Aenya Newsletter 12/7/18

“But why is she naked?”

This is the most annoying question I get about Ages of Aenya, whenever I post a picture of the Ilmar on social media. While the vast majority of comments are positive, I will inevitably get roasted for lack of realism, on Facebook fantasy groups that allow for artistic nudity. On these same forums loin-clothed monks punch dragons without anyone raising an eyebrow, but remove that loincloth and suddenly we’re in a world too far removed from reality. “She can’t go naked!” gets thrown at me time and again. It’s like they’ve never heard of the Ancient Greeks, or the Celts (who even fought naked), or Amazon tribes, or your everyday, modern American nudist. Oddly enough, nobody will admit to being offended by the human body, as nobody wants to sound like a prude, yet they’ll justify their discomfort by saying things like, “What does she do about mosquitos?” and “What about branches?” Again, these same people have no problem with barbarians covering their crotches in thin strips of goatskin, because, I suppose, bugs can only bite you in the ass. This is amusing to me, because while I have never personally fought a dragon, I can say that I have hiked naked in the hills of Greece, and in swampy Florida, mosquito capital of the world, and never once did I get killed by bugs, or had my penis shorn by a tree. We can blame the Puritans for this aversion to nudity, and the absurd belief that humans can’t go anywhere without clothes. But among readers of Sci-Fi and fantasy, you might expect a greater level of open mindedness. Think of it this way—not only can we mere Earthlings never survive in the buff, but neither can any human-like creature on any planet in the multiverse! Faster than light travel? No problem. No pants no shoes? Impossible!

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BOOBZ!

There’s one thing my detractors and I can agree on: Americans find casual nudity weird. Sure, the human body is acceptable when surrounded by a dozen or so erect penises, but put a girl in a tree with a bow and arrow and we’re in crazy town. Even my supporters can be disparaging, when they ignore everything in the picture to focus exclusively on the ten or so pixels making up a boob. Are we really just a bunch of dumb, sex-starved monkeys? The guy who left me this actual comment, and I quote, “kewl boobz!” will probably be disappointed by the absence of sex in Ages of Aenya, or lack of any juicy passages describing genitalia. In the good ol’ US of A, it’s gotta be PornHub or Disney, and there can be no middle ground, which is why I am finding it necessary to shift my attention to other parts of Aenya. Much as I adore my innocently naked heroes, bringing them into the mainstream may not be plausible in our hyper-demographics focused society, which is why I have spent the past several years working on other stories.

 

Writing Woes

As I have said to my troll friends time and again, if I am a failed writer, it is only because I have set the bar so high for myself. I know many authors who would be content with where I am, but my goal is nothing short of a million copies sold.

While it may sound egotistical, I really don’t know how else to put it: I have read hundreds of books, and nothing I’ve come across has convinced me that I cannot do what these other famous authors have done. Maybe I can’t write characters as engaging as J.K. Rowling, or build as convincing a world as Tolkien, or be as prolific as George R.R. Martin, but I persist in the belief that Aenya belongs on the shelf with their books. It’s like watching an Olympic athlete win gold, and knowing with confidence you could have at least taken the bronze. From the time I was in college, professors, classmates and readers of fantasy have said to me, “Why aren’t you published yet?” I’ve even been told, by fans (who I don’t know personally) that they preferred reading about Aenya to other well-known fantasy novels they enjoy.

Right now, the book market is saturated. There are just too many talented people vying for attention in this “attention economy,” and with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix and a plethora of video game systems, people’s entertainment options are near infinite. Even the most talented among us get lost in the shuffle. I have met amazingly gifted people who have thrown in the towel because, despite a strong following, they simply cannot make money doing what they love.

I have despaired over this many a night, but the solution is pretty straightforward: you have to be exceptional, truly stand-out exceptional, to get noticed. It’s no longer sufficient to write as good as those on the shelves, you’ve got to be better, A LOT BETTER, and to this I say: challenge accepted. 

The Princess of Aenya is my best work, and I believe it has what it takes to make a splash in the literary world. Unlike my first novel, it has greater market appeal, without those implausibly naked people in it, but, most importantly, I think the story will be harder to ignore. My plan is to reach out to individuals with far greater status. Should Stephen King give his stamp of approval, doors will open.

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The Compass Tower, from The Princess of Aenya

 

The Silmarillion and Strange Inspiration

Strangely enough, I find encouragement in the most unlikely of places. Few people can imagine the father of fantasy world-building, J.R.R. Tolkien, as anything but a master of his craft, well-beloved by all, but like most who have suffered from the writer’s disease, he also struggled immensely. Tolkien spent a lifetime feeling misunderstood, often being rejected by his publisher, who did not understand what it is he was trying to accomplish.

