Yay, It’s 1985 Again!


I actually had to check the date on when this video was uploaded.



I love how many fun videos are showing up for Game of Thrones. Despite the orneriness old fantasy fans feel when new people jump on their bandwagon, it’s still nice to be into something popular once in a while. Plus you get to say how you read the books and/or knew about them years ago. Like that guy who still won’t shut up about seeing Nirvana play a backyard sweet-sixteen barbecue back ’90.

And yes, you do look douchey if you’re that guy.

The Book was Better


This (NSFW) video quite perfectly expresses the rage all us readers have felt from time to time. Sadly, you can’t actually use the phrase, “the book was better” without looking like a complete, pompous ass. And yet, sometimes, it still must be said.

Nitty Gritty, With a Side of Titty

Sand In My Fantasy

Watch out villains, there’s a new breed of fantasy sheriff in town, and they like to write dirty. Actually, villains need not beware at all. Chances are good they’re now the protagonist. Fantasy isn’t for heroes anymore, my friends. It’s gone and got all gritty on us.

George R. R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss, Mark Lawrence, and just about everyone else in this damn genre are all out there writing dark, gritty fantasy. Some of it’s good. Some of it’s even great. Some of it just feels dark for the sake of trying to be cool. Why write about an orphan who grows up to become a knight when you can write about an orphan who grows up to become a rapist? Knights are for pussies, everyone loves a good rapist hero! Oh, wait, no they don’t.

But the grittier style of fantasy is quite popular with the kids (and their parents) these days. Martin got a huge deal from HBO to turn his Song of Ice and Fire into a series. Of course, if you watch much HBO, you know that they’re not really known for happy-go-lucky romantic comedies, so it’s not a stretch to think they’d like all the blood and murder in his books. Also, they like lots of sex, and Martin delivers with the sexing. Dwarf sex, dragon sex, brother-on-sister action. You name it, he’s doin’ it. HBO loves that shit. Although it comes off a lot creepier when you imagine the old, bearded dude sitting at his keyboard pecking out that sex scene with the thirteen-year-old girl. HBO don’t love that so much, which is why they aged the characters up by several years.

The Dark Theme Rises

It’s not just books though. Consumers of all media seem to want things darker now. The Dark Knight, The Wire, The Shield, Breaking Bad, True Blood. Audiences have grown up some and decided we want some damn adult themes in our entertainment! Heck, I’m one of them. I don’t need to be fed weak stories and recycled plots. I don’t need characters in nothing but black and white. Give me shades of grey (just not fifty of them), I’m cool with that.

But I still like a happy ending. Or at least someone I can get behind. In the end, I still want someone to root for. Batman may be darker than his Avenger counterparts, but we can still root for him as the hero. Some of the newer fantasy seems to have no heroes at all. Hell, some don’t even have a damn protagonist you can pick out! Who the hell am I rooting for, Martin?! I guess with his books all you can root for is your favorite character not to die. Or die and then come back a zombie.

Readers loved that Martin had no mercy when it came to killing his characters. Until their favorite character (whom they secretly thought was safe from the axe) got the axe. Then it wasn’t so fun anymore. When you take the time to read a book or watch a show, you become invested in the characters. If anyone can die at any moment, you can’t really invest in anyone.

Yes, it makes it more like real life. One minute you’re headed for military service in exchange for denouncing your traitorous ways and the next your severed head is on a pike. That can happen to anyone. Yes, you can be shouting at your dwarf uncle one minute and choke on a pigeon pie and die in the next breath. That’s real life.  But what the fuck do I want to watch real life for?

We Don’t Need Another Hero

Heroic fantasy has fallen out of favor with a lot of readers, and many have picked up the grittier stuff in its place. I can’t say I blame them. I get a thrill reading something totally new and unique too, and some of the old tropes are just done to death. The problem now is that if everyone is doing a thing, it’s not new or unique anymore. Everyone is writing gritty now, so every author is doing their best to try and one up the last one. Martin had a pony rape a thirteen-year-old girl?! Well, I’ll show him! My guy’ll rape the damn pony! And then cut its head off! While he’s… raping it… Hmm… And he’s a vampire! Are those Twilight chicks into ponies too? Yes? This thing has awesome crossover potential!

