Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

Ask the Companions III: Shot Through the Heart

It’s February!  And that means it’s almost VALENTINE’S DAY!

That’s right, motherfuckers!  The day when homes are raided, people are dragged out of their beds and screaming into the night to be rounded up in pens and summarily judged to see if their obligations toward their romantic partners are met or face oblivion.

So yeah, it’s pretty hot.

But if you’re a reader of this blog, you might know that Valentine’s Day has a different tradition around these parts.

That’s right, you sassy sasquatches!  It’s time once again for…

KATARIA AND DENAOS GIVE YOU DATING ADVICE

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We’ve done this a few times before on the blog and it remains a fan favorite.  And an anti-fan favorite.  And an aggressive guy who lives in my dumpsters behind the alley favorite.

The concept is very simple.

Do you have a question about romance?  Dating?  How to catch the eye of that self-absorbed fella at work?  Where to take that sassy gal with a spunky attitude and a fresh new perspective on life?  Who should have the dominance in a relationship after the ceremonial fistfight to establish it ended in a draw?  What to do about that funny smell coming from under the basement door and why your significant other is always dragging wet, sopping bags down there?

Ask the companions!

Just send in an email using this contact sheet here.

Title it “Dear Kataria,” or “Dear Denaos,” or “Dear Companions” or dear whatever, we’ll get the idea.

Then write down the question you’d like to ask Denaos or Kataria.

On Valentine’s Day, February 14th, they’ll go through your terrible questions and give you equally terrible answers!  What a treat!

You can read the preceding years’ entries here and here!

Please don’t hesitate to send in any questions you might have!  You have until February 14th!  And since we’re all having fun, what the hell.

The most interesting question will receive a signed copy of The City Stained Red (North America only; sorry, shipping’s a dick).

LET’S GET ROMANTIC.

The Mortal Tally: Kill Demons, Get Money

The time has come, friends.

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In a little over two months, The Mortal Tallythe second book in the Bring Down Heaven trilogy, will be available for purchase.

And that means it’s time to PREORDER!

As an author, preorders are pretty great for me.  My editors are able to look at it, see that people are excited for my book to come out, and then they quietly take the shells out of their shotguns and put them back under their desks for another day.  I really can’t overemphasize how important and great it is for you to preorder books from authors you love and support.

But, as you know, before I was an author, I was a big, weird nerd.  And amongst my many nerd hobbies, I was that most insidious breed of geek: the gamer.

Preordering has a special correlation to people who play video games.  Showing dedication and support is all well and good, of course, but what’s even more important than that is PREORDER BONUSES.

Back in the day, I would preorder merrily, whining to my parents that I absolutely, simply had to have such coveted prizes as cloth maps, limited-edition figurines or soundtracks to the game’s score which I would later play when I was in a car with a girl I liked and that’s why you don’t have grandkids right now, mom.

Now, admittedly, it’s pretty expensive to make cloth maps and figurines, and since this is a book, the only soundtrack it would have is the sound of my screaming.  But I can do the next best thing: artwork!

Here’s the deal my friends.

1. Preorder The Mortal Tally from your favorite outlet.

2. Take a screenshot or show evidence of it.  Perhaps put it in a tweet?

3. Mail it to me using my contact sheet here with the subject title: “I PREORDERED AND I AM A GOOD PERSON”

4. I will email you back an astonishingly awesome wallpaper, done by the amazing artist, Chanh Quach!

A tantalizing hint of that awesome wallpaper, you have already seen above.  I guarantee that the final edition is even more incredible.

You have until March 29th to let me know!  After that, you’ll have to settle for my regular ol’ undying gratitude.  Like some kind of chump.

Chanh, bless her, put so much amazing work into this wallpaper.  I’m so immensely pleased that people love my work enough to help me out in such astonishing ways.  And I am very keen to share her majestic prowess with you, my gentle readers.

So I hope you’ll take advantage of this!  It is the only way to keep me from haunting your dreams!

Opportunity is knocking.

It’s me.

Buy my book.

The Gate Opens

Since the arrival of The City Stained Reda lot of people have expressed an interest in reading my earlier works: Tome of the Undergates, Black Halo and The Skybound Sea.

And for that, I am perpetually grateful.  I absolutely adore the enthusiasm and exuberance for all my work.

So it has routinely irritated me to have to tell people that the books were difficult to find.  For many months now, I’ve had to request that people be patient and that their desire to see how the adventures of Lenk, Kataria and friends began would be sated.

And today, I am pleased that I can finally tell you to stop waiting.

Please join me in welcoming the rise of a new book: An Affinity for Steel!

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Pretty radical, right?  Dig that Brent Weeks blurb!

There will be a print version available later in 2016, but for now, the entire trilogy is available in eBook format!  Here is the Amazon link, but you can find yours in alternate formats, as well!

Those of you who loved The City Stained Red will no doubt also love this book.  It has all the heart and soul, as well as the violence and emotionally maladjusted people, of City while also having…

FISH DEMONS!

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LIZARDMEN IN DAPPER HATS!

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PURPLE-SKINNED HATEFUL WARRIOR WOMEN!

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SHICTS!  GOD HELP US, SHICTS!

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All art done for the Lost Pages by the amazing Michael Lee Lunsford.

The holidays are upon us.  You’ll no doubt need new books to read while you avoid relatives and get blitzed on ‘nog.  This is your answer.  This is your call.  Buy it.  BUY IT OR I’LL SLAP YOU!

 

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!

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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!

HEY, GUYS!

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

BOOTH SIGNING: Friday, 2 PM.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Yes.

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!

HEY ASSHOLES, IT’S ME.

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!

THURSDAY

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!

FRIDAY

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!

SATURDAY

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!

Love,

Sam

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:

FRIDAY

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!

SATURDAY

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.

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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.

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Yeah.

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.

PROTIP.

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