This unexpected revelation came to me upon delving deep into Tolkien lore, having picked up the more recent titles released by his son, Christopher, which include Beren and Luthien, The Children of Hurin, and The Fall of Gondolin, all of which appeared previously in The Silmarillion, a prequel, of sorts, to the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But while The Silmarillion was published toward the end of Tolkien’s life, Christopher writes that his father had conceived of the epic long before the tiny people with furry feet. Scraps of notes regarding Beren, Turin and Tuor, Christopher tells us, originated early in his father’s life, a few of which were composed in the trenches of the first World War. After The Hobbit gained worldwide attention, Tolkien was eager to share his lifelong labor of love, The Silmarillion, but neither his agent or publisher could make heads or tails of it. They told him, instead, to write more about hobbits, and The Lord of the Rings came as a result.

The Silmarillion is a HARD read, and I really would not recommend it to anyone but the most devoted of Middle Earth fans, or, perhaps, to readers of history, because that is what the book essentially is, not so much a novel but a pseudo-history, remarkably rich in detail, with more places and people than I could keep track of. Imagine the entire seven book Game of Thrones series (properly Song of Ice and Fire) condensed into 300 pages. That being said, interspersed between dense passages of Middle Earth lore, you come across genuinely wonderful storytelling, and I find it a shame that Tolkien did not publish these separately, as I think that just about anyone can enjoy them, but that few probably have, finding the historical sections connected to their original release impenetrable. All the more reason I applaud Christopher’s decision to turn these tales into standalone novels, particularly Beren and Luthien, a fairytale romance on par with Tolkien’s best, if not his most moving tale. If Hollywood is starving to milk the Middle Earth cash cow, they need look no further than Beren and Luthien. Hopefully, the upcoming Amazon series—which is slated to become the most expensive show ever—will explore content from The Silmarillion, and not just rehash Peter Jackson’s epic.

Tolkien’s struggle encourages me, and drives me to build my own massive storytelling cathedral, because the Aenya that exists in my mind is far grander than any reader has yet imagined, perhaps not on the level of The Silmarillion, but a true epic in its own right. It may simply be that, like Tolkien, I must persevere, and march to the sound of my own drummer, perhaps until my death, or start the reading masses off with a more palatable story. The Silmarillion would have, no doubt, been lost to obscurity without The Hobbit. Perhaps The Princess of Aenya will be the key to bringing Ages of Aenya into the light. Maybe once I am established, nobody will pester me with questions regarding the implausibility of naked heroes. When you have a name for yourself, and earned the public trust, the people follow.

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If you’re curious about The Silmarillion, I highly suggest a visit to the bookstore to take a look. It is truly unlike any fantasy story you’ll ever read, equal parts history, myth, romance, tragedy and adventure, and I found it all the more compelling in that it was so different, but then again, I am a history major with a love for myth. And while it may seem a challenge to get through, you may be glad that you did.

As for the Aenya-verse, The Princess of Aenya is in the editing process, the cover is almost complete, and it should be ready to order from http://www.nickalimonos.com early 2019!

 

Why I Gave up Video Games for Tabletop Role Playing

Don’t get me wrong. I used to get excited about video games. My first system was an Atari 2600, followed by the Nintendo NES, Super Nintendo, GameCube, Wii, Wii U and the Switch. I’ve owned a Saturn, a Dreamcast, an X-Box, X-Box 360, a Playstation, a PS2 … 3 … 4, not to mention the ten grand I’ve plopped down on gaming computers. Among my favorite series is The Legend of Zelda and Street Fighter. But my feeling of tediousness has been steadily growing over the years, and now unopened games just sit on my shelf for months. At some point in time, gaming became a chore. When I look at an inventory screen to get bombarded by a hundred little empty boxes, I just think to myself . . . work.

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After almost four decades of tapping away at controllers, I feel that I’ve seen and done it all. There are very few original ideas in gaming, and even when you come across the occasional weird indie title (Typoman comes to mind) the question then becomes: why would I want to play that? Almost all games fall neatly into a genre: platformer, action, role-playing, racing, fighting—and they are ALL, with little exception, painfully similar. For someone who immerses themselves in gaming culture, the slightest innovations appear to be groundbreaking, but more often than not, these are little more than tweaks. Nintendo’s Wii, with its motion censors, was perhaps the only genuine revolution in recent memory, but then for some reason it was abandoned. Virtual Reality has also failed to wow the general public, because really, who wants to pretend to go to work?