I read a lot of the grittier fantasy. It’s hard to avoid it if you want to read the new releases in epic fantasy, really. And, like I said, some of it is really good. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the read.  But I still like a hero I can get behind. And not because I plan to stab him in the back, cut his belly open and feast on his entrails.

HBO would love that shit though.

The Price Is Wrong

Seeing Red

The first review is up for Joe Abercrombie’s “Red Country”, to be released later this year. Not that it matters. I don’t need a review to know I want to buy it. I’m a fan of Joe’s, and I really dig his stuff. So, let’s just zip on over to Ye Olde Amazon Shoppe and see what’s what then.

Thirteen bucks? For the ebook version? Pass. And I say that with heavy heart as a true fan of his work. I’m not gonna pay $13 for an ebook no matter who wrote it. I’m a cheap ass, you see.

Week Argument

Brent Weeks started a kerfuffle this week (among people who are, admittedly, swift to kerfuffle) when he sent out an annoyed tweet about a fan complaining about the $13 price on his latest release. He ended with the snarky, “Enjoy your $4 coffee.”

Ahh, the coffee argument. You see it everywhere these days. It’s become almost as ubiquitous as the Starbucks coffee shops the argument refers to, and they’re building those into the bathrooms of other Starbucks at this point. Writers complaining because people won’t spend more on their ebook than on coffee. Software developers mad because people won’t spend more on an app than on coffee. A lot of people are REALLY jealous that Starbucks can get people to pay $4 for coffee, apparently.

The problem with this (overused and stupid) argument is that you’re not comparing the same thing. You’re comparing what people will pay for a physical good vs. what they will pay for a digital one. Like it or not, there is a difference in our feeble little reader minds. You can whine all you want, but you can’t argue with my feeble brain. It’s far too set in its ways. And feeble.

Paper or Bits

The publishing industry has spent decades convincing us all that $25 (on sale) was a bargain for a new hardback book. We weren’t buying the bargain part, but we were buying the books at that price because we had no other choice. It costs a lot of money to print, ship, store and return all those books! Now they want us to believe that the digital book, which can be copied millions and millions of times with no added cost, is worth the same. The music industry tried this one, guys, and it didn’t work out great for them.

Publishers: This new book is $25 because it’s new and is LOADED with lots of extra cardboard and paper! See how pretty?

Me: $25 is too expensive.

Publishers: Yes, but look at all this cardboard! We’ll throw in a dust jacket to make it worth your while. Ok, fine, if you don’t like that, we’ll sell you one in six months that’s only $14 because it has less cardboard and paper. A bargain to be sure!

Me: What if I don’t want to pay $14?

Publishers: Ugh. Fine. We’ll sell you a small one for $6 in another year made of dog shit and recycled toilet paper, and you can read it with the rest of the philistines in a truck stop bathroom or wherever it is you people read.

Me: What about this ebook over here that has no paper or cardboard at all and costs nothing to distribute?

Publishers: Oh, that? That’s $26.

Me: Da’ fuck?

Publishers are deluding themselves if they think most readers will still pay for that shit. Some people will, no doubt, but that’s not going to last forever. I know they’re trying to protect their business model, but I think they’re going to find (like the music guys and Hollywood) that that’s not a good long-term strategy. Once people see they can get something cheaper, even if it is of purported lower quality, they immediately start comparing everything more expensive to that cheaper price, regardless of quality.

Most people I know with ereaders have moved to indie (self-published, whatever, that’s another stupid argument) books, myself chief among them. I still have a few “big name” authors (like Joe or GRRM) that are more expensive, but I find that I am less inclined to pay the price now, even though the ride might be better. I can get a product that’s really good (sometimes better, sometimes worse, but good enough) a lot cheaper than those guys. I’ve dropped most of the authors I used to read in favor of new ones selling new releases under $5.

