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Count me among the chorus of disappointed from last night’s penultimate episode of Game of Thrones — to be clear, you shouldn’t take anything I say here with a salt lick, much less a grain of salt. The show has never really been for me. I’ve found it at turns too cynical, too lurid, too inconsistent with itself, and in this way, I suppose the episode disappoints only in the way that it has done what it perhaps has always done. Certainly if we choose a literary criticism based on social justice it’s easy to find enough not to like: the show hasn’t expressed much love for women or people of color, and last night’s episode continues that tradition. (Anyone rolling up here to stammer, “B-but in the Middle uh Ages they–” gets Stormborned, or Stormburned? hella quick.) Certainly the show has long been in love with the Westworldian theme of violent delights have violent ends. So, in some ways, maybe last night’s episode slotted pretty well into what we’ve had, and what we’ve come to expect.

For me, the biggest challenge is the character arcs — so, as I did with Endgame, maybe it’s time to look at those a little bit. See it through that lens. Now, it’s clear that this show was always going to be a tragedy, and a tragedy in the truest theatrical sense, meaning, characters will not only be unable to surpass their flaws but will in fact Oedipally trip over their flaws in an effort to surmount them. The last couple seasons seemed to ease off the tragedy a little bit, suggesting that there might be some heroism in the outing — this is a show where the bad guys are Really, Really Bad, but have always Gotten Theirs in the end. At the same time, the show is what the show is: it is in no way out of its character that it wants to remind us that pretty much everyone here sucks in some capacity, particularly those in power (or those who want that power). But at the same time, last night’s episode fell apart for me. I was bored and bewildered through most of it? The pacing was hasty. It felt like we skipped a whole middle of a TV season to lurch drunkenly toward this moment, skipping at least a ream of character development. If you told me right now, “Oh, Chuck, it’s because you missed three episodes,” I would nod and go whew because that would make so much sense.

But so much of this felt unearned.

Anyway, let’s poke at it, see what twitches.

Oh, uh, there’s gonna be spoilers.

So let’s clear ourselves some spoiler space, this time with stuff cut from James Joyce’s Ulysses:

Suppose that communal kitchen years to come perhaps. All trotting down with porringers and tommycans to be filled. Devour contents in the street. John Howard Parnell example the provost of Trinity every mother’s son don’t talk of your provosts and provost of Trinity women and children cabmen priests parsons fieldmarshals archbishops. From Ailesbury road, Clyde road, artisans’ dwellings, north Dublin union, lord mayor in his gingerbread coach, old queen in a bathchair. My plate’s empty. After you with our incorporated drinkingcup. Like sir Philip Crampton’s fountain. Rub off the microbes with your handkerchief. Next chap rubs on a new batch with his. Father O’Flynn would make hares of them all. Have rows all the same. All for number one. Children fighting for the scrapings of the pot. Want a souppot as big as the Phoenix park. Harpooning flitches and hindquarters out of it. Hate people all round you. City Arms hotel table d’hôte she called it. Soup, joint and sweet. Never know whose thoughts you’re chewing. Then who’d wash up all the plates and forks? Might be all feeding on tabloids that time. Teeth getting worse and worse.

After all there’s a lot in that vegetarian fine flavour of things from the earth garlic of course it stinks after Italian organgrinders crisp of onions mushrooms truffles. Pain to the animal too. Pluck and draw fowl. Wretched brutes there at the cattlemarket waiting for the poleaxe to split their skulls open. Moo. Poor trembling calves. Meh. Staggering bob. Bubble and squeak. Butchers’ buckets wobbly lights. Give us that brisket off the hook. Plup. Rawhead and bloody bones. Flayed glasseyed sheep hung from their haunches, sheepsnouts bloodypapered snivelling nosejam on sawdust. Top and lashers going out. Don’t maul them pieces, young one.

And, here we go.

Daenerys — Ahh, the Dragon Lady. I don’t know what to tell you here. She’s always had a whiff of the conqueror about her. Always had a temper. Was willing to be merciless and cruel in pursuit of her inevitable goal, a goal she felt was her birthright. She coupled that with a strong White Savior vibe, and has been routinely pulled back from the brink by her advisors. At the same time, this is a character who has been set up (I feel) a little bit to be the hero, or at least a villain you like more than the other villains, right? Characters in this series follow her willingly, not by Plot Convenience but because arguably she earned it. But in this one —

Whew, wow, yeah, we fast-forwarded through the growth of her madness, didn’t we? She went from being a little paranoid and purity-testy to suddenly, YEAH NEVER MIND I’MMA BURN THIS WHOLE FUCKING PLACE TO THE GROUND, ESPECIALLY THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN. Which feels cynical and lurid in a way that bypasses character development? Like, okay, there came that moment where the Red Keep army (or whoever the fuck they were) dropped their swords? And then tension over the bells and the bells ring and whew, yay, it’s over. I’d get her still just roasty-toasting the fuck out of that army. “You surrendered? Nah.” And Jon would be like, “But-but-but they surrendered, this is not honorable, woe.” Or some shit. Because Jon Snow knows nothing.

And I’d get her still going apeshit to burn down that Red Keep down to try to melt Cersei’s bones as revenge for Missandei. But what she does instead is just, I dunno. Ladies be cray? Is that the idea? It felt like the writers just really wanted to burn the city, so they were gonna burn the city — and it’s here where the characters feel like a pawn not in their own game, but rather, for the game of the show’s creators. “AND THEN SHE BURNS THE WHOLE CITY.” “But why?” “BECAUSE SHE BURNS THE WHOLE CITY.” “But that’s not a reason.” “SHE DOES IT BECAUSE IT’S COOL AND GROSS AND LADIES ARE CRAY, AM I RIGHT.” “Oh.”

Give us maybe another three episodes of her going mad, and we buy the Mad Queen.

Without that, not so much. Though again, from a tragedy standpoint, I suppose it tracks — she took the long road around being a Targaryen only to find herself back at being a Targaryen. Just know that someone who wanted that tragic turn could’ve made it work if they really, really wanted to.

Cersei — Another character just waylaid by… I dunno what. Mowed down by the plot, I guess. She’s probably dead. Maybe not — we didn’t see a body. But she’s reduced in this season and this episode to mostly being a pawn to men. We get no sense of who she is as a ruler (aka, the most interesting part). We get no sense of what the people think about her. Or what her acts were. And that’s unusual for a show that has been occasionally pretty granular as to how it treats these characters. It’s mostly just to stand there and have a smug, cold half-a-smile as she denies reality and then it’s over. She escapes, weeping, until Jamie comes to save her, and by save her, I mean, drag her to her death.

If you really wanted to tie a bow on their relationship and their lives — like, in the tragic sense — you have them both have to jump out a window to commit suicide. That’s the way, I think, because it would be the long lash of the whip biting them on the chin — the whip they cracked when Bran caught them Incestually Canoodling and they tossed his ass out a window. Maybe there’s something poetic in having a city fall on her, but it didn’t feel that way to me. It felt like it had no rhyme to it, no echo. That’s what I think storytellers are best at (and like the books or not, something it feels like GRRM is better at, as a storyteller): setting up these important echoes. Chekhov’s Gun is never about the gun — it’s about that the things you set up in act one are not random. The snake eventually bites its own tail. The echo goes down the cave and back. This felt like a snake without a tail at all.

Cersei’s one of the most manipulative, canny, cunning survivors. So it’ll be sad if this how she goes. Even if she remains alive it was hard to watch this vicious scorpion of a woman — smart, capable, the coldest of blood — to be reduced to someone who understands nothing of what has been wrought. Her end as seen so far is this:

She stares out the window until it’s over and time to go, and then she goes, and then she’s gone.

Jaime — I mean, I guess? Again if you’re really, really married to mining the raw tragedy in the truest sense, then his job is to be in thrall to Cersei and to die for her, or with her. I don’t know that this matches every beat they’ve given him over the last several seasons, and it cynically again suggests that his character growth was more an illusion, but it’s a statement. Not one I like, but again, I don’t know if this show has always been for me? I’ve railed at it as often as I’ve not. I watch it mostly to participate in the pop culture curiosity of it, and to unpack it from a storyteller’s POV. I am aware I might be the person who wants a dog but buys a duck and then is like, “BUT WHY THIS NOT DOG?”