The biggest new idea in shooters, to my knowledge, is auto-cover, a mechanic made popular in Gears of War, and it felt fresh and exciting upon its release, but looking back at it now, much of what you actually do in the game is the same as in every other shooter—running, taking cover, and shooting—just like in Doom, Duke NukemRed Faction, HaloMass Effect and in about a thousand other clones and sequels. RPGs, if you can even call them that, are no different. Whether it’s World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, Oblivion or The Witcheryou are like a hamster on a spinning wheel, repeating the same actions over and over ad nauseam: killing monsters to collect XP, so you can level up to kill more monsters. Rinse and repeat until the boss is dead and a cut scene comes up to let you know the game is over. Sometimes there’s a decent story in there, but for every Eternal Darkness, The Last of Us or Deus Ex, there are about a hundred titles with zombies/demons/aliens invading [insert fantasy realm here] for no damn reason. Even when the story is passable, I am forced to do so much grinding that my life feels wasted. A few years ago I gave up on a game with great animation, engaging characters and a lot of unique ideas, Ni No Kuni. Beautiful though it was, I simply could not play it. After spending the better part of a night trying to kill the first boss, I realized that I needed to grind to progress in the game, and for those of you not in the know, grinding is the process of fighting the same repetitive creatures, in the same repetitive way, while watching the same repetitive animation, sometimes for hours or even days, just to become powerful enough to win. It’s like trying to watch The Lord of the Rings, and having your Blu-Ray player breakdown so that the same scene plays ten times in a row before moving on to the next scene.

The last game I had the patience to sit through was Star Wars: Battlefront for the PS4. Now I know this isn’t the best example of great game design, but it really isn’t so different than any other FPS, where you are ducking behind walls, taking aim and shooting, like I’ve been doing for the past two decades. Quite frankly, I am sick of it. I AM BORED!!!

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Now I won’t go into why tabletop RPGs (real RPGs) like D&D are superior to video games, nor bother explaining how they are tangible, or allow you infinite freedom, or are more social. You can read that here if you want. But I do want to explain why D&D excites me, because with D&D, I get to do different things. Really different things!

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Fun with real people!

Part of the fun for me is creating the game. I get to be a storyteller, an artist, and a level designer. Our current campaign is set on Middle Earth, and the first thing I did was research Tolkien’s world, picking up The Silmarillion, Beren and LúthienThe Children of Húrin and The Fall of Gondolin. Keep in mind, nobody was telling me to read these books. I read only so much as I was enjoying it. To simulate the war against the Witch-King of Angmar, I bought a 3D puzzle of Middle Earth. Again, I could have bought a simple foldout map from Amazon, but I wanted the 3D mountain pieces. Then I went to a hardware store to get a custom cut of plexiglass, and after careful measuring, added squares to the glass using ribbon tape, resulting in a clear chess board. Placing the board over my Middle Earth map, and chess pieces to track the movements of each unit, I ended up with a layout of the war. This was a personal quest I had set out to achieve. Nobody had told me what to do or how to do it. And it involved a lot more thought than simply following an arrow on a screen. The final product is something I truly feel proud of—an actual, real-life achievement.

To invite my players to our game, I wrote a letter imitating Tolkien’s writing, urging them to send reinforcements for the impending war. It was printed on faux-aged paper, and sealed with the Tree of Gondor, before being sent through the mail. This was a real letter, dripping with ink and melted wax, that you could actually hold in your hands. Unfortunately, I received zero response from my hardcore gamer friends, because when a real letter comes in the real mail asking to embark upon a real-ish quest, I suppose they got confused because there was nobody there to tell them what to do.

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A real letter!

For our most recent D&D session, I made a fort and a giant stone head using styrofoam, caulking, Play-Doh and paint. I am always on the lookout for things to make, or unique things I can do, to play outside the box, and by box I mean X-Box.

 

Now you may be thinking, Nick, I don’t really like making things. I don’t like painting, or sculpting, or being creative in any way. And that’s fine. TRPG’s aren’t for everybody, and I suppose there will always be those who prefer multiple choice gaming: Picking between Door A or Door B. Me? I’ll choose to break down a wall every time. The thing about D&D, and tabletop games in general, is that they can be whatever you want them to be. You can even incorporate video games into it, if you want. I actually did this once, using Super Smash Bros. for a Zelda themed campaign. But D&D never forces you to slog through the same repetitive actions over and over, unless you have a bad DM, in which case you can tell him, “Hey, this is boring. Let’s do something different.” And the best part is, every game is unique. NOBODY else is playing your adventure but YOU. Millions of kids have been Link and Mario and Master Chief and Geralt of Rivia. But only I have been Sir Marek the Brave! And this makes for a truly special experience.

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Sir Marek the Brave

In a few weeks, I am planning a kayaking trip with my players. Yes, a real life kayaking trip, and this is going to be part of the game, because we need to get down the Anduin River somehow. Anything goes in my games, and that will always be more exciting, for me at least, than pressing buttons.

Vote for America this November!

This is something I originally wrote for Facebook, but I feel it’s relevant to post here as well.

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Dear Friends and Family,

I do not know whether anyone will care to read this, as I haven’t been using Facebook lately for personal reasons, but my heart is heavily burdened by everything that is going on in the world today, and I am frightened by the future that I and my kids may inherent. I know that for many of you, these words will fall on deaf ears—but my conscience is telling me to speak out.

