Yay, It’s 1985 Again!

 

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

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Wildlings

 

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.

eQuality

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.