Epic Fantasy, Super-Sized!

I think McDonald’s makes a good cheeseburger. Not great, but good. Some would argue that they’re not even good, but most of the billion+ people that eat there every year think they’re good enough to chew and swallow at least. I eat there often enough that I can’t haughtily say their food is awful without looking like a total ass, so I admit it, I like McDonald’s.

I know there are much better places to eat. Places where, for $100, I can get an AMAZING meal that is beyond comparison to something as low-class as McDonald’s. And, I do occasionally eat at one of those places. Like an anniversary or something. I think most average folk do the same. If it’s a special occasion, sure, I’ll spring for the good stuff. Otherwise, me and the kids is going to McD.


I see the quality argument almost as often as I see the coffee one. I even agree with it for some things, but almost never with digital goods. Self-published, indie ebooks are shit and of poor quality, which is why they cost so much less, they say. That may be true, and I won’t argue that it’s not in some cases. I’ve had to dig through some crappy books to find some authors that I really like.

The thing is, I found some I really like. And, contrary to what others are saying, they’re putting out some really solid, high-quality stuff. Is it as good as the books put out by big publishers? I don’t know. But I really like them, and I really like reading them. They’re fun and they’re cheap, and I don’t need to apologize for liking them like I just did for eating McDonald’s.

My Apologies to Mr. Abercrombie

I really like Joe’s books. I don’t think for a second that “Red Country” won’t be worth the price of admission. It’s just that Hachette, his publisher, wants a higher price than I’m willing to pay. Oh, and how perfect a name is that? Hachette. Every time I see it next to the price, I can’t help thinking of the hatchet they’re taking to Joe’s nut sack.

It doesn’t matter if your $100 steak is the most amazing piece of meat I’ve ever put in my mouth (heh). I’m not going to pay it. Not when I can get a cheeseburger and a soda for $2 that’s really damn good. Food analogies aside, I just won’t pay that much for a book anymore.

If I have to read a book that costs that much, I’ll just wait for a sale. If they never have a sale, I’ll just read something else and probably miss out on what I know will be a good read. Several authors that used to be on my “must read” list are now on my “read if the price ever drops, if not, skip it” list. That’s ok. I’ve found plenty more that are good and that I really like.

Anyone got a groupon for “Red Country”?

Cursing?! Jinkies!

No, not on this blog.  I don’t give a shit about that.  I curse when I speak, so that’s how I write my personal blog.  I try to keep it to a minimum in my own books, and I never curse in mixed company, but we’re all friends here, right?  No?  Ahh, fuck it.

How does one curse in a work of epic fantasy?  It’s not so much a question about whether it bothers you to read it, that’s an entirely different issue.  I agree that it should be excluded from MG and YA books or any book you expect to be read by a younger audience.  Or, at the very least, limited.  Like a PG-13 movie, maybe you’re allowed one, nonsexual F-word per script.

I’m not talking about whether you like it or not.  I’m talking about HOW do you do it?  If you want your fantasy setting to sound gritty, or even real, you need some good, salty cursing in there.  So, how do you make your setting sound gritty?  Common curse words or expletives in medieval times would have been more like, “you lousy peasant!” or “ill-bred malcontent!”

While I’m sure those would have earned you a sword in your gut in those days (everyone carried a sword, right?), they sound more like a children’s book now.  Like the haughty prince calling Aladdin a “worthless street rat”.  Ooh, take that, Aladdin.  You’re not going to come off as gritty with writing like that.  You’ll probably be laughed at.  Especially by younger readers, the crowd whose sensitive ears you’re trying to protect.

The preferred method seems to be the modern usage of words.  It differs from author to author, but nothing says gritty like giving a fuck now and again.  Which is probably a lot older than most people think.  What about words like bitch?  It dates from c.1400 as a term of contempt for women.  “Son of a bitch” comes in around c.1700 or so, but the word bitching, as in, “stop bitching about all the cursing in this post” didn’t come around until the 1940’s.  I have seen all of them used.