We have not been so divided in this country since the Civil War. America today is not the land I was born in. I remember an America that valued freedom and equality. I remember an America that cared about truth. More importantly, and this is something I feel gets overlooked in the media, I remember growing up in a country where I knew, with certainty, that we were the good guys. Every other nation looked to us as a shining example of what they could aspire to be. Now I do not tend to get sentimental when it comes to patriotism. I have never valued American lives over foreigners, because I hold equal measures compassion for all humanity. But I did get teary eyed when I visited the Statue of Liberty a few years ago. This had less to do with “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…,” and more to do with what the plaque, and its poem, The New Colossus, was expressing about what America represented. America was going to be different. This nation, built upon a foundation of liberal ideals, was to be the end of kings and tyrants and “rule through power.” Humanity was growing up, leaving behind the primitive mindset of tribalism, in the formation of these United States. The torch of liberty was a beacon for all nations to follow, into a future where rule of law would always prevail, and truth would hold more sway than greed and influence.

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Now I look at what is happening in this great country and compare it to everything I studied in college, and I am both disheartened and afraid. The history of the world is a dark tale, full of wars and oppression and devastation, where mostly evil men reigned, but where occasionally our better natures triumphed. It happened in Athens, Greece, and it happened during the early days of the Roman Republic, and again the torch of democracy was passed down through the ages to a bunch of young political philosophers who had the audacity to form their own government in these United States of America, based on the principles of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. It was not a perfect union by any means, blacks were still slaves and women could not vote, but they had planted the seeds for utopia. Democracy was and has always been a struggle toward a better world. But just as in Athens and Rome, I feel that the torch of democracy is fading.

We are scarcely a democracy when all of our politicians are bought and paid for; we cannot hope to cling to the illusion that rule of law applies when so many of us look the other way as our constitutional checks and balances are dismantled; we cannot pretend that we live in a land of freedom when a great many minorities are routinely treated with inequality.

I do not doubt that many of you, reading this, will think to yourselves, “Yep, I agree with you, Nick, and that’s why I am a Republican!” More than any time in human history, we are mired by the most powerful tool for propaganda ever conceived: the Internet. So, whatever your political affiliation, you cannot be blamed for believing the wrong things. It is so very difficult in this day and age to separate the truth from the lies. But perhaps the biggest lie we must address is that of “there are two sides to every argument.” Clearly, there are times when one side is wrong. If I were to say to you that 1 + 1 = 3, that would be incorrect, and it would not matter how many people I could find to agree with me. So our goal must always be to seek the truth, wherever that truth leads us, however greatly that truth makes us feel uncomfortable or tears down our illusions. The alternative to not seeking truth, to remaining complacent in a cocoon of lies, is to surrender everything that makes America what it is, and just as in Athens and in Rome, this grand experiment, these two centuries of freedom, will end.

So how do we separate truth from lies? I think there are three ways, that I use, at least:

1) Educate yourself. Don’t learn your history and your science from political pundits or web blogs. I don’t get my information from Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. Visit a bookstore or a library. Knowledge is inoculation from those who would manipulate you. Every tyrant who ever lived, from Hitler to Stalin to Kim Jong Un, worked to curb the flow of information.

2) Listen carefully to what the politicians actually say. Don’t judge them by any other analysis (this is called spin) but specifically by their own words and actions. Soon after the election, one of the liberal leaning sites I used to follow kept posting articles insisting that Trump had raped a thirteen year old girl. Is it possible that this happened? Of course. But, I did not believe there was enough evidence to warrant such an accusation, and I promptly unfollowed the site.

3) Who benefits? Ask yourself this question. Who benefits by stating that Global Warming is a hoax? Or that Obamacare will ruin healthcare? Or that gun control will lead to a repeal of all guns? And when you ask yourself that question, consider who has the most money and influence to disseminate false information. Is it the 98% of scientists who are the deceivers, who really have nothing to gain aside from the grants used to pay for their research, or the billionaire tycoons who rely on fossil fuel revenues to keep them in business? Are we to trust the insurance companies who stand to lose billions by offering health care to those who most need it? Are we to rely on the gun lobby, who represent not gun owners but gun manufacturers, when they tell us that any limit on the SALE of guns will turn America into Nazi Germany?

Perhaps America was not meant to last. But I do not want to live the last days of my life in a fascist state, and we have never leaned so closely to a fascist state before now.

Today we learned that pipe bombs were sent out to Obama, Clinton, CNN headquarters, and to basically everyone Republicans consider their enemies. Now, this isn’t to say I blame any Republican for this, although the never ending stream of vitriol certainly didn’t help dissuade anyone. What I will say is that this reminds me of something my mother used to ask me. “Why is it,” she would say, “that it’s always the good presidents who get killed?” And she was right. Lincoln was shot and killed. Kennedy was shot and killed. My answer to her was, “Well, because they were good, and their political enemies were evil.” When we have an evil president, the moral opposition cannot in good conscience commit an act of evil, even if to stop those who would do harm to society. And this is why we cannot rely on violence to bring about a better world. Sure, there have been exceptions. The Civil War. The two World Wars. But we are not at that point yet. We still have the power to affect change through peaceful measures.