Tyrion — was he always this stupid? And inconsistent? It feels like we rooted for him and the show has told us again and again how smart he is but this whole season he’s been a daft wanker. Maybe that’s his tragic arc but I don’t see it. Wouldn’t the tragic arc be him becoming like his father? Or him sodding off and being drunk again? Maybe they’ll go that way yet. We’ve one more episode, after all.

Jon — well at least Jon is consistent as hell. His character beats consist of, “Is there a battle? Then I will wander around it, mostly confused as the battle passes me by, and I will have no impact upon it.” I think Jon’s actually just a ghost? His inability to impact his surroundings is legendary. But, don’t worry, he’ll fail upwards, the Electable Man instead of the Crazy Emotional Lady Who Is Probably On Her Dragon Period Or Something. I swear to hell if the show elevates him over Sansa, I’ll — well, I’ll not be the least bit surprised but I will be very disappointed. (Actually, that’s probably the theme of what I feel over this episode: “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.”)

Varys — was he always this stupid, too? Well, now he’s dead, oh well, the end.

Arya — maybe the only character beat of the night I cared much about, though perhaps one a little torturous in its exectuion. . A character who had a list and was sticking to it to suddenly bail on that list? It’s a marked development, and one that suggests she isn’t going to get caught in the Tragic Cycle. Though apparently one that will also try to trample her, literally, for that decision.

Clegane — I suppose it’s always been leading to this, but for some reason I found it kinda boring? Like, oh, he’s gonna fight his undead-who-gives-a-fuck brother now? Cool, sure. Oh, it’s going to take like, 15 minutes? All right. Oh, I see, they fell into fire, I get it, okay. It works on paper, but for some reason I found it really weirdly unsatisfying? Like, that’s it, huh? His tragic circle is closed, but meh?

Euron — Euron is a half-ass Ramsey Snow, an over-photocopied blueprint of the the model of men on the show who are just brutal dick-focused sadists in power. His arc was less an arc and more a hole in the ground: there was no character there, nobody to care about except as a guy you want to see dead, and now he’s dead. Yay, I guess. The fight scene was kinda sad, the result not particularly satisfying, though I can’t say it was necessarily narratively inappropriate? It just didn’t do much for me. Bye, Euron, you sea-brined fuck-bag.

The Night-King — ha ha remember that guy, remember how the show was all like WINTER IS COMING for eight seasons and then winter came and Arya teleported out of the darkness and stabbed winter and now that shit is over I guess?

Is that it? I think that’s it. I’m probably missing something. Mostly I watched last night’s episode through narrowed eyes — again, not mad, just disappointed. Like, really? Really. Okay? Okay. That? This? Huh. Hnh. Ultimately it’s ending up a show that has perhaps misread a cultural moment, and it’s mostly just giving us more of what we already know: dumb men failing upward, the fear of foreign interlopers, the unelectable madness of women. But even if you don’t care about that stuff, it’s hard (for me) to see how this is narratively satisfying in what ended up a clumsily-paced sloppy sprint toward the end. Like watching a drunk prune a Bonsai tree.

(BTW, I’m sure there will be like, four or five YouTube videos from a handful of clown-dicks about how I’m being disrespectful to the story or that my take on this is proof that I can’t write, so really, let me just say again: I’m not super-invested in this show, it’s not really for me, you shouldn’t take anything I say here particularly seriously. This is very, very YMMV. It’s just, from my storyteller perspective, the shit just didn’t hang together.)

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The foxes, they’re still here. They dig holes. They race around our forest and our yard like they found some hollow stump cache of elf cocaine. They chew on a dog toy they found. They left me a glove as a present. And they kill things, as is their way, as is the way of all nature, I suppose: red in tooth and claw. The other day one of the fox parents came back with a lump of something dead in its mouth, and when I looked back at the pictures I saw some Watership Down shit going on —

That’s life in the woods, I guess. RIP, li’l bun-bun. Foxbabbies gotta eat.

The parents have begun taking the kits out, one by one, into the forest — I assume to teach them to hunt. Though the kits can already do some of that on their own — a kit brought back its own baby bunny, too. And I see them chasing bugs from time to time. They play with one another, doing these tremendous mouse pounces from considerable heights (a log on an angle, three feet up, gives them ample rad stunt jumps). They hide and stalk and gambol about. It’s fun to watch. They’re most active at dusk and dawn, but usually once or twice in the middle of the day they come out — and they often do so now right in front of the shed. Where they scratch at the door to be let in —

AND YES I WANT THEM TO COME IN.

I WANT TO BE THEIR WEIRD FOREST UNCLE.

But I don’t because they need to be a little bit afraid of me.

It does mean, though, I get lots of cool videos — the Twitter feed is ongoing, but you can see one such video here. It’s amazing to watch. And the other amazing thing is how close fox families (“skulks”) really are. Foxes are good parents! They attend to their kits and play with them, they let the kits crawl all of them, they teach them, they bring them toys (!!) — seriously, they do. And the kits really get along, too. Eventually, the great sadness is that the family will split up by fall, and the kits will go their way, and I believe are unlikely to see one another or the parents again. The parents, though, I am told mate for life, so will live solitary until next breeding season. When they come together for some good ol’-fashioned fox fornicatin’.

Anyway. More photos at the bottom!

In the meantime, some more newsy-bits —

Soon, I travel. Here’s a purty graphic as to where I’ll be traveling for Wanderers, though note it doesn’t include appearances like BookCon, KGB Bar Fantastic Fiction, DFWCon, or SDCC. This is bookstore only!

Now, to answer the inevitable question — why are you not coming to my city?

That is a multi-tiered answer.

First, I regrettably only have so much time! I gotta get home at some point to see my family, and of course I mean THE FOXES shut up don’t judge me.

Second, I didn’t actually put this together — Del Rey put this together based on solicitations from the stores themselves for the most part. So, the stores say, “We want Chuck,” or, “Our patrons want him,” and they tell Del Rey. If you want me at your store, definitely check with the store and see if they can generate that interest.

Third, the locations also have some relevance to Wanderers, actually… no spoilers, but. Yeah.

Fourth, I may do a second leg in the early fall? East Coast and maybe like, Chicago. Not sure, yet, if it’ll make sense, but it’s something I’m seeing if I can swing. Keep an eye on this space, because of course this is where I’ll announce it, if I do.

Also don’t forget, even if you’re not near these stores, they can and will ship copies. Signed or no.

More as I have it!

And now, MORE FOXES. (Or check out the whole Flickr album.)

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An article over at Book Riot (a great site, by the by) has posited the notion that tagging authors in negative reviews of their books is not, or should not be, a big deal.

The question becomes: is it a big deal? Should you do it? Why shouldn’t you do it?

a) it’s probably not a big deal, because a “big deal” is like, plagiarism or climate change

b) you still shouldn’t do it

c) why you shouldn’t do it is why I’m writing this post, sooooo —

Social media is, what’s the phrase I’m looking for? A hell realm. It’s a realm of hell. We may all actually be in hell already — or, at least, a simulation spiraling daily toward madness, with social media being the core of that unraveling. (But honestly smart money is on HELL REALM.) Now, as much as social media is a hell realm, it’s also one of my favorite places — meaning, I’ve met so many of my Actually Really Real Friends there, and I also get a great deal of professional and emotional and intellectual connection there. Think of it like finding friends in the middle of a burning building? Or something.

Speaking as a writer, or fancy-pants author, I can say with full confidence that as your star grows brighter, your social media following grows bigger, and as that happens, you end up being the recipient of more … well, communication. And if you assume that some percentage — even an optimistically small portion — of that communication is negative, it means that as the communication grows, so does the general bulk of that negativity. If you get one shitty comment and nine nice ones, it means you get one hundred comments out of every thousand. And from what I can tell, that percentage of negativity significantly increases if you’re, say, a woman, or a member of the LGBT community, or disabled, or a person of color. Just ask them. They’ll confirm.

Ultimately, it just ends up being a whole lot of noise. Bad noise. Poop noise.

And a negative review is like that. And here you might say, “But I have a right to write a negative review.” You do! And you should! Mildly dislike a book! Totally despise it! I just don’t want to hear about it. If I want to hear about it, I’ll seek it out. I do think there’s real value in leaving authors with a sense of agency in this — obviously, we’re in the public eye, so what we “consent” to receive via this massive online mode of communication is regrettably pretty wide open, or we’d simply bail on it entirely. But do realize that our work pretty much requires us to be here. We can shore up as much of our Online Defenses as we can (blocks, mutes, tightened restrictions on whose communication reaches us, various trebuchets and pits, a possum army), but we’re still teeth without enamel hanging loose in a slack-jawed mouth.

You might note also that negative reviews are one of the ways we communicate with creators of products and arbiters of service in order to improve the quality of that product or that service — which is true! If someone at American Airlines shits in my bag, I’m gonna say something on Twitter, and I’m going to say it to American Airlines. If the dishwasher I bought was full of ants, you bet I’m going to tag GE in that biz when I go to Twitter. But books are not dishwashers or airlines. You can’t improve what happened. It’s out there. The book exists. You can’t fix it now. And art isn’t a busted on-switch, or a broken door, or a poopy carryon bag, or an ant-filled dishwasher. Those things are objectively broken. A book can be subjectively broken, but that’s it. It’s a wide swath of varying mileage. Further, the author of a book is just one person. Again, we’re an enamel-free tooth, a squirming nerve — when you tweet at American Airlines, you’re not tweeting at Dave Americanairlines, son of Walter and Karen Americanairlines. Dave’s feelings aren’t hurt.

But you tweet directly at me — it’s just me. It’s just my feelings.

Of course, is it your job to protect our feelings?

No, definitely not.

It’s also not your job to go out of your way to hurt them. Which is kinda the point. Write the negative review. Hate the book. You just don’t need to staplegun it to our faces — HEY YOU KNOW THAT BOOK YOU WORKED FOR MONTHS AND MONTHS AND MAYBE YEARS ON AND YOUR PUBLISHER WORKED ON FOR A YEAR AND IT’S BEEN TWO YEARS JUST WAITING TO COME OUT WELP NOW THAT IT’S OUT ON THE SHELF I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW ALL OF YOUR HARD WORK AND PATIENCE HASN’T PAID OFF, YOU ASSHOLE HA HA HA HA. Assume that if it’s not a thing you’d be comfortable saying to our faces, it not a thing you should just say to us, unbidden, online. It’s a good, if imperfect, rule.

You might say, “Well, can’t you hack it?” I mean, after all, we silly writer-types have to run a gauntlet of rejection just to get a book published. Shouldn’t we be made of tougher stuff? I guess, sure. But there’s no guarantee the person you’re talking to is made of tougher stuff — and why do you want to stick them with the knife anyway, on the off-chance their skin isn’t hard enough to take the blade? Maybe most days we’re good, but today is rough. Maybe the author you’re @-ing in that negative review just found out their cat died, or their mom is sick, or they’re just having a fuck-ass day. And even if the book is garnering rave reviews, one bad review can really pucker our buttholes, okay? Which on the one hand sounds silly, but think about how even the most wonderful of meals would be ruined with a single little mouse turd.

Resist the impulse to include us in your negative reviews.

You can, of course, tag us in positive ones — but it’s also totally fine if you don’t. (Personally, I don’t think I’d ever tag a person in anything other than an unqualified gush. Like, an A+ review only. YMMV.) It’s on us to find the reviews. If we wanna roll around in the bad ones or pickle ourselves in the good ones, we can consent to that and seek the reviews out. Half of us will, anyway.

Certainly there’s some nuance when it comes down to a book that’s problematic, but even there I don’t know what the value is of tagging the author in that discussion — the book is the book, it’s out, can’t be fixed now. Unless a public shaming is what’s on the menu, I suppose. (Though once again, the value of that is perhaps dubious.)

Is it the end of the world if you tag us in a negative review? No. Will I mute or block you or make a frowny face at you if you do? Almost certainly. In the same way I don’t tweet at you to tell you that your shoes are ugly or your child’s haircut is shitty. I think we can shore up this social contract a little and realize that some things just don’t need to be told directly to a person.

Anyway! See you in the Hell Realm!

* * *

WANDERERS: A Novel, out July 2nd, 2019.

A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. An astonishing tapestry of humanity that Harlan Coben calls “a suspenseful, twisty, satisfying, surprising, thought-provoking epic.”

A sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence in America. The real danger may not be the epidemic, but the fear of it. With society collapsing—and an ultraviolent militia threatening to exterminate them—the fate of the sleepwalkers and the shepherds who guide them depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart—or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.

Preorder: Print | eBook

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So, for those who don’t follow the (now very large) thread on Twitter: the foxes remain at The Wendighaus, and may actually take over soon. The ADORABLE MURDER BABIES are growing up fast, getting their color, learning to explore, and for sure, learning to hunt.

They’ve begun to leave the den area and are roving more widely. Mom and Dad will be away for longer, leaving the kits to their own devices. Which means we’ve encountered the kits in some interesting places. They’ve been outside my shed. They’ve dug holes outside my shed and have clambered under it. One left me a glove? They’ve moved around our plant tags in the flowerbeds. Yesterday we got video of one toodling up our walkway, and this morning we got snaps of the little fuzzbutt on our front porch. Where he/she proceeded to dive off, jump into the weeds…

And return with what I believe was a li’l baby bunny.

Nature red in tooth and claw. Foxes gotta eat. Lotta bunnies to spare.

It’s been a delight to watch them. They sometimes get really active — sometimes when I’m in the shed, so I look out the back window and there they are, racing and chasing and what-not. Chewing bones and biting grass and tussling with one another. It’s some real nature show shit over here. I’m your host, RICHUCK WENDIGBOROUGH.

I of course worry! Now I don’t only have my own child to worry about but four fox children, and it’s like I’m feeling the keen fear of watching a child grow up, except in fast-forward. Because every day they roam farther. Near the road. Nearer to our neighbor’s shithead Rottweilers. While they have few natural predators, humanity cares not for what it chews up and spits out. Part of me wants to tell the kits NO JUST STAY HERE WE WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU FOREVER LITTLE WOODLAND CATPUPPIES but they gotta grow up and I know the statistics for their survival is usually that a third or even half of every little dies before their first year, but fingers crossed with this batch.

They have my sword is what I’m saying.

Anyway! Your best bet to follow the tale (tail) is that Twitter thread linked above.

Now, book news!

Two particularly choice bits of news, the first being:

Rebellion / Solaris has procured the rights to publish “tour de force” novel by yours truly! What does that mean? Well, UK readers, it means WANDERERS is finally back on your pre-order jam thanks to the fine folks at Rebellion / Solaris. I’m excited to be back with them with an original novel. The book comes out July 11th in the UK.

Second bit is that the first leg WANDERERS tour is firmed-up!

Where will I be?

Well, I’ll have a fancy graphic soon to show you, and more proper details (like, y’know, times), but here’s the list, and I don’t expect any changes at this point (except maybe additional dates).

June 1st-2nd: BookCon, NYC (signing Sat, panels/signing Sun)

June 19th: KGB Bar Reading with Keith DeCandido (NYC)

June 22nd-23rd: DFWCon, keynote, etc. (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX)

July 2nd: Launch event at the Doylestown Bookshop, Doylestown, PA

July 11th: Eagle Eye Bookshop (Atlanta, GA)

July 12th: Bookpeople (Austin, TX)

July 13th: Murder by the Book (Houston, TX)

July 15th: Elliot Bay Books (Seattle, WA)

July 16th: Powell’s (Portland, OR)

July 17th-21st: San Diego Comic-Con

July 22nd: Mysterious Galaxy, with Adam Christopher! (San Diego, CA)

July 23rd: Tattered Cover (Denver, CO)

Anyway! Have some more fox pics. (There’s a whole album on Flickr now, if you need it.)

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I HAVE SEEN REVENGERS: BLAMEGAME.

*checks notes*

I HAVE SEEN REVENTURES: EDAMAME.

*squints*

I HAVE SEEN AVENGERS: ENDGAME.

*whispers to self: “nailed it”*

My very brief non-spoilery review is this:

The first third is solid — it’s total bedrock.

The second third — the middle! — is plotty, and a bit draggy.

The final third is holy shit.

Just that. Holy shit. HOLY SHIT. It is so holy shit, in fact, that it is a mushroom cloud of pure comic book awesome whose blinding white heat and light washes away any of the film’s other notable imperfections. (At least, temporarily. Eventually, one’s sight and good sense is likely to return.) It puts every other GIANT COMIC BOOK CROSSOVER ACTION EVENT to shame. It is every two-page spread of pure superhero action glory writ large, on screen. If you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole, I suspect you’re unlikely to be disappointed. There are aspects and angles that might stir disappointment (from mild to severe depending on your particular expectations), and for me those are worth talking about as a part of the overall whole.

