Sam Sykes: Fear, Love, And Fantasy Fiction
This is a guest post by Sam Sykes.
I don’t know how he got in here.
Please call 911.
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What was the first fantasy book you got hooked on?
Go ahead. Think back on it. I’ll wait.
I see your fingers hovering over the keyboard, trembling like they did the first time you ever touched a high school crush. They’re probably all sweaty, too. Gross, but understandable, because I bet each and every one of you had a thought that you might be embarrassed by what you’re about to type.
Maybe you were about to type The Belgariad by David Eddings. Maybe you were about to type Legend by David Gemmell. Maybe you were about to type Dragons of Spring Dawning by Weis & Hickman.
And just maybe you were a little bit embarrassed by it.
That’s okay. I’m not judging. For the very longest time, I was embarrassed by this stuff, too. When I first got published and people asked who my influences were, I thought the answer I wanted to give would sound…what? Childish, maybe? Not serious? Illegitimate? Whatever it was, I hastily mumbled some generic catch-all Tolkien titles that I thought would fit the bill and changed the conversation.
For some reason, I was really terrified by the thought of people knowing I used to read Drizzt novels.
Yeah. Drizzt. Lonely outcast of drow society, rejected by both the surface world and his own kind. Driven to good in a world that expects him to do bad. Wields a pair of badass scimitars and throws his magic cat at a thousand orcs while fighting three-headed liches while being watched on by sexy frost giants holy shit what am I saying.
I don’t really blame myself for being worried about what people might think about me for that. I feel like a lot of fantasy — readers and writers alike — have this latent fear of not being taken seriously. We’re mocked by mainstream literature, we’re made fun of by a lot of press, the word “nerd” is still (rarely) thrown around as an insult.
Basically, I think a lot of people are already embarrassed by fantasy without us being embarrassed by ourselves.
It took me three books to arrive at this conclusion. Three books of trying to figure out how to be edgy, how to be tough, how to really, really change this genre so that it would finally be taken seriously (because naturally, I surmised, who else would do it but me)?
And at the end of those three books? I think I kind of missed Drizzt.
I mean, I liked what came out of this era of fantasy: I loved the morally ambiguous characterization and the political intrigue and whatnot, but I was growing increasingly burnt out on cynicism and bleakness and hatred.
I missed swordfights. I missed monsters. I missed magic cats and badass scimitars. I missed three-headed liches and sexy frost giants. I missed magic and mayhem and I missed witty banter and romance. I missed being excited by fantasy.
True, those aspects aren’t for everyone. And it’s true that there are some skeezy elements of older style fantasy: whitewashed casts, unnervingly rigid morality systems, women characters who don’t get to do much, a rather alarming pattern of justifying the mass slaughter of other races.
These aspects, I am keen to leave behind and not revisit.
But there’s a certain thrill to some aspects of fantasy that I think a lot of people put behind them for fear of appearing childish, juvenile, immature, whatever. And somehow, they’re the aspects that sounded great when I wrote them down. If I could get those again, while leaving all the gross parts behind, I think I’d have something nice.
This is what I thought when I started writing The City Stained Red.
I wanted to write something that made me happy again. I wanted to do all the stuff I love doing: fights and awkward relationships and monsters and demons and magic and shit going wrong and people trying to do the right thing and sometimes failing and exploring lost civilizations and treasure and all that cool crap.
So I did.
And it was pretty great. The City Stained Red is my strongest work yet and I’m amazingly proud of it.
And somehow, it wasn’t shallow. It wasn’t immature. It wasn’t not serious. It was me. It fit.
So, now I want to ask you this: when’s the last time you had that same feeling?
We, as authors, always give the same advice to aspiring writers: “Write what makes you happy! Write for yourself!” And that’s good advice. And it’s damned easy advice to put into practice if you don’t consider all this other stuff.
I mean, even if we weren’t considering the mainstream heckling of fantasy, there are other aspects to consider. We don’t write in a vacuum: we’re always considering what else is out there, how we’re going to leave our mark. And leaving a mark is arguably the most important thing a writer needs to do past getting enough money to feed themselves.
And speaking of money, “write for yourself” is a strong sentiment, but “write what gets you paid” is also pretty hard to argue with.
But for as deep a conversation as this could get and for as much as we can talk about improving ourselves as writers and making careers out of writing, we should also focus on the most important question.
Does writing make us happy?
Does the thought of not writing terrify us?
Or does it not even occur to us because what the fuck else would we do?
These are questions that demand honest answers. And the honest answer must come from another question: what do you love? What do you have to write? What story must you absolutely tell?
And why haven’t you written it yet?
I’m sure there are a lot of answers to that last bit. But we really can’t afford to go into them. I’m running out of time and eventually Chuck will wander back here and wonder A) how I got into his house, B) what I’m doing on his computer and C) what’s all this pink stuff I’m covered in.
So I want you to be honest with yourself. I want you to find out what you’re afraid of and what you love. And then I want you to write about it. And then I want you to keep writing until it is done. I want you to do this for yourself.
And if you get it published, that’d be nice, too. I’d like to read it.
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Sam Sykes is the fantasy novelist who covered himself in some kind of pink slurry that he used as a lubricant to shunt his way through Chuck Wendig’s ductwork, like some grease-besodden John McClane. He is tired of your bullshit and likes pugs but not in the way you want him to like pugs, y’know, it’s not a love thing, so stop sending him all those pug figurines for that glass menagerie of pug figurines you think he has but he doesn’t have, you presumptive person, you. Also, Sam Sykes is not writing this bio, but Chuck Wendig is writing this bio, so whatever, sucker.
Sam is the author of the newly released The City Stained Red:
A long-exiled living god arises.
A city begins to break apart at the seams.
Lenk and his battle-scarred companions have come to Cier’Djaal in search of Miron Evanhands, a wealthy priest who contracted them to eradicate demons — and then vanished before paying for the job.
But hunting Miron down might be tougher than even these weary adventurers can handle as two unstoppable religious armies move towards all-out war, tensions rise within the capital’s cultural melting pot, and demons begin to pour from the shadows…
And Khoth Kapira, the long-banished living god, has seen his chance to return and regain dominion over the world.
Now all that prevents the city from tearing itself apart in carnage are Lenk, Kataria, a savage human-hating warrior, Denaos, a dangerous rogue, Asper, a healer priestess, Dreadaeleon, a young wizard, and Gariath, one of the last of the dragonmen.
This book is presently a mere $1.99 (?!) in e-formats: