Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

Ape Fight

If you’ve read this blog in at least a passing capacity, you probably know that I like supporting various art projects.  I’m a huge fan of artists and I love supporting them with linkage from this blog where I can.

If you’ve been reading this blog in the past few months, you’ll know that I recently pimped Marc Simonetti’s Coverama.  Marc, who did my French covers among other covers for well-known fantasy artists, did a collection of all his covers.

And if you’ve taken my advice, you’re probably getting one of your copies of Coverama right now.  Like I have.



But if you didn’t, you missed out.  How badly did you miss out, you ask?

Well, you missed this.



And what is that, you may ask?  Let’s take a closer look.



Ape Fight.  Ape Fight!  APE FIGHT!  APE FIGHT!  APE FIGHT!

This is a scene from my fifth book, The Mortal Tally, coming out in 2015 featuring Lenk, Kataria and a shitton of apes.  Apes with shurken.  Apes with shuriken who are ridden by ape-men who throw spears.

Why did I write it?  Because it’s awesome.

Why did Marc draw it?  Same reason.

Why are we here?  All answers lead to Ape Fight.

That Moment When…

That moment when you finish writing a book.

That moment when you realize how much work is left to do.

That moment when you edit relentlessly, polishing every word until it shines.

That moment when you think it’s taking a long time but you know it’s worth taking a long time to do it.

That moment when that effort pays off.

That moment when you get to see it for yourself.


That moment when you hold your Advanced Reader’s Copy, the first physical validation of your work.

That moment when you look at it and see yourself compared to some of your favorite authors.

And see some of your favorite authors saying nice things about you.


That moment when you open it up.

That moment when you were a kid and spent a good half an hour studying the map at the start of a fantasy novel.

That moment when you get to do the same thing for your own book.


That moment when you realize your ARC is out in the hands of all those authors you admire.

That moment when you realize it won’t work for everyone.

That moment when you realize it did work for someone.

That moment when you realize that someone is someone whose work you devoured and were left salivating for more.

That moment when that someone is Robin Hobb and she says some super awesome things about your book and you get really fuckin’ excited and holy shit this book is happening and it’s going to be great.

That moment.


Choking on the Slurpee of Fantasy

There probably a dozen good reasons to hate Robert J. Bennett.

For one, he is an absolutely dreadful housemate, I’m told, insisting on performing morning calisthenics at 6 AM and livestreaming the events from a GoPro situated on the floor between his legs with the lens pointed up.  He has a lengthy list of academic credits, most of which involve the words “Why My Neighbors Are Mad At Me For Putting Something In Their Closet” somewhere in the title.  And we need not go into his brief entrepreneurial foray into the world of funeral clowns.

But if you had to narrow down one specific reason, it should probably be that he is brilliant and I hate that.

Doubtlessly, if you follow the link above, you’ll at some point delve into his blog.  You’ll find things there that are frightening in how intelligent they are (my favorite is this one on fandom).  His books, including the upcoming City of Stairs (which I highly recommend), are absolutely no different.  He remains the sole author I cannot leave in my bathroom because the specific way he works his prose and ideas demands more attention than I can divide between a poop and the throes of bodily egress.

Honestly, Robert is the author that will have shaped the stories we’ll be telling twenty years from now.  He’s that good.  Even when I disagree with him.

Such as when he wrote this post about genre labeling.

Now, neither the fact that I disagree with him nor the fact that he is brilliant are what cause me to loathe him in this particular instance.  Rather, it’s the fact that he has successfully made me feel very, very old.

I know that sounds like the opening to a rant in which I’ll chuckle about how different things used to be and, somewhere in there, throw a passive-aggressive and wholly alarming insinuation about how much “purer” the genre was back then, but rest assured that the idea of fading youth was just a passing fancy.  I only bring it up because I remember wholly feeling how Robert feels right now.

I don’t think any author sits down, cracks their knuckles and says: “Well, time to write something wholly derivative and entirely reminiscent of previous iterations and shovel that once-original shit down the gaping craw of a populace ready to consume.”  We all like to think we’re original geniuses.  That’s not to say that we aren’t–indeed, just by letting our own enthusiasm seep into our work, even our own iterations of the same ideas will be original.  But I think there comes a rather difficult point in every writer’s life where they sit down and think the same thought.

“Why aren’t people seeing what I’m seeing?”

When we first start out and someone asks us “what do we write?”  We describe ourselves and our work in vague, nebulous terms as we struggle to come to grips with what we might be and avoid calling ourselves something we might regret later.  As we move on, we become more confident in what we write and describe ourselves in more rigid terms.  Then a number of things happen: reviewers call us completely different things, readers call us completely different things, the people we had hoped would like us do not.  And then typical publishing career issues rear up: the economy changes, we don’t sell as well as we hoped, sometimes we don’t sell at all.  And all of this culminates in a moment of dread where we start asking ourselves question.

“Am I not what I thought I’d be?”  “Was I never what I thought I was?”  “Or am I just not very good at what I want to do?”

If this sounds overly specific, it’s because I went through this when my books came out.

liked to say I was writing chiefly character-driven drama featuring supernatural elements derived from a meeting of ancient world mythology and religious philosophical aspects.  When that got too long (and people seemed less interested), I started calling it in-depth character studies of people in a secondary world.  For a very long time, I tried to avoid calling myself “fantasy.”  I tried to avoid saying words like “sword fights,” “monsters,” “magic,” “banter,” “cursing,” “poop jokes.”  I said “character-driven,” “thoughtful studies,” “broken people,” “fantastic elements.”  All those things from both sentences are true, but the former had an element of joy that I felt afraid to acknowledge, lest it seem like I’m not a serious writer.

Then the reviews started coming in.  I started hearing different words.  From people who liked me, I heard words like “epic fantasy,” “sword and sorcery,” “classic dungeon-delving,” “party-based.”  From people who didn’t like me, I heard words like “D&D,” “video game fiction,” “tie-in fiction but worse,” “blood-soaked goreporn,” “nihilistic grimness” (we didn’t have grimdark back then).

Genre titles and I hated them all, good and bad.  I wanted to resist them, lest I be tied down to one of them.  I didn’t want to be branded “the sword and sorcery” guy anymore than I wanted to be the “D&D but bad” guy.  I wanted to be me, Sam Sykes, and I wanted people to expend massive amounts of breath in describing what I did.

I have no idea if Robert went through or is going through the same thing.  But my experience runs counter to his claim that people want to know a genre first and then buy you.  In my experience, people will form their ideas about you and then put you in the genre that best allows them to embrace or dismiss you (check out this Penny Arcade strip to see what I mean).

Don’t get me wrong: the idea is super-alarming and, in a lot of cases, harmful.  You could probably find a lot of people out there who make the declaration that they don’t read urban fantasy and then find the Dresden Files and Iron Druid Chronicles on their shelves, but a distinct lack of women epic fantasy authors.

And don’t get me wrong, I hate the idea of “the genre” as an all-encompassing monolith or means of demarcating tribal lines.

But I don’t know if these are the faults of genres, specifically.

I used to, of course.  I would agonize over them, being called one thing or another as though that would put me on one side of the tribal line.  I wrote my book, Black Halo, from that perspective and it is, I feel, my weakest one.  It was a source of stress and sadness for me.

I function peculiarly in that I can reach a certain stress threshold and then simply…not care anymore.  My body seems to register that, if I get any more angry about a subject it’ll cause me some serious harm, and releases some chemical that makes it seem less important.  This eventually followed Black Halo’s publication and reception (which was not up to expectations).  And I went through a moment of zen.

I stopped stressing.  I started writing from a different place.  I wrote a book I loved.  And because I loved it, I wanted to put a lot of effort into it, because I was interested in it, because it caused me joy, because I was passionate about it in a way that I hadn’t been when I was dedicating my energies to worrying about how the book would be received.