If you wanted, you could dissect this movie from the plot side of things, because there’s quite a lot of plot to chew on. And it’s plot that’s been threading throughout the MCU for ten goddamn years. Comic books and blockbuster movies by their nature tend to be heavier on plot — and not organic plot, not the kind driven by character, but I think where the MCU deserves real credit is that they have given us, by and large, a massive world populated with characters who rise and fall, who change and shrink and grow, who are the anchors to everything. I’m never not ranting about how the best plot is Soylent Green — “it’s made of people!” — but the MCU mostly takes that pretty seriously. That’s no small thing. It’s a strong lesson to lead with feelings, with character arcs, with ideas about who these people are — and what they want, what problems they’re trying to counter in themselves and in the world-slash-universe — because that’s why we actually give a shit. Ten years of plot-heavy movies where character isn’t a focus would get pretty fucking boring. (Don’t get me wrong, the MCU has flirted with being boring now and again, but overall, I’d argue it’s pretty impressive as a whole.)

Which is why, for me, it’s worth looking at this last movie from that one angle: from the angle of character. It’s why we’re here. It is the single most important give-a-fuck factor in storytelling.

So, let’s do that. Let’s unpack the character legacies on display here.

Let’s see what works, what doesn’t, and what yet befuddles us. (The royal “us,” meaning, mostly, me.)

BUT FIRST, WE NEED SPOILER SPACE.

I’m going to cut and paste a nonsense passage from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. When that passage ends, you know it’s A ONE-WAY TICKET TO SPOILERTOWN.

Buckle up.

So This Is Dyoublong?

Hush! Caution! Echoland!

How charmingly exquisite! It reminds you of the outwashed

engravure that we used to be blurring on the blotchwall of his

innkempt house. Used they? (I am sure that tiring chabelshovel-

ler with the mujikal chocolat box, Miry Mitchel, is listening) I

say, the remains of the outworn gravemure where used to be

blurried the Ptollmens of the Incabus. Used we? (He is only pre-

tendant to be stugging at the jubalee harp from a second existed

lishener, Fiery Farrelly.) It is well known. Lokk for himself and

see the old butte new. Dbln. W. K. O. O. Hear? By the mauso-

lime wall. Fimfim fimfim. With a grand funferall. Fumfum fum-

fum. ‘Tis optophone which ontophanes. List! Wheatstone’s

magic lyer. They will be tuggling foriver. They will be lichening

for allof. They will be pretumbling forover. The harpsdischord

shall be theirs for ollaves.

And we’re back.

Spoilers begin now, awooga, awooga.

Iron Man: Tony Stark

It began with ol’ Tony Stank, and it ends with ol’ Tony Stank.

Tony is a character driven by his own ego, though that has changed, somewhat, over the course of the films: his worldview expands greatly, opening up to include Pepper Potts and Happy, to eventually encompassing the whole world. And then it shrinks down somewhat, too: he takes to Spider-Man as a sort of pseudo-father-figure, possibly as a way to bandage over his issues over the loss of his own father. And in this movie, there’s been an extension of that to include his own new family: he and Pepper have a daughter together. But, all that being said, Tony’s never really taken his ego out of it. It’s arguably grown alongside his need to do good; ego, as it turns out, is a little like a balloon. It can be inflated to great size, but still be filled with a whole empty air. That’s not knocking Tony as a character! It’s the opposite. He’s for a very long time been something of a narcissist. And one who has been flirting with self-destruction since the very beginning. (Hell, he tries the self-sacrifice thing in The Avengers.) Here, he finally negotiates his anger, his ego, his father issues, and in that finds a reason to sacrifice himself for the greater good.

It’s strong. It works. A character arc is as much an arc as it is a bridge — like in a bridge-building game, you need at least two points to anchor the bridge, and only two points gets you a shit-ass bridge. A droopy rope bridge, at best. More anchor points get you across the chasm — just as it gets the character from where they were, to where they are, and shows us where they’re going.

(“The other side,” if you will.)

Tony’s arc is probably the strongest in this film — maybe strongest in all the MCU. Part of that is simple economy: he’s had the most screen-time. But it’s also shown a diligent vision to bring this guy from somewhere in the pit of his own vapors to somewhat more elevated, a man of higher purpose, not singular need. He’s like the anti-Batman. Still rich, still a prick, but likes the sun, not the dark, and the guy under the mask is more of a legacy than the mask itself. People care about Tony Stark, not about Iron Man. Which is a helluva feat, itself. To make people care about the character more than the icon is really, really tough, and honestly runs counter to what we think about a lot of superheroes. That is what the MCU helps to give us.

And speaking of all that —

Captain America: Steve Rogers

If you would’ve expected anybody to sacrifice themselves, it’d be Steve Rogers. Here’s a guy who has given himself to service. Service to his country, to its laws, to its wars, and eventually to higher ideals — Steve becomes the embodiment of the spirit of the law more than its letter. He cleaves to a greater code, a higher honor, than you can simply write on a document or carve into a tablet. He’s the North Star to Tony’s spinning compass. He’s the rock.

And at the end of this, he goes the other way. He crosses with Tony. Tony gives himself up for a greater cause after loving himself too much — Steve gives up the greater cause in order to learn to love himself. (And by proxy, to love Peggy Carter. I wept. If you didn’t weep you’re dead to me.)

Endgame gives him strong moments, and lets him be his very best self. You know, someone like Rogers is easy to get wrong — he’d be easy to make annoying, or to be just a series of character traits shoved in a costume. Some kind of shallow Dudley Do-Right dipshit. The writing — and Chris Motherfucking Evans — serve the character well, and elevate him beyond some patriotic pastiche, some hero-for-the-sake-of-heroing. And it’s sad to see him gone. He and Tony were the two counterpoints to this thing — if the entire MCU had a character arc, these guys were at opposite ends of it while still being connected. To lose them risks the whole MCU, and again, it’s a testament that I don’t think they will lose it. It’ll hold together, I expect.

Black Widow: Natasha Romanova

Well, it can’t all be aces. Here’s where we get into a sort of… issue, and one that traditionally comes at the expense of women characters due to a sort of institutional sexism baked into, well, *gestures broadly* everydamnthing. I think Black Widow is probably the most capable character on the whole team, because they all have superpowers. She just kicks people. And yet she holds her own, every time.  But is that enough? Maybe not so much. Because classically, in blockbuster movies, we end up with Sexy Action Figure characters — aka, women who seem powerful because they can win fights, but who are ultimately posable dolls with minimal agency of their own. And that’s… that’s kinda a little bit Black Widow, isn’t it?

Think about it: she’s a character stolen from her former life, has no background, no parents, no children, no anything. She’s taken, trained to be a killer, and later ends up with SHIELD and then with the Avengers and… that’s it, right? She’s a useful tool. And there’s not a lot of recognition for that. Endgame, to its credit, tries. She deals with having no family, and the Avengers being her found family — and that’s no small thing. But it never really sells it, and it feels too-little too-late —

Especially with what comes after.

Which is, she’s kinda fridged. Or fridged-adjacent. She has to die to yield the Soul Stone to Hawkeye (oh no). And there are two levels to this: one, as a character, she does have some agency in this choice. She’s not thrown there, murdered. And I like that she competes with Hawkeye for this purpose. But the second level is, these characters aren’t real. Writers write them. And at that level, she’s still someone who is there for the purpose of dying in order to move plot and make men feel things. Hawkeye needs to feel redeemed so he can go back to his family. Bruce needs to feel sad she’s gone because — well, I dunno, they never really fulfill that arc much. The two of them were a thing, until they weren’t. It still flirts with the idea (Infinity War’s “that’s awkward” line from Rhodey, I believe), but never pays it off. Mostly Bruce is just sad. Hawkeye is honored, and sad. And she’s dead, never to come back. (In theory. There’s supposedly a film, and in comics, nobody’s ever dead).

We see her body. Blood dashed out of her head. It’s a touch grisly.

And that’s the conclusion of her arc. A self-sacrifice, like with Tony, but with minimal underpinning. Hawkeye arguably had a reason to die — he’s gone so deep down the pit in terms of his own morals, he can’t come back. And it would work to have him die so that his family may live. She dies in a way that feels rote. As if she has recognized her own purposeless and lack of arc. And it leaves us with one less woman character in a universe that doesn’t always have a lot anyway. It also leaves the team being incredibly bro-heavy, especially with Nebula off and away.

