield.  Sometimes this is simple: bad guy wants to blow stuff up, Cap says no.  This can sometimes cause some problems, such as in the Civil War arc (before it got stupid).  But the concept is the same: the plot bounces off of Captain America and then he drives the action.

Or you might recognize this example here.


You might be thinking: “How did this guy affect the plot?  He’s dead.

I refuse to apologize for spoilers.  There’s a statute of limitations on these things.  And besides, his death doesn’t change the fact that Ned Stark was the guy in Game of Thrones that exemplified what I’m talking about best.  He refused to compromise, refused to forsake honor or what he knew was right for the sake of making things run smoothly.  Even when he knelt, he did so because he had a core within a core: above even honor, he held his family as his most important thing.

And, like the waves rippling off the rock, pretty much everything in Game of Thrones is a reaction to Ned Stark’s death.

These are all fine examples.  But in my opinion, no one in American fiction exemplifies the concept of a character with a core more than this guy.



Homer Simpson is the unshakable moral hero.

He is greedy.  He is slow-witted.  He is gluttonous.  He is cowardly, scheming, quick to anger, slow to reason, strangles his kids now and again, does a lot of terrible things.

And Homer loves Marge.

This is the core of his character.  Homer loves Marge and would never violate that.  When he hurts her, he makes it right.  When he’s gone too far for her, he dials it back.  He does misdeeds to accomplish what he thinks will please her and tries his best to keep her happy.  And no matter how much shit can happen to him in 30 minutes, that core can’t be altered.

Or can a core be altered?

…yes.  Despite everything I told you about how a core can’t be altered, that’s just one rule of writing.  And writing is about breaking rules.  But to break them, you must know them.

And when a character’s core is altered, it’s a big fucking deal.  Or it should be.

That’s why Ned Stark died shortly after his core was shattered.  There was nothing left to him.  And I hear they’re splitting up Marge and Homer in the newer seasons of The Simpsons, so that’s why that show still sucks.

But you get what I’m saying.

Consider this in your writing: who, in your story, has a core?  What is that core?  When they’re up against the ropes, what will that core do?  What effects will that have?  And what effects will that effect have?

You don’t have to plan out every reaction for this to work.  You just need to know what happens when the hero gets back up when he should stay down, what happens when Captain America won’t compromise, what happens when Ned Stark won’t forsake honor, what happens when Homer goes too far.

Consider this in your writing.  But also consider it in the writer.

What’s your core?  When you’re rejected by publishers, when you’re shit on by reviews, when sales are shitty and no one seems interested in you, when a horde of angry internet users decide you’d make a fun punching bag, what will be left after you get beat up?

Find that core.  Know it can’t be broken.  And all those tragedies won’t matter.

GenCon 2015!


What a busy month this is.  First San Diego Comicon (and thanks so much, those of you who came to see me) and now GenCon 2015!  The biggest gaming convention in the United States will be hosting me as a guest at the Writer’s Symposium this year!

So, if you’re going to be there, from July 30th to August 2nd, you should come check me out at one of the amazing events below!


9 AM.  Room 245: Writer’s Craft 101.

Come listen to all of us talk about the basics of writing!

1 PM.  Room 243: Characters: Common People in Epic Conflicts

These are always my favorite panels.  Come listen to me and a number of other panelists discuss how to craft and establish epic conflicts with a bunch of assholes.  You know I write those!

2 PM.  Room 245: Craft: When to Show, When to Tell

Descriptions!  The techniques used to absorb your audience and what to tell them.

6 PM. Room 245: Storium Live Fundraiser!

Me, Chuck Wendig, Delilah Dawson and Stephen Blackmoore will be playing with the good folks of Storium to raise money for charity!  At least, I think it’s charity.  It’s definitely something you should give money to, at any rate!

7-9 PM. Crowne Plaza Hotel: Who The %#@$ Is My D&D Character? 

Will Hindmarch, Jim Zub, myself and many others will be doing a comedy-style improv of a D&D game.  Majestic business is sure to ensue!  Please come by!


12 PM.  Exhibit Hall: Signing

Come on by the bookseller’s booth and get a copy of your book signed!  I will sign the FUCK out of that book!

7 PM.  Room 245: Business: Growing Your Own Brand

I’m actually really interested in this panel.  Becoming a business is one of the most important and least covered parts of being an author.  Come listen to us gab about this!


11 AM.  Room 245: What Makes a Character a Hero?

Join a frank discussion about what separates a hero from your average asshole with a sword.  Protip: the hero has never been convicted of running naked around downtown Indianapolis with a sword while screaming about being the ghost of Nixon, as I am required by law to mention every time I come to this convention since last year.