These days, when people come up to me, I get a variety of different genres.

“Your book is the most epic thing I’ve ever read!”

“Your book really reminds me of the old Conan the Barbarian fantasy novels.”

“Your book is like a really fun D&D campaign!”

“Your book made me cry.”

My reaction to all of these is the same: “Awesome!”

Genres are, from a publisher’s standpoint, useful tools: they are ever-changing, they are shifted to match current moods and market trends.  We didn’t have “epic fantasy” as a classification several years ago and a few years from now, “grimdark” will probably be an actual marketing word.  It’s useless to fight against this.

But genres from a reader’s standpoint?  I appreciate those.  People will tell me a lot about what they thought about the book just by what genre they put me in.  Those who call me epic fantasy will tell me they liked the plot.  Those who call me sword and sorcery will tell me they liked the combat.  Those who call me D&D will tell me they liked the character interactions (and often the romance, if you can believe that).  Sometimes they won’t even use a genre.  Sometimes they’ll just call it “my book.”

That is a good moment.  When the work speaks for itself.  When your name becomes its own genre.

I do sympathize with Robert’s concerns, just as I don’t envy his problems.  Like I said, he’s a genius, and he’s going to have the problems all geniuses have of talking to people on a level where they can communicate effectively.  Genre, as a concept, may be more important to him than most because his books so clearly transcend genre.

And I do think there are issues in how we argue and categorize books.  Same Six Names Syndrome, anyone?

And maybe it’s just because I am feeling old, but I don’t think genre is that bad of a thing anymore.  I don’t think it’s worth it to split hairs over that.  When I’m on a panel and the moderator says “let’s begin by defining the genre,” I rarely bother to hide my groan and most of the other authors on my panel follow suit.  We’ve done this a lot.  We’ve discussed the intricacies to death.  We’ve fought bloody wars over what constitutes epic versus not-epic, high versus low, urban versus rural.  It’s a conflict that is never going to go away because genres, as a concept, are probably never going to go away.

I used to be more upset about this than I am now.  It used to bother me to be known as sword and sorcery over epic, epic over character-driven.  It used to bother me to be put in one genre or another.  But now?

I’m content to let the reader decide what is epic to them.

That’s just fine by me.

GenCon 2014!

Hey, fellas! While a bunch of my loser friends are over at LonCon, I thought I’d get down in the trenches with the gaming men and women of our great world and attend GenCon.  Fortunately, they were nice enough to put me on the Writer’s Symposium track and I’ll be doing a few panels while I’m there! They are as such…

Thursday, 8 PM

Writer’s Craft: Epic Storylines

Room 243

Friday, 8 PM

Writer’s Craft: Character Backstory

Room 244

Saturday, 9 AM

Writer’s Life: Writer’s Toolbox

Room 245

I hope to see you there!


At GenCon, I’ll be giving away free issues of my new comic: Gold and Steel, Flesh and Blood: A prelude to the novel THE CITY STAINED RED.


This is a small comic prelude to my latest novel.  If you’d like one, just come up to me at some point and say: “I’VE GOT A REAL RED WAGON.”

Or just ask for one, IDK.

Colonels of Industry

I am not of the opinion that Traditionally Published Authors and Self-Published Authors are as chainmail and rust monsters (see what happened there?  That’s nerd cred, son).

Rather, I’m of the opinion that the line between the two is getting fuzzier every day.  Good kind of fuzzy, like a teddy bear someone would hand you after you watched your house burn down.  Short fiction is becoming an increasingly effective way to gateway new readers into a series, as Brian McClellan has noted, and one of the most profitable ways to market that short fiction is to put it out there on your own steam.  I predict that more and more authors of epic fantasy, a genre possessed of fans who cannot get enough worldbuilding, will be following this kind of model where auxiliary fiction will be produced of their own accord and put out there.

This is a good thing, in my perspective.  But with it comes a few challenges.