I urge you, BEG you, to GO OUT and VOTE this November. You cannot possibly imagine how much this matters. And I pray that each and every one of you reading this tirade looks into their hearts and asks themselves, “Who are the good guys?” and votes their conscience.

 

Thank You.

Exposing the Scammers 2: URLinkPublishing.com

fraud-alert

 

I was in the midst of editing a chapter when I hear my wife on the phone saying, “He’s working on his book.” She handed me the receiver, and I was immediately intrigued. People never call me at my house about writing. The guy on the other end started telling me how interested he was in Ages of Aenya, and how “book scouts” had given the book an 8.5 out of 10. Anything over 5, he said, and his company, URLinkPublishing.com, takes interest. We talked about the business for a good thirty minutes. He extolled the virtues of marketing, to help get the book into the hands of readers, and the best way to do that, he said, is book reviewers. He name dropped Kirkus, which I’d seen on the jackets of top-selling novels, and overall he sounded knowledgeable and sincere. To assuage my skepticism, he urged me to “do the research” before making any decisions. Surely, if this was all a scam, he wouldn’t be telling me to do research, would he? But here’s the thing: my heart rate did not change a beat. Five years ago, I might have been jumping with excitement, but like a jaded lover, I’d been burned too many times before.

When I got off the phone with URLinkpublishing.com, I went simply back to my chapter. Only later in the day, when I got bored at work, did I whip out my phone to check the site. After no more than five minutes I determined that the man on the phone was a liar. Here was a company promising to help me increase book sales, but their book/client list had about ten books, most with amateurish covers, and their “featured author” had, and I kid you not, ONE review on Amazon! Couldn’t they get a few of their office workers to help out? Christ, I have TEN reviews already and I find that pathetic. What’s more, their “featured author” is in the 3 millionths in sales. And to join the ranks of their esteemed laureates, I had only to get a professional review, for the recommended low low price of $3000.00!

It disgusts me to know that companies like this exist. But we are living in world of school shooters and rapist politicians, so there are worse things, I suppose. Still, when someone tries to deceive you personally, to take advantage of all your hard work and heartache, it just burns me up inside, and this is why I’m writing this post, because scammers like these need to be exposed for what they are.

My most popular article to date remains Olympia Publishers and the Art of the Soft Scam. Dozens of hopeful writers have thanked me for steering them clear of that pitfall, and now I am hoping to do the same for anyone about to get duped by URLinkPublishing.com. No doubt, they will go by a different name, or someone else will come up with a new way to fuck over people, so here’s some basic tips for not getting scammed:


1)  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

2)  Be sure to ask, up front, if there’s money involved. Don’t be too shy to be blunt. You can say, “What do you get out of this?”

3)  It’s OK to get your hopes up, but DO YOUR RESEARCH! Look up the company’s website, find blogs (like this one) discussing the company, and e-mail old clients.

4)  Be clear as to what the company is offering, and if what they are offering is something they have successfully provided to others in the past. If they have an author/client list, look up the author on Amazon, and check out that author’s sales rank! The author need not be a bestseller, but they should be ranked in the thousandths or tens-of-thousandths in their prospective genre, at the very least.


 

I should probably note here that, after turning hundreds (maybe thousands?) away from Olympia Publishers, I managed to get the attention of Olympia Publishers. They sent me a few e-mails to curry my favor (in hilarious ways) to get me to remove my piece, but I refused, despite their excuses, and assertion that they’ve changed. You can read our e-mail exchange below, and decide for yourself whether Olympia is worth a second shot:


 

Dear Nick,

Firstly, my name is Chantelle, I am the PR manager for Olympia Publishers. I recently came across your article written on your website. And I have to say I was rather disappointed. Opinions are of course welcomed, but falsities are a little disheartening. We are in no way a scam. ‘Scam’ is defined in the Cambridge English dictionary as “an illegal plan for making money, especially one that involves tricking people”- That we are not.

We’re transparent about our different types of contracts, to quote our website: “Should we be unable to offer a traditional contract, but I feel the work has potential an alternative offer may be made. This offer is known as a ‘partnership contract’ and is based on a contribution, to be paid by the author, to cover initial production and printing of the work”.

Taking on un-known authors is a risk, we’re the first to admit that. But we felt that was a huge gap in the market where first time authors without an agent had no chance. The bigger publishing houses who only publish traditional contracts very rarely publish first time or unknown authors, especially those that do not have a literary agent. To get ones work to the meet the approval of the large publishing houses, they have to spend thousands on literary agents who often take cuts of the royalties of your work when published, paying professional illustrators to take on  their covers and inside artwork and paying proof readers to look at their work before they can even submit. We wanted to give those authors a chance. We are more than happy to take on first time authors or un-known authors, do not have a charge to look at work, and if we do not take on the work we offer free advice in where to go and what could help.