And there you have it!

If you should happen to miss me at my panels and see me elsewhere at the con, please feel free to stop by and say hello!  I’ll sign basically anything you want, so long as it doesn’t bite, burn or sting!

Hope to see you all there!



San Diego Comicon 2015!

Will you be at San Diego Comicon in two weeks?  Hooray!  So will I!  We can be friends!

If you’d like to see me there, you can find me at the following locations:


10:00 AM-11:00 AM, Room 32AB: Romantic Adventure!  We’re going to discuss how romance and fantasy and adventurous stuff intertwine!  So basically this could be Sex & Violence: The Panel.

11:30 AM-12:30 PM, AA09: Panel Autographing!  All us panelists will be signing literally everything.  A little bookstore will be on hand.  Please come on by!


4:00 PM-5:00 PM, Orbit Booth #1116: SIGNING AND GIVEAWAY.  Swing by the Orbit Booth and come see me!  You can get a free book!  A free book that I will sign and then you can later give it to your grandchildren when they asked you where you were on that fateful day!

Aside from that, I’ll be moseying all around the convention and you can find me at the Orbit Booth (Booth #1116)  pretty frequently!  I hope to see you all there!

He Who Bones Monsters

I don’t think any subject should not be written about.  Nor do I believe that the word “forbidden” should be taken at face value.  But I do believe that writing is a cooperative act: as you shape the piece, the piece also shapes you.  And some subjects will carry you over a terrible threshold from which you will emerge forever stained, forever tainted.

This blog post is that threshold.

We’re gonna talk about sex scenes in video games.


So, this all came about from an article on Kotaku by Nathan Grayson titled “The Complicated Women of The Witcher 3.”

It’s an interesting article breaking down the various relationships in the new video game, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt.  And while I’m overall pretty pleased with what it says, it’s a touch derisive of the testosterone-fueled libido of the video game.  And it’s hardly alone in this.  People have complained about the Witcher’s relationships before, complaints about them ranging from “misogynistic” to “weird,” but usually settling somewhere in the realm of “childish.”

I guess I can get that.

The world of The Witcher is unrepentantly low fantasy.  It’s political, it’s grimy, it’s gritty.  There’s a thin layer of filth over just about everything.  The peasants are greasy, there are geese and barnyard animals running around in the muddy streets, pox-scarred soldiers have bright red noses from all the vodka they’ve been drinking.

And I don’t know if anyone else noticed this, but in your meanderings through the various cities, you can hear people spitting in the streets.  A lot.  The nasally snort-then-hock kind of spitting.  Like, you can’t help but wonder if everyone ate a lot of cheese just before you got there.

What I’m saying that the world of The Witcher is a pretty filthy place.

Except for one aspect.

The protagonist himself, Geralt, who stands as a shining paragon against all this filth.  He routinely gets into fistfights with nobles (and wins).  He outwits trolls and does bargains with dark spirits and comes out unscathed.  He battles tremendous beasts, horrifying monsters and vicious creatures who defy explanation and the worst he gets out of it are some scars that only make him look more badass (see above).

Geralt is a pretty unrepentant power fantasy.

I know people more familiar with the series than me are about to nitpick and provide anecdotes as to why this isn’t the case, but hear me out.

I actually really enjoy the sheer unabashed fury with which this game throws itself.  The Witcher 3 throws itself, wholeheartedly, into what it does.  Geralt is a lone warrior in a world full of filth.  He swings a big-ass sword, throws a shit-ton of bombs and has sex with ridiculously beautiful women (in fairness, this is because said women cast spells on themselves.  I have no idea if Geralt’s ever had a nice date with a milkmaid or something).

(EDIT: Turns out he has).

Indeed, even Grayson’s articles suggest that the sexual relationships aren’t all that bad.

But I think the above explains why people are so quick to brand The Witcher as immature: it is a power fantasy.  What’s more, it’s a typical power fantasy.  Beautiful women are wildly attracted to Geralt and they have sexual congress atop a unicorn (this only happens once, but still).  There’s no pitching woo, there’s no getting to know your romantic liaisons, there’s no offering gifts and quiet conversations.

There’s no romance.

And we nerds love our romance.  We love our slow burn build-up relationships, our “will they won’t they” unresolved sexual tension, our highs and lows of romantic.  That’s why we love Bioware.



Bioware’s latest, Dragon Age: Inquisition, gets a lot of props for its portrayals of romance.  And they’re definitely deserved.  Inquisition features characters of a lot of different backgrounds, a lot of different sexual preferences, and really tasteful explorations of each.  They’re exciting without seeming exploitative and they’re never really crude or crass.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is as unrepentant in its approach to romance as The Witcher 3 is, even if they go in different directions.  Really, Bioware has taken a lot of great steps forward and deserves the credit it’s been getting.