You can make up your own words or misappropriate words as your own.  I love that Derek Prior uses “shogging”  (and derivatives: “shog”, “shogger”, “shog off”) as his catchall curse in his Nameless Dwarf series.  It’s fun and non-offensive.  You know, for kids!  Joss Whedon used Chinese curse words in his canceled-but-never-forgotten series, “Firefly.”  I think that’s a pretty good answer if you can come up with something that doesn’t sound stupid.  Probably not going to come off as gritty though.

No, if you want true grit, you have to go for the real deal.  Jinkies simply won’t suffice when you need an “Oh, shit!”

To Share Is Human

Something came up recently while working on my second book that I wanted to talk about. In fantasy (and even more in Sci-Fi), a lot of time and effort go into building these fantastic worlds. We love to create our little worlds from coast to coast and every troll-infested swamp in between and then share all of those reams and reams of details with the readers. Readers want to know all those little details and minutiae you’ve spent years (hours?) working on, right?

But there be dragons here. How much is too much? I’m sure that as I get better as a writer (God, please, let me get better) I’ll come to learn where that line is. But for now, this being only my second book, I struggle with it. Where have I passed the point of sharing information needed for the plot and into Tolkienland? Sorry, I meant Martintown.  You know what I mean.

Tolkien and Martin. Two great writers by nearly everyone’s standards, my own included. And they share the shit out of everything! Tolkien had the decency to shovel it off into the Silmarillion so that he didn’t have to gum up the already-lumbering plot of The Lord of the Rings, but he still left plenty in the books to drag on about. Martin just doesn’t care and slaps it out 1,000 pages at a time.

Before you take to the internets with your comment card, please note I’m not comparing myself to either of these great men. I will never be that good. Which is why I feel perfectly qualified to critique both of them.

It comes down to personal taste. Some people love every detail a writer will share about their world. Others just want to get on to the next big showdown. Neither is wrong, it’s just an opinion. But as a writer, can you satisfy both? Can you write a book that imparts all of that detail but doesn’t drag?

I don’t know. That’s what I’m struggling with now in book 2. How do I share some of these cool things I’ve dreamed up without dragging down the pacing? They’re not particularly relevant to the plot, but they’re still kind of cool. I’m doing that thing I criticize others for doing. *sigh* Writing is hard.

As a reader, I probably fall into the “less is less” camp. I want to be immersed in the world, but I also want to skip past all the crap that’s not important and get to the action. Typical man. In my case, I just skim over the parts that aren’t that interesting and keep reading ’til I hit the next quotation mark or the next big action scene.

As a reader, what do you want? As a (totally new) writer, I have no clue. I don’t expect my books (or any book) to appeal to everyone. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to try though.

Length Matters

It is generally accepted as fact that if your epic fantasy novel could not also be used to bash in the skull of a would-be intruder, it’s not nearly long enough. Of course, why the hell would you use a book to bash an intruder when your replica Drizzt Do’Urden scimitars are mounted right there on the wall? You know you feel like a badass holding those bitches!

Like movies and commercials and lines at the Apple store, books have gotten longer. Especially Fantasy books. It’s like authors all took that “epic” word to heart and decided that their book had to be sprawling and sweeping and other words of grandeur (if I had time to lookup a thesaurus) in order to justify someone plopping down the cash. Or, in many cases, they just couldn’t shut the hell up with the prose. I don’t need to know what fucking everyone ate! I’m looking at you, Martin!

Now look, you may really like giant, thousand-page opuses. You may be the type who ignores any book under eight-hundred pages because you expect truly epic fantasy. Which is great for you, because the publishers pretty much insist on it. The average word count on an epic fantasy book is quite a bit higher than most other genres. But remember, most (if not all) epic fantasy today is released in a series or the classic trilogy. Why do we have to have every damn book in the series big enough to double as a child’s booster seat? Is it because no one has phonebooks anymore?