Publishers cannot guarantee success, no matter which publishing house you are. From the smallest to the biggest. If a book doesn’t sell it doesn’t make that publishing company a scam. It’s not a trick, as we said, we’re open about being a hybrid publishing house, many of our authors have not paid and some have had contribution contracts.

I see writers as one of the most respected careers one can choose. I have a huge amount of respect for authors, knowing that a book can change someone’s life, bring someone out of a very dark time in their lives, offer help and guidance, or for some, having a place to escape and feel at home.

I’m are genuinely glad you have not quit and of course wish you the best of luck in publishing, I’m sure you’re well aware of how difficult it is to break into the market as a published author, so please see both sides, we try and give our authors the best platform and all the help we can.

On a more personal note, as a fellow enthusiast of D&D, it’s good to see another avid player, and we also sympathise and totally agree on your stance with trump. We found ourselves in a bar in Soho when we heard the dreaded news and a dark cloud just loomed over us and has since not budged.

Also, it’s very refreshing to see someone smart enough on the internet that understands the earth is indeed round, not flat. Great choice with the Zelda shirt as well, we certainly approve of that. Like Zelda, it’s dangerous to go alone – in publishing.

Many authors are happy with the way that we operate, hence why we have a large number of returning authors, some of whom have published 5 or more books with us. This would not be the case if we were any kind of scam.

I’m are more than happy to accept criticism for our practises, and I understand that many authors are firmly against paying to publish, but this is not the problem here. The problem is that you are accusing us of being a scam, with no actual evidence to back up this claim. If you could please remove this falsity that would be very much appreciated.

I look forward to your reply.
Kind regards,
Chantelle Wadsworth


 

Chantelle,

I never said Olympia was a scam, or that it was doing anything illegal, hence the title of my article, “The Art of the Soft Scam,” emphasis on the word “soft.” Here are my exact words, from the piece I wrote,

They imply fame and fortune, but what they don’t tell you is that none of their authors have ever managed it. Could it happen? I don’t doubt it, but the chances are so unlikely, it might as well be a scam.

Olympia Publishers isn’t doing anything illegal, but I put them into a category below Xlibris. At least self-publishing houses have the good graces to admit what they are offering. Small presses like Olympia pretend to allow for success, to do what publishers are supposed to do: promote your writing and profit from readers, but they work in reverse. They ask you to send in a query and synopsis, and after a few tense weeks, ask for the manuscript. If it passes the scrutiny of their editors, you become a published author! If not, there is a second option, a pay to play option. After a little Googling, I found dozens of heartbroken writers tricked by this scheme, who were told they would be published, only to be asked to cover costs of up to 3500 pounds (nearly $5000)!

You need to realize that you are crushing the hopes and dreams of many struggling authors, by creating a false sense of hope. I have sold more copies of Ages of Aenya through my own website than most of your “published” authors have, and for one tenth the price, so what exactly are you offering writers for their $5000?

If you don’t want people to be turned away from your services, I suggest you change the way you do business. Be upfront with your authors. Tell them in advance that they will have to pay you. Admit the kind of publishing services you provide, that you are more Xlibris or CreateSpace than Bantam, then I’ll drop the soft scam label.


 

Dear Nick,

Thank you very much for your reply.

I have worked here for three years now, and even in these three years, I have noticed a huge change in our company. We’re being completely honest about out publishing process, we’re just about to launch our Author Hub (which by the way I’d love to share with you to see your own comments and how we can maybe improve before it goes live) which is a website for author advice – this is not biased to us, we actually recommend other types of publishing if it suites the writer/author and we’ve invested time and resources in creating helpful videos and articles. It’s not to promote us and our company or to sell books – it is purely a helpful resource.  We’ve also taken to charities and so on with our new website, writing blog posts dedicated to them and donating what we can to various hospitals, libraries and animal and environmental charities.

Also, on our about us section right in the centre of our website, we make it very clear that we offer both free and paid contracts. We even say to authors that submit to us to please put a comment in the additional notes if they are only interested in a free contract,  then a free contract will be the only contract that is offered.

We have expanded our publicity and promotions team so each author has a publicity coordinator to work with on a daily basis, since this we have been able to expand to the US and India. Some of our recent books have sold over ten thousand copies, which is a huge step up for us. Our contract prices have also significantly lowered. So overall we are really trying our hardest to be as upfront as possible with our publishing!

If you have a look on our forums (not by us by other reviewers) you will notice a huge turn around in the comments. The last two or three years there have been little or no negative comments.

At the end of the day. We appreciate your article, its those like you that help publishing shape themselves and improve. But as I’ve said, we have really up’ed our game, we focus all of our attention on our authors and are including many charities and projects in a lot of our works. Which is why I email to kindly ask you to perhaps remove the review, or even give us an updated review if you would rather?