(Plus: Thor can get his hammer back, but we can’t get Black Widow? Mmkay.)

Again, Endgame tries — it gives her some good moments. And Scar-Jo is legitimately good as the character. It’s just sad to feel like they never knew what to do with her, only to ultimately discard her. And beyond that is a good storytelling lesson, to boot — a disappointing ending is often the fault of a weak beginning. Bad foundation means the structure will always wobble, lean, and eventually collapse under its own poor construction.

Hawkeye: Clint Barton

I mean, I guess it’s telling I forgot what his actual name was. I had to Google it. (I also have a brain like a mouse-eaten shoebox, so.) Endgame probably does the best with him it could — it gives him a place of ruination and guilt, and the movie starting with the loss of his family is truly impactful. But he’s still Arrow Guy, and I hope in the next arc of stories, they find for him a better angle.

The Hulk: Bruce Banner

His arc is pretty simple — veering a bit toward simplistic, maybe. On a character sheet, you’d almost be tempted to write two traits: BANNER and HULK, and leave it at that. The films never really grapple with who Bruce is other than a genius nerd with a monster inside. Or a monster with a nerd inside? I dunno. So, the PB&J sandwich that becomes Bannerhulk in this is the most sensible outcome — I don’t know that it’s emotionally satisfying, but it makes fun visual, comic book, cinematic sense. They almost had something in Infinity War suggesting Banner had some real reconciling to do with his own alter ego — and it was a little disappointing that all that seems to have happened off-screen. But oh well, it was fun.

Still, though, the Banner-Black Widow thing is still puzzling to me. It’s one end of a bridge that has no second anchor. So it’s just hanging limp, over the cliff. Untraversable.

Thor Odinson: God of Hammuhh I Mean Thunder

Thor. Thor! Thor.

Boy, I don’t know what to make of this. Thor has been in the past a bit shallow, far as character goes. First few movies, he’s just a kind of half-baked pseudo-Shakespearean son who is, uhhh. I guess torn between being a hero and being a prince? Torn between Earth and Asgard? Between… beer and not beer? He’s a bit daft and very pretty and okay, whatever.

And then Thor: Ragnarok happened, aka the best film ever. And we got a funnier, lighter Thor that simultaneously felt like a Thor they’d figured out — a bit daft, in conflict with himself, a guy suffering the heroic-version of The Yips, also a guy who has Daddy Issues —

(Dang, the MCU has its share of Daddy Issues, doesn’t it? Tony. Thor. Nebula. Gamora. Quill. Peter Parker, a little. Maybe a little heavy on the dude-based problems.)

We got a clear picture of a Thor in command of himself. In command of his destiny and his people. And then Infinity War comes along, and okay, it rattles him — I like that. You can’t keep him all confident and awesome. He has to be kicked around. And his godhood was confirmed in that one, though he also started to lean again on needing a weapon instead of being the weapon…

And now, Endgame.

Where Thor gets fat. Which is okay. I don’t care. But the movie cares. It’s a negative, not a positive. It’s a joke. And he gets fat because… arguably he’s traumatized. Right? He’s got some kind of god-version of PTSD. Which I also like! But the film can’t seem to decide whether it thinks his PTSD is a serious trait or something to mock him for. And the end leaves him kind of rudderless, a spinning compass again — no longer a leader of anyone or anything, even himself. It’s like a weaker version of Steve Rogers — he goes out to live life, not because he realizes he misses it, but because he has no other purpose. And he gets his hammer back (until he gives it away again), allowing it to determine his worthiness… which Ragnarok decidedly told him he didn’t need. He’s not the God of Hammers. So, I don’t feel like they had confidence as to what to do with him? Which is a shame. I think he’s a peculiar one to write, and maybe that’s why Taika Waititi got him so well. Which is to say, give Thor 4 (Fthour?) to Taika, now, please. FTHOUR: THOR AND VALKYRIE SAVE THE UNIVERSE or some shit. Cool? Cool.

(Sidenote: getting his hammer back is also where this movie’s plot starts to make no sense. Time travel plots rot fast, like bananas. The moment you think about them for five minutes, they unspool like a ruptured testicle. How moving the stones would create off-shoot realities but not the loss of Mjolnir — where presumably the Thor of that timeline still needs it? — is beyond me. It’s why the middle feels muddy and rote — we kinda know the “time heist” is gonna work out to a certain degree, and mostly we’re just watching the clockwork mechanism go through its motions.)

Nebula

In a movie that doesn’t do very well by its women characters — Nebula is an outstanding and welcome change. I don’t know that she gets a huge arc, and it’s not super well-shaped through the other films, but there’s payoff here for those who have been waiting to see someone really come to terms with her anger, with her sisterhood, with her shitty father, and with her maybe actually being “good.” She, like Tony and Nat, sacrifices herself — she just sacrifices her old self, while keeping who she has become. It’s good. It’s also a bit of sadness that she doesn’t get more moments — it’s already an overstuffed movie, but given how Thanos literally tortured her I think I wanted her to at least land a few meaningful hits on him. It felt like, at the end, they just threw her into the scrum.

And here it’s worth highlighting that one moment in the scrum, the fracas, the battle tableau — the one moment where it’s LADIES NIGHT, all the ladies, kicking ass.

It’s an awesome moment.

I loved it.

And it’s also a little shallow.

Like, it feels a bit cheeky to have a three-hour runtime with very little girl power, only to stuff it all into one moment. Like, I’m happy they’re kicking ass! I am. But again we run into the potential SEXY ACTION FIGURE part — “Hey, don’t forget we have women who can fight, too, and here they are, fighting together. Woo, Ladies Rule! NOW BACK TO MANPAIN.”

I don’t mean to diminish the importance of seeing this sheer torrential female force of pure power on the screen. It’s great. It’s also just important to recognize that none of that is a proper substitution for character growth and agency.

Ant-Man: Scott Lang

I dunno that the movie does a ton with him, but it starts strong — I think there’s something to a Scott Lang trying to do right by the world and his daughter while also still being a really talented thief? It’s got something there, and I think he’s more vulnerable here than he’s been before. It’s less an arc and more the start of something, though, I feel — like we’re on the upward tick-tick-tick of a roller-coaster on the hill, and we really haven’t seen the top, yet — or the drop on the other side.

Iron Patriot: Rhodey

I wish he had more to do, or be. There’s a nice moment between him and Nebula on Morag — that really needed more beats, though, because without it, it feels a little shallow. But again, we’re talking an overstuffed movie already with a lot to do. It’s just a shame that the people most likely to be shortchanged in these narratives are the women or the one black dude. (Black Panther isn’t present for most of the movie.) He’s cool. He seems to get a weird new suit at the ending and I’m not sure how? I wish he had more to do.

Thanos McThanosface

Thicc Daddy Thanos. The ego being. Bad parent. Galactic warlord and genocidal dickhead. I think Endgame gets to the heart of him, which is an egomaniacal dictator who doesn’t really care about balancing the scales so much as he cares about being obeyed and adored. The ending bears that out. And justice is served. It’s hard in a way that you don’t really know who you want to kill him? (Even though spoiler, he dies twice in the movie.) Tony is right on, a good choice — though regrettable that Nebula and Gamora have almost no part in it. Quill gets to kill his own Space Dad, but not Gamora? Not Nebula? Ennh. Unfortunate. That would’ve been a nice bow to tie in the narrative ribbon. But then you lose Tony’s sacrifice — I suppose the way to do it is to give Gamora and Nebula some time in the ring with him, so to speak. Just the same, I was glad to watch that motherfucker go to dust. A great villain with a spectacular death. Eat shit, you big purple dong.

Captain Marvel: Carol Danvers

And now, my second greatest disappointment in this film.

(First being: Black Widow’s weird sacrifice.)

One of the things we like to do with story is pay-off the promise of the premise. And the MCU has for the last two movies been promising one thing:

Captain Fucking Marvel. 

Fury in the post-credits scene dials her up. Then we get a whole movie showing her realizing her potential and shedding her male-given metaphorical shackles. Then another post-credits scene that is about her showing up and then —

Endgame where she gets like, five minutes of screen-time.

And all of it is her acting as a gun.

That’s it. She’s just a weapon. We get zero character beats. She’s just a hero who heroes, a gun who shows up and fires big noisy blasts, boosh, kaboom, fhhhzzt. She’s utterly wasted after the promise she’d be some kind of leveraging, balancing factor — some key character in the war. But she’s not. She’s a bookended deus ex machina, at best. And it’s really a shame.