But is it “mature?”

So, here’s the thing: I know this is technically not the way the game needs to be played, but I also know this is typically the way the game is played.

You have companions that you go on adventures with.  Some of them are men, some of them are women.  They all have diverse opinions–Cassandra prefers a more authoritarian approach, The Iron Bull is more willful and devil-may-care.  Some of these companions, you can have a romantic tryst with, up to and including sexual congress, assuming that you connect on a level.

Presumably, the idea is that, regardless of your desire to play as a free-thinking rebel or a careful, considerate paladin, someone out there will love your personality.

In execution, you more often wind up going the other way around: identifying which companion you are most attracted to and then slowly shaping your opinions around the goal of getting them to be romantic with you.

Having a personality is not necessary.  In fact, it’s kind of discouraged.  If you want to romance Cassandra, you had better agree with her about what to do with those mages.  But if you change your mind and want to romance Sera, you can get more self-absorbed and chaotic and she’ll adore you for that.

It’s almost creepy, in fact, in that it affirms a reasonably-criticized outlook that a relationship is a reward for doing certain tasks.  I think this appeals to a lot of our nerd beliefs that hard work will be rewarded over dumb luck.  Have the right opinions, say the right things, you win sex.  I don’t think Bioware intended for this to happen.  It just kind of did.

And there’s nothing particularly wrong with that.  The idea that two people shape each others’ opinions and come around to liking each other based on that is something that happens in real life.  But so is the idea that two people can be instantly attracted to each other on something deeper and more primal and it culminates in near-immediate sex.

Like in The Witcher 3.

As a man who has put enough hours into both games to both have delighted at having sex atop a stuffed unicorn and to have been genuinely upset that I couldn’t romance Cassandra as a female Inquisitor (why), I’m obviously not here to judge either game, so much as I am kind of weary of this attitude toward sex that it must be uniformly one thing.

I’ve ranted about this before, of course.  Many times.  Farmers in Spain plan their crop rotation based on the reliable frequency with which I rant about sex in fantasy fiction.  But I think it’s a subject we still need to talk about.

Because I think, of the two games, I agree more with The Witcher 3’s take on it.

I feel like Inquisition’s method of pursuing relationships is very much a method we’ve grown up with, rooted deeply in fairy tales: complete a quest and affection, be it physical or emotional, is your prize.  Whereas The Witcher 3 has a more primal feel to it, instant attraction that is instantly acted upon, which certainly can feel like something we, as nerds who often went long periods of time without affection or attraction, can relate less to.

Basically, what I’m saying is that when you look at either instance, they’re both kind of silly.

And sex frequently is.

It’s kind of gross, oftentimes awkward and sometimes ends in crying and apologies.  But it is also a part of life for a lot of us.  And even those of us who abstain from it are affected by it and everyone’s attitude on it.  The act and the feelings surrounding it shape us, as we shape it.  It’s biological, but it’s also romantic and spiritual and leads to hurt feelings and heightened stakes and difficulties and release and all sorts of crazy crap.

As critics of both games and books, we tend to only really look at the act itself and make our judgment off of that, rather than look at the surrounding aspects and making our judgment from that.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a strange and off-putting game if you look at the process of saying the right things to be rewarded with sex.  But if you look at it as a story of people learning to trust each other, it’s actually quite beautiful.

The Witcher 3 is a very hormonal power fantasy about a dude who walks around swinging a big-ass sword and getting sexy witches to sleep with him.  But if you look at the surrounding story of protecting your loved ones and exploring your intimacy with them, it’s pretty lovely.

In a lot of ways, video games and fantasy and nerds have come a long way toward looking at sex.  In a lot of ways, we are still awful at it.  And expecting it to all fit a uniformly objective standard, instead of looking at it like the awkward nexus of feelings and emotional stakes it is, is one of the ways we could stand to improve.

So bone on, I guess.

Papers, Please

So, before I say anything else, I want to say that Phoenix Comicon 2015 was a rousing, immense success.

The panels were fantastic.  The panelists were even better.  We sold out of our copies of The City Stained Red, which is tops.  And, above all else, the fans were absolutely phenomenal.  Phoenix Comicon is my very favorite show specifically because it’s where I find most of my readers and they’re all amazingly cheerful, happy to see me and complimentary.