That is fantastic that you have had success! And there’s no doubt more will come for you too.

Have a great day!

 

“The Nudist Writer”

underwood_nude_1910sIt should come as no surprise by now that I choose to live my life sans clothing. Naked is my default state. I long for the day when I can be free from the branding of Polo and Ralph Lauren. I only feel myself when I am wearing nothing.

But far more important to me is writing. I eat, drink and breathe storytelling. On many occasions I have gotten out of bed with a plot in my head. From the time I was six, I have been coming up with adventures, and that was thirty-seven years ago. Story matters. As Ursula K LeGuin put it, “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel … is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”

While Mark Twain famously advised to “write what you know,” LeGuin said, in response, that she writes about dragons because what she knows is dragons. Fantasy storytellers draw from personal experience while adding from the fruits of their imagination. Herman Melville tapped into his experiences on a whaling ship to create Moby Dick. In the same way, I know what it’s like to leave my clothes behind to explore the woods, to search rocky shorelines without a stitch to my name, to socialize without body taboos. I have also experienced the sense of shame imposed upon me by those who would judge my lifestyle as perverse or just plain weird, as have my naked heroes, Xandr and Thelana.

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Nudism informs my writing, even when my characters don’t think the way I do. Shame is a universal trait, and I would be a poor writer to neglect it. But what we wear, or don’t, is a big part of who we are. It is entrenched in our history and religion, and reflects strongly upon our values. A society’s attitude toward the human body speaks volumes about that society. Do they consider themselves a part of the animal hierarchy or apart from it? Do they shun the physical world, and the senses associated with it, or seek a more spiritual reality? Answering these questions provides a fictional world of greater richness and realism.

Having a unique perspective, we are told, is a good thing. But unlike atheism, LGBTQ+ or even, if Fifty Shades is any indication, bondage porn, I increasingly get the sense that nudism is just too different. Time and again, agents have rejected Ages of Aenya on the grounds that the concept isn’t “trending.” When I attempted to advertise my novel via social media, both Facebook and Twitter called the book, with its innocent cover of Thelana, “sex services.” Even Barnes & Nobles shied away from my offer to host a signing event, despite the many racier covers adorning their shelves. It would seem nudity is OK, but only in a sexual context.

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Sex services. Obviously.

It isn’t as though our sense of touch is entirely alien. Who doesn’t enjoy sunshine on their bare skin? A hot shower? Cool bedsheets after a session of lovemaking? Advertisers, all the while, continually use words like “nude” and “naked” to suggest their products are honest and all-natural. Clearly, nakedness is a good thing, and on some deep level we all know this.

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The nude archetype persists in our subconscious. We all wish for the same confidence, strength and beauty embodied by the heroic nude. It is an expression that has been with us since the Ancient Greeks, and continues to this day in the form of the superhero, who is all but nude but for the coloring of the skin, and in ESPN’s celebration of athletes.

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The heroic nude in modern times

We are simultaneously repulsed and attracted by the human form. This dichotomy, I believe, stems from an overemphasis on demographics. Fiction must be placed either in the Children, Adult, or YA sections, and nudity can never fall into any category but porn, because in our modern world nudity = porn. And it should be noted here, that DC’s recent adult comic, Batman: Damned, showcasing Bruce’s penis for the first time, is far from a nudist portrayal, as his genitals are made the emphasis of the panel, existing for no other purpose but to shock.

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Enlightened heroines are expected to wear full plate armor, without so much as hinting at the female shape beneath. This is considered progress, an improvement over the hyper sexualized covers of the 60s and 70s, and likely the reason Thelana isn’t trending. But it is progress leading to a more sterilized world, where neither sex is recognized. Equality could just as well have been achieved by giving the female hero agency, and stripping the male of equal parts clothing. Gone are the gods and heroes of church ceilings and museum walls, the renderings of mankind so proudly and masterfully born of the hands of Leonardo and Michelangelo, and this to me is a tragedy, because in censoring how we portray others, we turn every person into a potential object, a thing to satisfy our most basic urges.

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The modern heroine

This isn’t to say women in chainmail bikinis are preferable. On the contrary, Brienne of Tarth, and Netflix’ She-Ra, is a welcome change. What I am saying, rather, is that a woman need not be objectified, regardless of what she is or isn’t wearing, and that we need not choose between our sexuality and our humanity. In our current MeToo generation, we pretend to have matured beyond smut, while creating secret identities to wallow in the worst of PornHub. Instead of learning to express our desires in meaningful, honest and healthy ways, or reaching out to better understand the opposite sex, we have chosen to don the facade of robots devoid of passion. This societal schism, this partitioning of people into categories, cannot lead to a better world. More than anything, we need the heroic nude, our David and Heracles, our Mowgli and Tarzan and John Carter and, dare I say, our Xandr. We must embrace role models that embody the full gamut of what it means to be human, sexuality and all.