See, when you go with a publisher, you are not actually just getting someone to print your book.  You’re getting someone to edit it, format it, make it look nice, do cover art and, most importantly, market it.  When you strike out on your own, you’re doing all that by yourself.

I can’t tell you how to do most of that stuff, since my plan for getting cover art would be basically to beg Todd Lockwood and then maybe sacrifice a goat in his name in hopes of appeasing him.  But I like to think I know a little something about marketing and promoting yourself.

Viewers of this blog will remember that I’ve talked about this subject before.  The best way to market is to Be Honest, Be Unashamed, Be Enthusiastic, Be Involved and also Don’t Be Bitter, Don’t Be Dishonest, Don’t Be Spammy and Don’t Be Discouraged.  These are good foundations upon which to build further ideas of promotion.

So with that in mind, I’d like to talk about the idea of space.

It’s not typically something we think about on the internet, as this is more or less one massive conversation in which several billion people are involved in, all talking at once.  The idea of space in a conversation occurs to us pretty naturally in the real world where, if we were to see two people sitting by their own talking about the merits of Coke vs. Pepsi, you probably wouldn’t think to walk over there, sit down and offer your opinion.  On twitter, though, when two people are having that same conversation, people for some reason think nothing of butting in and saying “COKE IS POISON DON’T PUT THAT SHIT IN YOUR BODY YOU STUPID SKANK.”

To a degree, this is inevitable.  The internet, after all, is a terrible place.  And one of the main advantages of social media sites from a promotional perspective is that the access to the author is opened up.  People actually enjoy talking to the authors of their favorite works.  But again, let us consider the aspect of space.

You might love Joe Hill.  You might really like it if Joe Hill were at a convention that you could go to and go up to him and say: “Mr. Hill, I love your work.”  And you might really like it if Joe Hill replied: “Well, thank you, I’ll have a new book out next month and I will be happy to sign it for you.”  You might really like that whole thing.

If you were to wake up one morning, go to the bathroom, raise the toilet lid and find Joe Hill popping out of the bowl saying: “Hey, dude, I have a new book out only $19.99, act now and I’ll throw in a free shamwow.”  Well, you might not like that.

I bring this up only because I see this happening more often on twitter lately.

Out of nowhere, an author (usually self-published) will send me a tweet that has nothing to do with anything I have been talking about and slap me with a link to their book and a generic “buy it now” message.

Guys.  Don’t do this.

This is the equivalent of someone butting in on your conversation.  This is the equivalent of finding a Chinese takeout menu slid under your door.  This is the equivalent of waking up to find Joe Hill in your toilet.  None of those are pleasant things.

This falls under Don’t Be Spammy, but what I’ve never talked about before is that the concept of space goes both ways (hurr).

This isn’t the only talk about self-promotion gone awry you’ll see.  Talk to any author, any reader, they’ll tell you times they’ve been put off or alienated by an overly-aggressive author.  Hell, you can read any community website out there and probably hear something about how groan-inducing self-promotion is, how tacky, indulgent and terrible it is.

You could be forgiven for being for being paralyzed with fear from ever self-promoting again out of a blind terror of being judged.  But what all these horror stories fail to tell you is that, in addition to being tacky, indulgent and terrible, self-promotion is also extremely, extremely necessary.

I love being a traditionally published author, but I’m also not Jonathan Franzen, so I don’t have the kind of massive marketing budget behind me that I can just toss my book out there and trust some combination of my publisher, Oprah and Jesus to make it a smash hit.  I have to self-promote.  I have to make people aware of my books.  I have to make my books sound like they’re worth buying.

And that’s where the concept of YOUR space, as an author, comes in.

A lot of social media is actually having conversations with all those several billion people.  It’s putting what you want to say out there and seeing who responds.  It’s hawking, advertising, handselling, promising, reassuring, apologizing and sometimes bribing with sloppy kisses.  Sometimes it feels like you’re talking to nobody in particular.  Sometimes it feels like no one is listening.  But it’s out there (and it’s out there forever), so you gotta make use of it.