Example?  By the end of the convention, I had a small stack of cookies, bon bons, macarons and other confections that people had brought me.  It’s actually probably pretty easy to assassinate me, given how much I enjoy getting baked goods at conventions, but I digress.

So, to that end, thank you to all who came.  Thank you for supporting me in my writing.  Thank you for supporting me at my panels.  Thank you.

Given that I started by writing something positive, it probably feels like cheating that this blog post will be about something I have great difficulty talking about, but it can’t be helped.  For as much fun as I had at the con and as big of a success as I considered it (and it was a huge success), there was a sore aspect that stuck out to me.  It had nothing to do with the convention, just a random person in the audience.

During a panel, I was joking around with Myke Cole, as I often do.  I can’t remember how it came up, but the subject of Tinder, the dating app, came up.  From somewhere in the audience, some fellow shouted: “Sam seems more like a Grindr user to me.”

Grindr is like Tinder, except for gay dudes.

The panel kind of slid to a stop there.  There were a few muted chuckles, but one of those dark silences that you usually hear right after a joke fails hung over the crowd for a moment.  I was kind of thrown off my game by this comment.

Bear with me as I try to explain this.

It being implied that this fellow had suspicions that I was gay did not bother me.  I’m pretty secure in my orientation and I’m perfectly happy that way.  What bothered me was the fact that someone thought this was clever.  Like, what if I was gay?  What then?  What would it matter?  The joke didn’t really land because it wouldn’t make much sense outside of a group of fifteen year old boys shouting “LOL GAY” at each other in home room.

Given that I am not a fifteen year old boy, despite the humor I espouse, it didn’t really amuse.

I could have ground the entire panel to a halt to call it out, but I just moved on.  We had a good time.

But it was weird.

Like, I wish I could say that this was the first time people have speculated on my sexuality to my face.  But it’s not.  And it’s not less weird each time it happens.  It actually gets more weird because it’s a very peculiar situation that actually happens a lot.  Not the sexuality speculation, but overstepping boundaries, in general.

For as much as I love social media, there’s times when it’s really wearing.

There’s times when I’ll write out a joke to my friends, stare at it, then delete it because I know someone else will read it, assume that because I’m joking about this to someone else, it is okay for them to joke about it with me.

There’s times when I’ll write out what I think is a pretty funny tweet, stare at it, then delete it because I know someone else will read it and make a painfully obvious joke that I was deliberately trying to avoid.

There’s when it’s very difficult to do social media.

And that’s because my fans are wonderful people.  Not once has anyone ever made a joke that was intentionally malicious, hateful or savage in my direction.  Not once has anyone said something that I would consider way over the line.  And that’s what makes this so frustrating: it’s very rarely an intentional leap over the line, it’s usually just a toe or a step over the line.

And the line is hard to see sometimes.

There’s a lot of theories out there about the nature of being a public figure.  Some say that being someone associated with an act, product or accomplishment dehumanizes you, however a little, in the eyes of an audience.  Some say that this phenomenon, coupled with the way social media brings people closer together to creators, makes it easy to treat people like objects rather than people.

As for me, I think it’s just a matter of social boundaries being difficult to read.

Delilah Dawson agrees and wrote a pretty good piece on it.

That’s why this is difficult.  And if I keep saying it’s difficult, it’s because it’s really that difficult.  Hateful messages are pretty easy to deal with: you can block them and then move on.  It’s the good-intentioned, poorly-executed overtures that are hard to handle.

You get lame jokes.  You get really weird, overfamiliar, inappropriate commentary.  Sometimes you get propositioned.  And if you react to these, you don’t always get a sympathetic reaction from people.

Sometimes, they say: “So what?  It’s just a joke!”

Okay, fair enough.  I like jokes.  I can appreciate good jokes.  But here’s the thing about jokes: when a comedian does a joke and the audience is silent, he doesn’t start accusing the audience of having no sense of humor.  He makes a note to work on that joke, then moves onto something funny.

And just because there is a joke doesn’t make it funny.  And even funny jokes get old after a while.  I mean, ask Wil Wheaton if he thinks “shut up Wesley” comments are funny.

Case in point: I love fan art.  I absolutely adore my fans who feel moved enough by my work to put it into illustration.  I’m in awe of their talent.

Yet I’m always reluctant to talk about it on twitter.  Because, without fail, I will get someone who said: “LOL I MISREAD THAT AS ‘FART.'”

It is so lame.  It is so old.  It is such a lazy, stupid, awful joke.  There’s nothing particularly offensive about it, it’s just been done so many times that I really have no patience for it.

A good friend of mine says he auto-blocks people who make obvious, old jokes.  He says that if it’s obvious that he’s reaching past that joke, it’s disrespectful to make it.  I’m not quite there, but I see what he means.

Sometimes, people say: “Well, you kind of have to expect some shit, being a public figure.

And that makes me sad.

Like, I understand that reaction completely.  I’ve overstepped tons of boundaries in my lifetime.  I once commented on an author’s appearance–an author I barely knew–and they got pretty pissed at me.  Which made sense: I didn’t know them well enough to make that comment.  And sure, I had that flash of “it was just a joke, jeez.”  But I realized that I was in the wrong there and I apologized.

And apologizing can be supremely scary.

I have always said there’s no shame in apologizing and I stand by that.  But there can certainly be shaming in apologizing.  The current rhetorical climate means that admitting fault is often the same as admitting vulnerability and you can be mocked, abused or threatened for doing so.  It sucks.

But we move on.

And that’s why I’m not making sweeping proclamations, banging my shoe on a podium, calling for an end to fan interaction.  Like I said, above all else, I love my fans.  I love being close to them and I love that they can be close to me.  That’s why I accept that, sometimes, we will overstep each other’s boundaries.  This will happen.

All I’m saying is just be mindful.

Before you make a joke, ask yourself if it’s the kind of joke you’d make with someone you know well.

If you make a joke and it doesn’t land, remember there’s no shame in apologizing.

Most of the time, faux pas are just that: social accidents or mistake.  If you’re acting with good in your heart, you will almost always be forgiven, and eventually your awesomeness will overwhelm the incident.

Also, the key to a good poop joke is to make it someone else’s hypothetical poop.  Never refer to your poop or your audience’s poop.  That’s just weird.


Phoenix Comicon 2015!



Yes!  It’s the very best time of year, where people dressed like ninjas and people dressed like robots come together for the purpose of buying swag and seeing authors make fools of themselves!


You probably came here to find out where I’ll be.  Can’t say I blame you.  I’m pretty great.  I would want to hang out with me, too.  And it’s true, I have a full schedule this year, including an event that I sorely believe you should attend!

You can find my schedule here, but just so we all know:



At The Poisoned Pen bookstore in downtown Scottsdale, there will be an immense book signing event going on featuring an incredible list of authors!  Kevin Hearne, Richard Kadrey, Delilah S. Dawson, Myke Cole, Naomi Novik, Brian Staveley, Brian McClellan, Wesley Chu and many more will be in attendance!

For a full run-down, check out Kevin Hearne’s blog post.

But what if I can’t make it, Sam?

I’ll be running a Periscope livestream broadcast of the event under the hashtag: #Elevengeddon.  All you need to do is download the Periscope app on your smartphone or computer and be on twitter and following me when the event comes.  Just click on the link provided and it’ll be JUST LIKE BEING THERE!  WOW!


6:00-7:00 PM: Unlikely Influences

Location: North 125

We always talk about the classic books that influenced us.  But what about the offbeat influences?  Anime?  Comic books?  Movies?  Video games?  Join me, Django Wexler, Mur Lafferty, Naomi Novik and Myke Cole as we talk about all the not-books that have shaped our craft!


How Big Can It Get?

3:00-4:00 PM.  Location: North 125

Here, we’ll talk about the perils and pitfalls of epic fantasy: the bigness.  How big of a fight scene can you get away with?  How big can the cast get before it’s too confusing?  How far can you go before the reader loses interest?  Myself, Django Wexler, Brian McClellan, Brian Staveley, CJ Hill and Jay Posey will discuss!

The Food of Fantasy

4:30-5:30 PM.  Location: North 125

Feast scenes.  FEAST SCENES.  FEEEEEEEAST SCEEEEEENES!  What do they add?  Can they be made into an interest form of worldbuilding and lore?  Or are they just a LESSER FORM OF PORNOGRAPHY?  Join me, Beth Cato, Kevin Hearne, Weston Ochse and Brian McClellan to find out.

Author Signing

6:00 PM-7:00 PM.  Location: Exhibitor Hall, Table 16132


Mother Trucking Monsters

10:30-11:30 AM.  Location: North 125

We’re going to talk all about monsters.  It’s not enough that they simply be scary.  They need to make sense in a plot and logical capacity as well.  And we’ve got some of the best monster-makers out there to talk about it.  Join me, Peter V. Brett, ML Brennan, Kevin Hearne, Cherie Priest and Wesley Chu!