Me? I’ve really been enjoying some of the shorter books I’ve picked up recently. Books that clock in at three-hundred pages or even less. Of course, they cost less too, so I don’t really feel like I’m being ripped off. In fact, it’s a damn bargain compared to what I’ve paid for hardbacks over the years. I would much rather read a trilogy whose total clocks in at a thousand pages than a single book that’s a thousand pages. Got more story to tell? Start another trilogy.

Why, you ask? What’s the difference? Well, I don’t have as much time as I’d like for reading anymore. See, I’m a dad now. I have two kids. For those without kids, trust me, they’re an enormous time suck. Add to that a full-time job and other projects, and that doesn’t leave a lot of reading (or writing, if that’s what you’re into) time. So, for me, a book I can devour in a quick sitting or two is awesome. I’m not saying a longer read won’t be worth it, but there’s a good chance these days that I’ll have to put it down and get back to it weeks later if I get to finish it at all.

With the explosion of ebooks and self-publishing, books have gone on a diet. Little by little, they’re getting shorter. I love that. Does that mean there’s less story? Not generally, no. Those writers are just writing and releasing shorter works at a much faster pace. It’s a lot quicker to write, edit and release a three-hundred page book and then just start the next one.

Most of the big name fantasy authors are still putting out weighty tomes that you can use to flatten a chicken, and that’s great if that’s what you’re into. I want something that doesn’t require that big an investment of my time. I would rather read three hundred pages once, twice or thrice a year from an author than a thousand pages every three, five or six years. I’m looking at you, Martin!

A hundred thousand words in three books is just as long as a hundred thousand words in one book. I counted.


No, not the kind where you and your spouse dress up as Princess Leia and Boba Fett and make bad sex jokes about someone’s Sarlacc Pit. And not the kind where something from actual history is changed just to see what would happen (What if Hitler had invented a time machine and gone back in time to give himself the best Christmas ever?!). And not the kind where high school girls are banging sparkly vampires or making out during a zombie invasion. ‘Cuz, you know, that shit is hot.

What’s Your Fantasy?

When I say Fantasy, I mean Fantasy with a capital F. The kind most booksellers lump with Science Fiction and usually label together as “Science Fiction / Fantasy”. Like it’s really just one category of fiction and not two. Like we need a separate section for a special kind of geek that is a bit more unsavory than the rest of the fantasy readers. Never mind that I’ve rarely found readers that are equally fans of both genres. We usually tend to be a huge fan of one and just dabble in the other, like a drunk college girl at an all-girl sorority sleepover.

Fantasy is a label that gets applied with a pretty broad brush. Conceivably, any piece of fiction could be labeled as “fantasy”. I mean, it’s all fantasy. But to readers like me, that word means something specific. When you say you read Fantasy, you make yourself a marked man. Or woman to a lesser degree.

The boys outnumber the girls in this group by a factor of twenty to one. At least if my D&D table was a fair sampling. And we only had ten people. Which means we barely had half a girl. It was usually that one creepy guy who always played a female character and then hit on the rest of the male characters. It only got creepier when one of the other guys flirted back. And someone always flirted back. *shudder*

What I think of when I hear Fantasy is what most have lumped off into the nice, comfortable sub-genre called “Epic Fantasy”. The word epic is just their way of shoving us off. The story doesn’t have to be epic at all, though many are. Define it how you like, but it usually includes some form of wizards, dragons, elves, orcs, goblins, magic, etc…

My Harry Potter Fantasy

“You mean like Harry Potter?!”

Meh, sort of. Because Harry was a kid, they shoveled him off into the even more onerous (at least by adult standards) category of… Young Adult. Or, God forbid, Middle Grade. I’m sure you’ve heard someone saying how they were embarrassed to be reading (and enjoying) a Harry Potter book because it was a book for kids. Like they’d be totally ashamed and embarrassed if someone caught them reading it. This is pretty much how all epic fantasy fans are expected to feel about the books they read.