Your twitter profile, your facebook page, your blog post, your website is where you go to make yourself known.  This is where you have links to buy shit, excerpts for people to read, pornography to peruse, whatever sells.  And you should definitely feel free to do that.  Say what you want, as loud as you want.  Scream it out into the ether.

Some people might complain about the self-promotion, but fuck them, that’s your space.

And this is where spaces collide.  If your promotion is entertaining, clever or funny, people will eventually come to you.  And when they do, if your space is adequately set up to let them see what you’ve got, they will probably partake of your delicious verbiage.

I should stress, though, that this is where the part about Being Honest and Being Enthusiastic comes into play.  The relationship of an author to their readers is peculiar; people prefer to think of you as a person or at least a very good story.  If your space is 100% advertisements, people will think you’re more a spambot broken free.  Remember to talk about stuff you like, stuff you’re doing, stuff you’re worried about, any stuff that isn’t just about selling your book or complaining about people not buying your book.

Readers coming to your space is great.  That’s how you get noticed.  You coming to readers’ space is different.  That can easily be alienating and weird.

Like, imagine if you were sitting in a living room with your friends, who were all Joe Hill fans, and talking about his latest book and your opinions on it.  Now, imagine that the toilet you had installed in your living room for some reason suddenly opens and between the lid and seat, Joe Hill’s glassy stare peers out from the darkness beneath, watching you eagerly for your opinion.

Pretty fucking weird, right?  That’s what going into a reader’s space is like.

But not all the time.

I’m a big fan of /r/fantasy for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that the authors and readers share a common space there.  It’s a very open, welcoming place for both people.  The rules are a bit more fluid there and it’s easier to talk to people.  But again, the rules of all self-promotion apply: Do Honesty, Enthusiasm and Unashamedness.  Don’t Spam, Bitter or Dishonest.

The internet is still kind of a fucked up place as far as socializing goes.  We’re still figuring out a lot of this.  But I think you’ll be much happier if you take these guidelines.

Mostly because your book will probably sell.

Which means you won’t die in poverty.


Tales of Punishment

A few things about me.

1) I’ve been a guest at Phoenix Comicon for four years now.  It is my favorite con, my home con, and I love it dearly enough to have spent a lot of effort contributing to it via lending my particular expertise to its panels and attendants.

2) I love Japanese television.  Not anime (or at least, not just anime), but all Japanese television.  Specifically, the Japanese game show.  Specifically specifically, the Japanese batsu (punishment) game show.  Specifically specifically specifically, the Japanese batsu game shows as performed by the comedy duo of Gaki no Tsukai Ya Arehende!!  A manzai team featuring one of my personal heroes, comedian and screenwriter, Hitoshi Matsumoto.


A Batsu Game is more or less exactly what it sounds like: people are given a task to complete and are punished if they fail it.  Gaki no Tsukai does one every year and it is always amazing.  Most of these challenges revolve around one challenge: do not laugh.  You can find an awesome example of it here.

3) Having spent all these years building up good will with the people of Phoenix Comicon, I thought it would be great to blow it all by requesting the privilege of paying homage to people (and specifically, a person) who have entertained me and deeply affected and inspired by own sense of humor by hosting a Batsu Game of my own.

Really, the stars aligned on this one as several people made a series of bad decisions.

First of all, the Phoenix Comicon literary track foolishly agreed to let me do it.

Secondly, I asked my friends Myke Cole, Aprilynne Pike, Chuck Wendig, John Scalzi, Delilah S. Dawson, Patrick Rothfuss and Leanna Renee Heiber to join.  They all foolishly agreed.

And finally, I requested that the whole thing be videotaped, that we could enjoy it again and again.  Thus, the Triforce of Terrible Decisions was completed.

And now I pass the savings on to you, the viewer.  Please watch the Author Batsu Game here.

San Diego Comicon!

Hello, friends!

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



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!



The City Stained Red

Just like I said I would, I did.

Sykes_TheCityStainedRed-TP (2)


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.


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.


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!




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


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


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


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



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!

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