Author Signing

12:00 PM-1:00 PM.  Location: Exhibitor Hall, Table 16132


4:30-5:30 PM.  Location: 124

YES!  Once again, it’s time to indulge that most heavenly of sports: the Batsu Game!  Seven contestants–Myke Cole, Peter V. Brett, Cherie Priest, Leanna Renee Hieber, Pierce Brown, Scott Sigler and Delilah S. Dawson–will be tasked with one goal: do not laugh.  Those who laugh will be severely punished by ME!  Last year was a tremendous hoot and I hope you’ll all join us again this year for MORE BATSU!


6:00-9:00 PM.  Location: Sheraton Hotel.

Come drink!  With authors!  Literally every author feasible will be at the Drinks With Authors gathering at the Sheraton hotel!  Come schmooze!  Party!  Put liquids in your mouth!  See Myke Cole rave about the state of the world today!


Writing Reluctant Heroes

10:30 AM-11:30 AM.  Location: North 125.

There’s a lot said for the brave and the bold, but how do you write the coward and the craven in a way that’s compelling?  We’ll join together to discuss unlikely heroes in extraordinary situations.  Join me, Brian Staveley, Leanna Renee Heiber, Chuck Wendig and Richard Kadrey to find out!

Stepping Up to Social Media

1:30-2:30 PM.  Location: North 124

This will be an hour of me, Myke Cole, Chuck Wendig and Kevin Hearne yelling at each other.

Author Signing

3:00 PM-4:00 PM.  Location: Exhibitor Hall Table 16132

And that’s it!

If you don’t happen to make a signing, but still want me to sign something, that’s no problem!  Just find me at some point (if I’m not at a panel, I’ll usually be downstairs in the Exhibitor Hall near the author’s alley tables) and I’ll be happy to sign anything!  Books!  Comics!  Babies!  Wives!  Crocodiles!  Pharaohs!

See you there, friends!

Upon the Backs of Robots

When I was a young man, I never really thought about what sort of entertainment I consumed.

I never really contemplated the philosophical ramifications of my He-Man action figures.  I had a Skeletor figure with one of those little orbs in the chest that changed sigils and that was badass as fuck and that was good enough for me.  I never wondered what message I was deriving by reading Drizzt novels.  I knew I was reading a lovelorn weirdo with two swords and a magic cat and that was just fine.  I never contemplated the deeper meaning of my Spider-Man comics.  He was a dork who got to dress up and swing around and punch people in the face.

When I was a young man, these things were just things that made me happy.

I miss those days.

While they might not be gone forever, I’m pretty sure they’re gone for the moment.  Because, for the moment, there’s big business in deconstructing the things that made us happy as kids.  I mean, just check out this article on the recent Avengers: Age of Ultron movie.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

…all right?  Got it?  Pretty fuckin’ weird, right?

I mean, I guess it’s not the content of the article itself that puzzles me.  It’s a fair critique and introspective view of a movie where people dress up in tight-fitting clothes and fight an army of killer robots, sure.  All the same, the article gave me some pause.  Not the quirky kind of pause in a romantic comedy just before a charmingly befuddled British man busts out a chuckleworthy line to a smooth, confident blonde woman who deeply yearns for meaningful relationships.  No, this was the bleak kind of pause that happens when you see a teddy bear lying in the street and it takes you a moment to realize why it made you sad.

So, here’s a question.

Why are we, as geeks, so dedicated to making ourselves unhappy?

I guess that’s a rhetorical question.  I already stated the reason above: there’s business in it.  It’s something to talk about.  And talk about it we do.

It feels like routine at this point.  Some big event (a movie, a comic, a video game) is announced and, for awhile, we’re all really happy.  The trailers come out and we get all excited.  Then, the analyses of the trailers come out and we’re all interested.  Then, the deconstruction of the trailers come out and we’re all a little less enthusiastic.  Then, the dramatic griping comes as we all lament how George Lucas better not betray us or Joss Whedon better not ruin this or whatever.

Then the event happens and we enjoy it as long as it takes for us to get back to our blogs and start deconstructing it and pointing out all the problems with it and then we’re all sick of talking about it and the next event is met with more cynicism and it speeds the process up.  The gap between excitement and despair shortens a little and it stops being watching movies or playing games.  It becomes consumption.  And it is exactly as romantic as the word “consumption” sounds.

As to why we do it?  I have my theories.

Most of them revolve around us still wrapping our heads around the idea of not seeking outside approval for enjoyment.  Enjoying things feels like a waste of time.  You can’t just watch a movie.  You need to understand it.  You need to suss it out.  You need to strip it apart and put it into little pieces and turn each of them over and over until you find the flaw, the one thing that proves you did not waste your time by watching this movie because by GOD you have something to say about it.

And that’s fine.