There are a lot of Fantasy fans who hate the Harry Potter books. I’m not sure why, but I think it has to do with the line between “hard” and “soft” fantasy (seriously, there are “hard” and “soft” fantasy fans, and they don’t mean arse play) and the fact that the books skew younger. It could also be because they sold really well. They were so popular, in fact, that the New York Times had to create a whole new list just for “children’s” books so that Harry Potter wouldn’t dominate the top spots of the regular list. Geeks shy away from all things popular. Popular things have a tendency to beat up unpopular things.

Popularity’s not necessarily a bad thing though. When other things become popular, they reach a wider, weirder audience and create a fan base the normal people pay more attention to. Like the short kid who eats his boogers, Harry Potter and Twilight fans drew fire away from the rest of us. Hate on Hogwarts if you must, but those “idiots” in robes and eyeliner lightning bolt scars standing in line made all the rest of us look tame by comparison. And thank God for ’em. Lord knows the Trekkies were due a break.

Me? I loved the Harry Potter books. Both as books I enjoyed reading as well as books that I have personally seen inspire young kids to read. And, specifically, read a genre that I love. It warms my geeky little heart to see ten-year-old kids reading Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. They might be like me and move on to Lloyd Alexander or Ursula K. Leguin or Anne McCaffrey (God rest her dragon-riding soul) and discover a lifetime love of Fantasy. Or they might read them when they’re younger and then grow up and decide that stuff’s just for kids and then punch me in the arm a lot until I run and tell Mom.

Unfortunately, popularity also breeds copycats like… well, cats. Suddenly you couldn’t turn a corner without seeing a book about someone from our world destined to save some other world. I wouldn’t get too bunched about it though. They’ve been doing that story for centuries. Stephen R. Donaldson did the same with The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Only with slightly more rape.

One Movie (in three parts) To Rule Them All

“The Lord of the Rings” (the movies, not the books) did a lot for our credibility among the masses. I don’t think it added any new readers to the genre or anything, but at least it made us all look less stupid to average folk. We could all point excitedly and say, “See! That stuff’s not just for kids! We’re not as lame as you think! Ow, my arm!”

But those movies were exceedingly popular. Which means they brought out the riffraff. You know who I mean. The ones who showed up dressed in cloaks, glued-on ears and hairy feet. Come on, guys. We’re trying to dig ourselves out here! And the ones doing the dressing up aren’t even necessarily fans of the books! This bunch of Theoden-come-latelies are making us all look bad, and they only know the movies! The real fans are the ones standing in line bitching about how Arwen has too much screen time and, “Where the hell was Tom Bombadil?! This is bullshit.”

Winter is Coming!  And death.  Lots and lots of death.

“A Game of Thrones” (again, not the books) is really boosting the genre now too.  George R. R. Martin’s truly epic A Song of Ice and Fire (you didn’t think HBO’s title was the actual name of the series did you?) has brought some people around to my world.  Hell, my mom is even reading them after watching season 1!  Again, I still don’t think it’s going to bring any new readers to the genre (except maybe my mom, but she only likes them for the sex).  But it is really cute to see old ladies asking for the books at the library.  I’m thinking, “You have NO idea what you’re getting yourself into there.”  It’s like the time my Nana wanted to rent “Pulp Fiction” from the Blockbuster Museum because, “I heard this was really good.”

All the Kids Are Beating Up the Kids Who Are Doing It!

Fantasy is what I read. It’s not ALL I read, but I’m definitely a genre reader, and it’s definitely my genre. Even with the help of the Harry Potters and the Percy Jacksons of the world, it’ll never be popular. I’m ok with that. I have my own kids, and I’ll force what I like down their throats like any good parent.

Even if, by some miracle, it does become popular (The Hobbit, Christmas 2012, bitches!), there’s always Steampunk. Though that’s been getting more play these days. It looks ripe for mass market. Those guys are gonna be pissed at all the money they spent on costumes once they have to despise it for going mainstream.