There’s More

We could talk more. There are others — though many were Dusted. Rocket is there. I don’t know that he has much of an arc, if any. Thor gets a nice moment with his mom. I liked Howard Stark. I didn’t so much like having to hop back and forth through the other movies, because it felt a bit fan-servicey-greatest-hits-recap-episode. FUCK YEAH KORG. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I want to see it again. It pays off Infinity War, mostly. It earns a lot of beats, while significantly failing a few important characters. It’s honestly a major fear of narrative engineering and is unparalleled in cinematic history. Hell, it’s better than what you get in most giant comic book crossovers. Its failings are its failings, and they shouldn’t be excused — but rather, learned from. But they also don’t destroy what is really something very strange and special that shouldn’t have ever worked. And yet, it did. One out of 14 million kinda chances. And it all began with Tony Stark.

Congrats, MCU. You did it. (Mostly.)

P.S. these are all just my thoughts, not facts, so you don’t need to be upset by them or offended by them if you disagree — it’s good to disagree! This shit ain’t math with hard-and-fast answers. It’s ideas and opinions, ones here that I’m trying to see through the lens of character arcs and beats, but we needn’t agree. Now, REVENGERS, REASSEMBLE!

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So, for those who have been following along on Twitter, you already know that we have a lovely fox family living right behind my writer’s shed. (Okay, they’re about 15-20 feet away, caddy-corner.) Now, I’ve been seeing one fox, the ladyfox (or “vixen”) for the last couple years. (This is her, in one of my most favoritest shots I’ve taken of any subject.) But this year, there are kits.

For example:

Obviously, adorable.

They bound and they play, these kits. They boop their parents on the nose. They wrestle with the dad. And yes, both of the parents are here and watch over the kits:

So, you can check the Twitter feed above for the running commentary, and you can also bop over to the Flickr album, where I’m slowly growing more of the fancier pics of the foxes as they roll in. We see them pretty much every day — usually in the morning, though yesterday they were out all day — and so hopefully that will remain the case and they won’t flee for a different den, as sometimes they do. (We just had to call the police on our neighbor, whose Rottweilers run loose, and sometimes onto our property. One was nosing near the fox den. Hopefully I nipped that in the bud, but we’ll see.)

In other news —

Why yes, I will devalue your book with my signature. So! Presently you have two options for getting signed copies of Wanderers — the first is a bookstore local to me, Let’s Play Books, who will ship the book to you for free. Click this link to order a signed copy. Or, for a West Coast origin point, Shawn Speakman has signed copies you can order from The Signed Page (though those won’t be available the week of launch, be advised). I’ll also have some other signed opportunities coming up (I just signed a whole bunch of tip-in sheets for this reason), and we are more or less finished with the bookstore tour schedule. Some places I might be visiting? The PNW! Texas! California! Colorado! And more. Keep your eyes on this space.

Speaking of Wanderers! Got a cool Booklist review — where they called it an “imaginative and absorbing work of speculative fiction.” So that’s nice!

And, more as I have it.

Bye-bye, y’all.

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Set an even longer time ago in a galaxy far, far away, BioWare’s 2003 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic wowed players with its compelling characters, lightsaber customization, complex morality choices, and one of the greatest plot twists in both video game and Star Wars history. But even for veteran studios like LucasArts and BioWare, the responsibility of making both a great game and a lasting contribution to the Star Wars canon was no easy task.

Featuring extensive new interviews with a host of KotOR’s producers, writers, designers, and actors, journalist Alex Kane weaves together an epic oral history of this classic game, from its roots in tabletop role-playing and comic books, to its continued influence on big-screen Star Wars films. Whether you align with the light or the dark side, you’re invited to dive into this in-depth journey through one of the most beloved Star Wars titles of all time.

“Alex Kane has written a fine book about how one the best video games ever made was created. Darth Revan, HK-47, the lost planet of Sleheyron, a charming story about Ed Asner—it’s everything you’ve always wanted to know about a truly fascinating game.” —Tom Bissell, author of The Disaster Artist

“Vigorously researched, accessibly written, and—most importantly—total fun from start to finish.” —Blake J. Harris, author of Console Wars

* * *

Take a leap of faith

When BioWare inked a deal with LucasArts to make Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the two companies had never collaborated before. But the folks working at Lucas were big Baldur’s Gate fans, they wanted to make the Star Wars RPG of their dreams, and they took a massive risk to make it happen. The ancient setting was weird, the art felt a tad unfamiliar, and all of the game’s characters were new, original creations. Had fans not embraced the game the way they did, it might have been a creative and financial disaster. Instead, it became one of the most beloved and influential stories in the history of the Star Wars license.

Writing a book, it turns out, requires a similar leap; nobody’s going to write the precise thing you want to read, so you might as well be the one to do it. Don’t let your fears get in the way of that.

Seize inspiration

KotOR’s artists, design leads, and writers didn’t just look to the Star Wars films and the paintings of Ralph McQuarrie when it came time to carve out their own little place within that universe. They also looked at Y2K-era cinema, Dungeons & Dragons, and other rich sources of inspiration. Get messy. Read books you didn’t plan on reading; learn about stuff unrelated to your subject matter; see how writers you admire craft their most effective scenes and sentences. Your favorite Star Wars game owes a huge debt to M. Night Shyamalan: Who knows what might spark your next great idea?

Set a new course

Maybe you’re neck-deep in a second draft, things aren’t going as well as you’d hoped at the outset, and you just read a book you can’t get out of your head. Maybe now you feel completely stuck. Don’t be afraid to toss everything out and start fresh—just this once. All that work you did to get to this point still matters; it’s what got you here. But that thing I said about inspiration? It can strike at any time.

Long after I signed the contract to write a KotOR book for Boss Fight, I read The Art of The Last Jedi, The Disaster Artist, and some other great behind-the-scenes books, and suddenly I was in crisis mode: I didn’t just want to write a book about the game itself—I wanted to write the untold, human story behind it. A journalistic account drawn from fresh, oral-history-style reporting. No one had ever written about the making of Knights of the Old Republic at length, and I needed to tell that story. My editors were extremely supportive; they were thrilled to hear I was finally writing the book I wanted to write, even if it meant throwing away 15,000 words.

Interview some folks

Not every writer is an outgoing reporter type who wants to put on pants and go be social somewhere that isn’t Twitter, or even pick up the phone. Still, talking to people can be an invaluable resource—for nonfiction, for novels; for fact-checking and research; for figuring out things like dialogue, rhythm, and voice.

In my case, I wanted to tell the true story behind my favorite video game, which also happens to be a great Star Wars tale, so my book was either going to live or die on the basis of how successful I was at getting the folks who made it to talk to me. When I wanted to hear about the thinking that went into the creation of fan-favorite characters like HK-47 and Darth Revan, I called up writer Drew Karpyshyn and concept artist John Gallagher and asked them about it. Do all the research you like, and make your own observations wherever possible, but don’t forget to reach out to those who know more than you.

Trust (and cherish) your editor

I come from the frantic, fast-paced world of online journalism. I write about games and Star Wars a lot, and in order to do so well and continue to be paid for it, I have to turn in clean, focused, informative copy as fast as humanly possible. Book publishing is different; it moves at a geologic pace. And, I tell you what, you’re probably not going to produce a perfect manuscript on the first try. I would’ve been utterly lost without the help of Gabe Durham and Mike Williams, my editing duo on the KotOR project.

Writing a first book—perhaps especially one you’ve already signed a contract for in advance—is hard work, and it’s a learning experience from start to finish. You’re not Atlas shouldering the weight of the world. Give your editor a call, and trust that they know what they’re doing. I won’t pretend that writing is anywhere near as challenging as, say, shipping a role-playing game set in the world of George Lucas’s grand space opera. But you don’t have to go it alone.

* * *


Alex Kane is a journalist based in west-central Illinois. He has written for Polygon, the website of Rolling Stone, StarWars.com, Variety, and other publications. This is his first book.

Alex Kane: Twitter

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: Amazon | Boss Fight Books

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I unabashedly adored Christopher Golden’s novel, Ararat, and called it “delicious terror candy.” So needless to say, I’m excited to read its follow-up, The Pandora Room. I expect more adventure and terror on the menu. Here’s Chris to talk about something a little different, though, something adjacent to all writers, I think: how to maintain the geeky kid within even as you grow up.

* * *

Maybe you had the world’s greatest parents, or maybe the world’s worst. Most of us fall somewhere in between, but let’s be honest—a lot of the geeks I know fell in love with books or comics or movies because they were a joyful, thrilling haven from whatever troubles might exist in the outside world. (I don’t call it the “real” world here, because to the kid I once was, the worlds of my imagination were just as real as whatever happened at school, or at home, or in the neighborhood.)

As a kid, I never found anyone who really shared my passions. My brother liked comics and monster movies, too, but his interest waned. I had the starter set for The Call of Cthulhu role-playing game but I never found anyone to play that game with me, nor did I ever have a chance to play Dungeons & Dragons (my first game was just a couple of years ago). The lack of shared interest stopped me reading comics from the age of 13 or so until I was 19 and a sophomore in college, having met roommates that helped rekindle my love for the medium and its characters. Fortunately, my love of books and monster movies never went away.

They say that when you become an adult, you’re supposed to put away childish things, but one of the common threads that binds all of us geeks is that we hardly ever bother with such “maturity,” and almost never worry about it. The reward that comes with being a grownup geek is being able to embrace the things that you love without caring what others might think. Even better, in recent years it seems that the things that we love have become the things that everyone seems to love (at least to one degree or another).

Sometimes, though, the firm embrace with which we hang onto the passionate interests of youth can mean we eschew certain lessons that are supposed to happen during childhood. Perhaps our parents didn’t teach us or maybe we simply never listened, too swept away in a video game or TV episode to pay attention to parental wisdom. The truth is that, all too often, we geeks must learn on our own, teach ourselves…be our own best parents.

It’s been my great fortune that the geeky kid I was at thirteen has grown up to make a living creating horror, fantasy, science-fiction, and mystery stories. I write comics and novels and screenplays and video games. It’s a dream come true, but like anyone else who spends his life immersed in geek culture, I’ve seen first hand that there are lots of lessons we all still need to learn. So whether you’re a fellow creator, or simply a fellow geek, here are Eight Tips for Parenting the Geek Within.

  • Let the Geek Flag Fly (Without Driving Everyone Around You Insane): From a very early age, I’d be in school, irrationally excited about my peanut butter sandwich. I’d raise my hand during lunch and cry out “Whoever likes peanut butter, raise your hand!” I wanted everyone to like the things I liked. When I was in my Doc Savage stage, I wanted everyone to read Doc Savage novels (one kid did, but without much interest). As I grew older, I didn’t fly my flag quite as high, but it kept flying. So yes, absolutely, share your passion for whatever makes you geek out. Talk about Star Wars or Pokemon or comics, talk about manga or K-pop or screamo. Spread your love for Jordan Peele or Karyn Kusama or Turner Classic Movies. Weep over Game of Thrones or the return of Deadwood or season 16 of Grey’s Anatomy. But all that said, be cognizant of the people around you. Most folks will indulge your geekery even if they don’t share it, but know that just as others would be rude to cut you off too quickly or brusquely dismiss your enthusiasm, it’s equally rude and discourteous to go on ad nauseum with a soliloquy about the history and variations of the Spider-Verse with someone who really wishes you’d been succinct and finished up about twenty minutes ago. Many of us are on the spectrum and sometimes sensing how much is too much can be difficult, but you can always ask those around you. Or watch for their eyes to glaze over, and then go find the next person with whom you can share your love of any one of the thirteen doctors…or all of them!
  • Celebrate the tiny successes: I wish I’d had someone teach me this when I was a kid. So much emphasis is placed on long-term goals, on what you’ll be when you grow up, on how your personal story will turn out. The grim news is that you don’t win the game of life when it’s over. Every day, every moment, presents its own opportunities for success and failure, so when you get those little successes—from finding that item you were absolutely sure you’d lost to getting a raise at work to giving someone a gift that it turns out was exactly right—you have to celebrate. I had a great moment in my career about a decade ago that my wife wanted to celebrate. She even bought champagne. I didn’t want to open that bottle; I felt jinxed somehow, that this wasn’t worth celebrating unless the end result was this huge thing that better defined success in my mind back in those days. I was an idiot. Now I celebrate the little successes along the way, and here’s why—we feel all the little failures very keenly. They cut deep. We’d be foolish not to heal some of those cuts by allowing ourselves to feel joy when we get a win.
  • Play Hard, Play Fair, Nobody Gets Hurt: When I was a kid, Marvel published a legendary comic book special featuring the band Kiss. In that comic, there’s a character wandering through the pages wearing a t-shirt that says “Play Hard, Play Fair, Nobody Gets Hurt.” While I don’t necessarily believe that last part (you can still get hurt when people are playing fair but hard), the rest holds true. Comics legend Stephen R. Bissette was one of my mentors very early on and he shared a lot of hard-won wisdom with me, chief among them to understand any contract I was signing and to get everything down in writing. Fair play, friends. Be honest in your personal and business relationships, forthcoming with friends and collaborators, do the work you’re paid to do, take responsibility when you fuck up. But…play hard. Don’t let anyone make a fool of you or take advantage of your good nature. Stand up for yourself, no matter what. Obviously diplomacy is admirable, but not at the expense of your integrity or self-respect. Losing a friend or a job is nowhere near as bad as feeling resentment for the rest of your life. Play hard, play fair, nobody gets hurt.
  • Look Out For One Another: This should go without saying, but sadly it can’t. In life, including geek lives, there will always be people who prey on the unwary, the innocent, the naïve. This simple credo, Look Out For One Another, covers a lot of bases. If you’re a geek at a convention and you see behavior that crosses lines, speak up or step in, bear witness, make sure those around you are safe and informed. The same goes for the rest of the world. If you know someone is a danger to others, speak up. The temptation to stay quiet, to not rock the boat, will always be there, but if your parents didn’t teach you to stand up to bullies, whether they’re bullying you or someone else, here’s your parental lesson you’ve been waiting for.
  • Keep Your Hands to Yourself: Geeks come from all walks of life, and all levels of life experience, but some of us have spent less time in contact with other people, particularly those we might find exciting or attractive. Conventions are often places where hundreds or thousands of such people gather, but this point doesn’t only apply to conventions. Consent is absolute. Keep your hands to yourself. Yes, there’s a difference between the Trump and the Biden, but even the most innocent contact can be unwelcome. So even with the best of intentions, make every effort to ascertain whether or not that hug you want to give will be welcomed. Learn about consent and teach others, if you can.
  • Raise Your Voice—But Lift Others, Too: Remember that little kid (me) who would raise his hand and shout “Whoever likes peanut butter, raise your hand?” It’s wonderful to share our enthusiasms with others. But don’t just celebrate your own geekeries…celebrate other fandoms, too. As my wife and I would tell our children when they were small, “Don’t yuck somebody’s yum.” Be happy that others are happy and, more importantly, know when to step aside and let them raise their hand and shout “whoever likes deviled eggs, raise your hand!” even if you’ve never tried deviled eggs, or you have and thought they were seriously nasty. This is especially true for people whose experiences and backgrounds are different from yours, and it extends into your real, day-to-day life as well. Let others speak. If those around you don’t pay attention, do what you can to amplify those different voices, passions, and interests. Be open to learning new things, new geekeries, new fandoms, and realize that our minds are often closed without us even realizing it, and they require us to want to open them.
  • Honor The Kid You Were: Once upon a time, whether you were two or twelve or seventeen, you loved this show or that author or that artist. Later, you may call those things guilty pleasures and dismiss them, and you might even be tempted to sneer about them and join in when others do the same. Maybe you’re embarrassed, but this is my plea to you—don’t be. There’s a purity to those childhood emotions that you should hang onto as long as you can, forever if possible. Yes, there are limits. Some things you loved are now tainted by hindsight. I’m not talking about those things. We all have wonderful past loves, and we need to honor them. Throughout my career as a writer, certain authors have looked down their noses at my continued work-for-hire efforts, especially during times when I didn’t financially need to do those projects. But I’ll tell you something. When an editor asks if I want to write a prequel to Aliens or the novelization of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, you’re damn right I’m going to say yes. Any other answer would be an unforgivable betrayal of the kid I once was. That kid and his passions are the only reasons I have a career as a storyteller, and I’m always going to honor him. I hope you always do the same with your own younger geek self. Call them guilty pleasures if you want, but embrace them for the joy they once gave you (and maybe still do).
  • No fucking spoilers: You heard me. How many times do you have to be told? If you have any respect at all for fandom, for geekery, for your own passions and those of others, you absolutely do not spoil the plots of stories for anyone else. NO SPOILERS. End of discussion.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these Eight Tips for Parenting the Geek Within. They’re just the start, of course. All of these bits of advice deserve a deeper dive, but the larger point is this—holding onto childhood passions doesn’t mean you don’t mature and learn and grow. You don’t have to “put away childish things” just because you’re no longer a child. We can all revel in the things that make us smile and get our hearts racing, all while being kind, patient, and welcoming to others. It seems simple, I know, and yet we all know that isn’t always the case.

Boy, I wish I still had my Mego Marvel action figures. My favorite was The Falcon. I liked his boots.

Whoever likes The Falcon, raise your hand!

* * *

CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN is the New York Times bestselling author of Snowblind, Dead Ringers, Tin Men, and Of Saints and Shadows, among many other novels. With Mike Mignola, he is the co-creator of two cult favorite comic book series, Baltimore and Joe Golem: Occult Detective. Golden is also the editor of such anthologies as Seize the Night, The New Dead, and Dark Cities, and the co-host of the popular podcast Three Guys with Beards. He lives in Massachusetts.

Christopher Golden: Website | Twitter

The Pandora Room: Print | eBook

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Okay, listen, today it will be my blood-soaked nativity under the platinum Birthday Moon — an occurrence that only rolls around once per year, and upon this night, I slough off my skin-kite suit of soggy chitin and regrow a new human-shaped costume, and then there’s a lot of dancing and chanting and sacrifices on this anvil-shaped stone and —

Well, you already know the details.

Normally, normally I’d not dare be so bold as to ask for a Birthday Present from all y’all, and if I did, I would make it something selfless like asking you to contribute to a GoFundMe for an orphaned rabbit or to the presidential campaign of Paul Reubens (whose motto is, of course, “I know you are but what am I?!”). But this time, I’m going FULL SELFISH. I’m embracing my GREEDY MONSTERNESS. I’m showing off my rigid exoskeleton, my fringed gills, my acid plumes!

What I’m trying to say is, as you well know by now, I wrote a book.

That book is called Wanderers.

It’s about what happens when a sleepwalking disease takes over people, one by one. It’s about what that does to our country. It’s about the people — the “shepherds” — who follow and guard this slow-growing flock of sleepwalkers. It’s about the flock’s mysterious purpose. It’s a big book. A lot going on. A twisty, turny modern epic existing somewhere in the interstitial terrain between Stephen King’s The Stand and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.

You can find an excerpt here at Entertainment Weekly.

There is a starred review at Publisher’s Weekly, and now at Kirkus.

We optioned it for TV with QC, wonderful folks who are also behind Get Out, Us, BlacKKKlansman.

A lot of really great authors have said really nice things:

It’s coming out in about two-and-a-half months. (Which still feels like a very long time, to be honest!) So, one of the things that can really help is pre-ordering a book. Pre-ordering helps the author, but it also helps the publisher, and it helps the bookstore. It helps the whole dang bookish ecosystem. It sends a signal that the book is popular, that people are excited, and it also tells bookstores how many to order, and tells publishers how many to print, and so on, and so forth. Further, it’s also a fun present from PRESENT YOU to FUTURE YOU, and when FUTURE YOU becomes PRESENT YOU, you can thank PAST YOU for pre-ordering a book that appears almost as if by fucking magic in your life.

So, for my birthday, I’d love it if you pre-ordered the book.

And, if you’re pre-ordering print? Then it’d be swell if you ordered from an independent bookstore. Indie stores are wonderful places that curate for you, dear bibliophages, glorious fantastic meals of narrative nummies. They are community-facing places and author-friendly locations that let us, ideally, meet in the middle. An online merchant is hard to truly browse, but a bookstore can be a very special thing. And bookstores are generally staffed by knowledgeable people who know and love books. Further, once again cleaving to the selfish, I’ll note that this is how authors make the NYT bestseller list — by buying the books from independent bookstores.

Here I remind you that you can of course find the book at an independent bookmonger using Indiebound. And, please note that many booksellers — like Mysterious Galaxy, where I’ll be on July 22nd with Adam Christopher, post-SDCC! — happily ship books right to you.

Of course, you can pre-order the e-book, too —

Amazon! B&N! Apple Books! Kobo! Google Play!

And there’s always audio, via Audible.

(And I’ll get more pre-order links as they become available.)

If you pre-order, you get a gift too —

A cool SHEPHERD 1024 pin.

Of course if you were planning on nabbing it at a local library, you can always contact them in advance to make sure they’re ordering copies.

So, that’s it, that’s my BIRTHDAY PLEA to satisfy the ANCIENT BLOOD PACTS on this, my GRIM NATIVITY. You are of course, free to ignore this! But you do so at your peril, and I’d only say, sorry about the ripening boils on all your secretmost body parts. I think the book is maybe actually good? And I hope that you’ll enjoy it, should you choose to honor me and the day of my heretical emergence into your world. Ha ha I mean “our” world!

OKAY BYE.

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The Misbehavin’ Maidens are a nerd-folk comedy quartet based in Maryland, known for NSFW parodies and originals about fandoms, feminism, and LGBTQIAP+ inclusivity. The Kickstarter for their third album, “Swearing is Caring,” went live April 11-May 10, 2019.

* * *

Three of us, plus our designated Booth Minion, were piled into a car, on our way to perform at a fandom convention in Virginia. We’d hit the point in the journey where fatigue had set in and the conversation had stopped flowing. Our driver, Saber, grew restless as the passengers became increasingly absorbed in their phones.

I was one of those passengers, idly scrolling through some online news, when I stopped and said, “What the FUCK.”

“What is it?” Saber asked, eager for a distraction from the tedium of I-95.

“I just found an article on… Christian swingers?”

“WHAT.” (Saber was raised a conservative Christian and now teaches sexual education at an adult toy store.)

“Some Christians are using swinging as an… evangelism tool, apparently.” (See for youself.)

“How would that even work? That is the WORST pillowtalk ever,” Saber said.

The other passengers, Flint and Maggie, snapped out of their phone hypnosis.

“‘Wow, that sex was amazing, but you know what’s better? JESUS,’” somebody chimed in. We started giggling. And then we started riffing on other terrible things to say after sex. We looped in our fourth band member, Rouge (who was stuck at work), via the group chat, and began tossing ideas back and forth.

“Like, ‘Oh, baby, I can’t wait for my wife to meet you!’”

“‘Have I got a timeshare deal for YOU.’”

“‘Mmmm, won’t you back my Kickstarter, sweet thang?’”

“‘Now, get comfortable as I set up my PowerPoint projector…’”

The laughter built, and before five minutes had gone by, Saber said, “OK, OK, I am writing this song when I get home.” And that song, “Pillowtalk,” is on our soon-to-be-released third album. (Psst, you can back the Kickstarter here!)

Our best song ideas seem to come from random, goofy banter. I was hanging out with my boyfriend and getting ready to volunteer at the library one day. As I gathered my purse and coat, the conversation became a very silly flirting sesh in which we kept trying to one-up each other with terrible, library-themed sex puns.

“My pleasure’s feeling overdue…

“My bits are Dewey…

“Let’s make the graphic novel section even more graphic…”

A few months later, the lyrics and music for “Bibliophilia” were finalized.

One of our lyrics is even the result of a Mad Lib we were doing in the car during an exhausting 11-hour drive home from a convention in Massachusetts. After filling in an adjective and a body part (plural), the phrase “sandpapery balls” was coined, cringed at, and eventually worked into our “Pump Shanty” parody, which is all about the importance of using lubricant.

A lot of our songs would not exist if it weren’t for us paying attention to silly conversational tangents; and writing down potential song fodder, even if it’s half-baked, can be a lifesaver during periods of writer’s block. (Side note: I recently blanked on the term “writer’s block” and said “creativity oubliette” instead, which I actually like much better. Feel free to steal that if you want.)

People writing stories and songs can find inspiration from the strangest of places – the key is to practice being open to it. When something strikes an emotional chord with you – that funny thing you saw on the subway, the nonsensical word combination stuck in your head for no reason, the Creamed Corn Incident – jot it down. You never know when it’ll come in handy.

Where are some unexpected places you’ve found inspiration?

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