Really.  That’s the other theory.  We love to understand things.  It’s in a geek’s nature to learn, to dissect, to study.  We like dedicating ourselves to our crafts and obsessing over them until we learn every bit of them.  And that’s grand.  That’s why speed runs are their own thing and longplays are their other thing.

Somehow, it’s only when these two theories meet that we begin to see the problem.  When the need to learn is combined with the predisposition that only deconstructing is valuable, then we start entering this cycle.  You don’t just see it in movies.  You see it in books, in games, in comics.  Whatever tropes exist must be subverted.  Whatever has been constructed must be torn down.  Whatever has been referenced must be derided.  Idols must be torn down, gods must be disproved, the Wizard of Oz must be exposed.

This is where we get things like Batman vs. Superman from.  Personally?  I think it looks a bit dumb.

We go in with the idea that to love something, we must destroy it (like the Cracked article suggests).

And I disagree with that.

I’ve heard it said that geeks aren’t interested in new material.  I’ve heard it said that geeks are in search of material that kindles their sense of nostalgia, that recaptures the joy they felt when they were kids and they didn’t question everything so darn much.

And I don’t necessarily disagree with that.  Some of it, anyway.

I mean, I’m not particularly ashamed to admit my own nostalgic lusts.  I wrote an entire love letter to Drizzt Do’Urden, after all.  And if you read my twitter feed, you’ll see that I view shame as a decidedly useless emotion and devote a lot of time to preaching about the virtues from writing from a place of joy.

And that’s where I think there’s a different way of doing things.

The longer I write, the more I become convinced that there is really only one thing that differentiates one fantasy story from another: whether the author loves the tropes he’s working or hates them.

When he hates the tropes, it shows.  His characters are cynical and callous, afraid to be genuine and reluctant to show a wider range of emotions.  His plots are dull and lifeless, usually revolving around bleak conflicts with bleak characters where we aren’t sure if we want to see the ending.  His voice, as an author, is one of sneering contempt: angry at the characters who exemplify them, angry at the genre that made them popular and, above all else, angry at the audience who enjoys them.

He deconstructs.  And he does it quite well.  And at the end of the deconstruction, there is a pile of parts on the floor.

But when he loves the tropes, it also shows.  His characters are in possession of a full range of emotions: some are optimistic, some are callow, some are stupid, some are joyous, some are angry all the damn time.  His plots are wide and complicated and often messy and full of crazy shit like exploding tigers or wizards that spit bees.  His voice, as an author, is sometimes muddled and occasionally he has plot holes, but he’s so damn enthusiastic and exuberant about it that you can’t help but be swept along with it.

He constructs.  He creates.  He builds up.  He fleshes out.  He makes big, teetering monuments that look like they might fall down but somehow, they work.

The above two paragraphs constitute the entirety of my review of Avengers: Age of Ultron.  As you can imagine, I liked it.  Quite a bit, actually.

I suppose some people might equate what I’m saying with blind reverence for tropes.  Some might say I’m willfully ignoring the uglier aspects of those tropes–the damsels in distress, the irredeemable evils, the men in white hats who aren’t very interesting.  Some might say I’m disregarding the whole reason we started subverting and deconstructing them.

I don’t agree with that.  I can see where it might seem like that, but I don’t agree.

Because I’m not advocating regurgitation.  I’m not advocating that we copy or mimic.  I’m not advocating that people just continue on upholding the tropes and leave them on pedestals behind velvet ropes.

Rather, I’m advocating that we play with them.  Let’s find out what made us fall in love with them, rather than finding out why we shouldn’t be in love with them.  Let’s flesh them out.  Let’s build on top of them.  Let’s take the parts we like from them and smooth over the parts we hate.  Let’s see where they go and carry them to new conclusions.

Let’s have fun.  Let’s be okay with writing fun.

How to Help an Author

I don’t know if I ever mentioned this, but I’m going to be featured in a short story anthology.

Shawn Speakman, who previously coagulated a number of virulent authors in paper format in the anthology Unfetteredhas decided to do the same thing in a new anthology, Unbound.

Said anthology features a number of fine and sassy authors, including myself.  I’ll be contributing a short story about the origins of everyone’s favorite angry boy wizard, Dreadaeleon, and it’ll be pretty great.  If you feel strongly about it, you can buy it when it comes out.  And if you feel very strongly, you can preorder one of our signed and numbered limited editions of the anthology.

And you can find those right here.

Either way helps me, really.

And, in fact, that convenient plug is the segue I needed into today’s topic.

If you’re following me on twitter, you know by now that I’m not shy about promoting myself.  You can’t really afford to be modest about your own work unless you have a big publicity budget who can be immodest on your behalf (my publishers do a great job for me, but I can connect with readers on a more personal level, I think).  I wrote a blog post on exactly why I don’t mind self-promoting; I stand by it and don’t intend to discuss it much further than this sentence.

Rather, I want to talk about a question I receive often from readers.

“Okay, I’ve decided to read your book,” they say.  “What can I do to best help you out?”

Actually, that’s a pretty good question that I, myself, didn’t have a great answer for.  When I was young and foolish, I thought that just buying the book was enough.

And don’t get me wrong, buying the book is a pretty huge deal.

So huge, in fact, that I wanted this post to be a collaboration with fellow Orbit author Brian McClellan.  Brian’s deeply interested in the business nitty gritty of bookselling and bookbuying and has written up a blog post of his own as to the many ways a book can be purchased and how much of an impact each of those ways has on the author.

Read it here.  Do it now.

What I’m here to talk about is what happens after you buy the book and how that helps.  But before I go further, I want to preface this blog post with a foreword.

The best thing you can possibly do for an author is whatever you feel comfortable doing.

In no way does your buying my book enter you in a contract that demands additional labor, nor does anything you choose not to do make you a “bad” or “lesser” fan of my work.  Once you pay for the book, it is yours and I hope you enjoy it, but there are no obligations beyond that.

This blog post is for those people who really like an author’s book.  Like, really like an author’s book and want to help them succeed but don’t quite know how.

So let’s talk a bit about the importance of Word of Mouth.

It’s super fun to bash Twilight.  Everyone does it.  We love pointing at its bland main character, we love laughing about its ridiculous plot, we love throwing popcorn at its heavy-handed romance.  We love cackling and hooting and saying “this is the worst thing ever!”

Until we have to explain its massive success.

If not Twilight, you’ve probably seen a book that you didn’t enjoy and stared at it, puzzled, and asked yourself “how did this get so big?”

Now, it’s a pretty inexact science to figure out why something gets huge.  Some people say it’s a matter of hitting the right subject with the right audience and the right time.  Some people say it’s appealing to a sensibility that everyone feels but rarely acknowledges.  But pretty much everyone agrees that word of mouth is how it all happens.

We’re a funny species, humans.  We always trust the people closest to us above anyone else.  We could go to the doctor with a gaping head wound and the doctor could say “wow, you should get surgery for that massive head wound you’ve got.”  And we might think them right, unless our beloved old grandpa spits and says: “pah!  I had a head wound once.  That ain’t a head wound you got.  That’s a goose egg, at best.”  And we’ll probably believe our grandpa.

The same thing goes for books.

A book could have won every award possible.  A book could be hailed as a true culture-changing phenomenon by critics.  A book could be blessed by ten religious leaders, christened by the Queen of England and given a good, long smooch by the President of the United States.

And still, if your friend says: “Yeah, I read it.  I dunno.  It sucked, I guess.”

You probably won’t read it.

Likewise, a book with massive critical backlash and negative press can still find huge success if your friend shows up and says: “Dude, I loved this!  You have to read it!”

That’s word of mouth.  It’s pretty great.

Honestly, that’s about the best thing you can do for a book.  Be enthusiastic about it, share your enthusiasm for it (share the book, too), and generally talk about it.

I feel like this is less obvious to some people because we’re in genre and, for a very long time, we felt it was kind of taboo to acknowledge we liked geeky things.  We played it cool with our enthusiasms, lest we be branded overzealous or nerdy.  Twilight did not have this problem; its fans were perfectly okay with saying they liked sexy vampire romances.

And we are living in a blessed age, where nerd shit is actually kind of cool.  So revel in your enthusiasm and make up for lost time.  It helps immensely.

So having established that, let’s talk a bit about Reviews.

Again, if you’ve seen me on twitter, you’ll have seen me occasionally implore my readers to leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon.  I always tell them that reviews help me not to die and it’s definitely true because, outside of beating down your neighbor’s door to tell them how much you liked The City Stained Red, this is the best way to help an author out.

Now, I don’t have the numbers over which format of review helps more (that’s something Brian might do in the near future), and it’s true that how much reviews impact sales is also an inexact science.  But it’s generally acknowledged that reviews, positive or negative, really help a book.  It’s when a book has little to no reviews or extremely underwhelming reviews that things get dire.

I want to reiterate that the best possible way to help an author first falls on me to write a book you love.  If I make you feel nothing, then I haven’t done my job.

But if you like my work enough to want to help and aren’t sure how, these are pretty much the best ways to do it.

Be enthusiastic.

Be vocal.

Be happy.

Do all these things and I promise to stop rooting around in your trash cans at night.

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