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Fantasy covers of the 70s

I am a nudist and a writer, and my fear is that I will be pigeonholed, that my work will be confined to an esoteric niche group. After all, we don’t typically call people gay writers, or Catholic writers, or Japanese writers—or by any other aspects of their identity—unless that identity becomes a focal point of their work, “feminist writer,” for example. Still, nudism is far from a fetish. It addresses a much broader spectrum that includes feminism and environmentalism, and it speaks to our most revered cultural values. While you may not see Sam Harris or Jordan Peterson debating the merits of nudism any time soon, it should be noted that they both conform closely to societal norms, of not simply wearing clothes, but wearing very specific types of clothing. Whether it’s President Trump or Barack Obama, Ken Ham or Neil deGrasse Tyson, ties and jackets are mandatory if one is to take your arguments seriously. This only goes to show how entrenched body taboos have become in our world. But while my upcoming second and third novels will have no naked heroes in it, to shy away from calling myself a nudist would betray everything I am, and rob the literary landscape from a rarely heard voice. Like Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman and Robert Heinlein, all of whom shared nudist proclivities, I stand outside of convention, and challenge the status-quo. I am Xandr standing at the gates of Hedonia, calling out against hypocrisy, searching for the lost innocence of Ilmarinen.

It’s time to end race.

If there’s one thing I can agree with the KKK, the white race is going the way of the dodo. According to Neo-Nazi “literature,” white people are like glasses of milk. Add a drop of Hershey’s syrup to the mix, and BAM! you’ve got yourself chocolate people. Now  supposing we could be certain as to who a white person is (according to her medical records, my brown-skinned wife is white) racists should have figured out by now that their entire team is woefully pathetic, in that they can be wiped out by a single drop of impurity. The black race, by contrast, is seemingly indestructible. Consider our first African American president. Technically speaking, Barack Hussein Obama is half-white on his mother’s side, but nobody ever mentions this. One father from Kenya is all it takes to represent an entire race. White-supremacists consider this a negative, but for me, it’s a super power. You can’t un-chocolate your chocolate milk, but you can always make it darker.

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It doesn’t work the other way!

The problem of racism falls under the much larger umbrella of tribalism. It’s the conflict that arises due to people’s differences. You don’t need racism to hate. Religion will do, or sex, or political affiliation. If Naked & Afraid has taught me anything, it’s that survival on the African savannah was tough. For a couple million years, humans fought over limited resources, and those resources could only be gotten by smallish groups, or tribes. So while one guy tended to the fire, his wife was thatching roofs, his son was gathering kindling, and his cousins were out chasing buffalo. This arrangement helped guarantee survival, until, that is, strange-colored people arrived with their weird hair, weird face-paint, and even weirder clothing, to steal your hard-earned dinner. This is where our apprehension for differences comes from. Feelings of racism were, at one point in time, a survival instinct. But we’re not living on African bushland anymore (well, not most of us, anyway). The tribalism that leads to racial strife is the same that leads to religious and political conflict. Our pattern seeking brains are constantly working to determine who is the “us” and who is in the “other” crowd. This is why people in cities tend to be more accepting of different cultures. New Yorkers living and working around Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs can more easily accept foreign-born groups into their tribe. “Hey, we’re all New Yorkers here!” Unfortunately, midwesterners from tumbleweed towns find more in common with white Russian hackers than “Black Lives Matter” protesters.

When you really think about it, we’re all just monkeys. Stupid, stupid monkeys, acting on very primitive programming. Here we are in 2018, with nuclear weapons and the Large Hadron Collider, and yet we’ve still got Flat Earthers and people voting for “In God We Trust” signs to ward off school shooters. The Internet has given the least evolved of us a platform, which is how we ended up with an illiterate president, but also, the constant rage machine directed at “forced diversity,” SJWs, and “identity politics.” Yes, folks, this isn’t your grandfather’s racism, this is Racism 2.0! And hey, how’s that for hypocrisy? Everyone who complains about identity politics never seems to shut up about “the left.” To be fair, not every anti-SJW is a racist or sexist. Sam Harris appears genuinely interested in doing the right thing, and yet he is oblivious to the ways in which a vocal majority can turn otherwise sensible arguments into weapons of hate. According to The Bell Curve author, Charles Murray, black people tend to have, on average, lower IQ scores than white people. This has turned Murray into a villain on the Left, to the point at which he received threats of violence, and is banned from speaking at universities. Free speech aside, I am forced to wonder, did Murray really not think of the consequences of his study? Did he never consider how such a book might empower hate groups the world over?

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This brings us to the very real important issue of our day: Star Wars. If you haven’t been on YouTube lately, just type “Star Wars” into the search box and prepare for the floodgates of Hell to open! Everyone is entitled to hating works of art, but bullying actresses like Kelly Marie Tran to the point that they quit social media, or calling for the termination of Kathleen Kennedy or Rian Johnson due to their “pro-feminist agenda” is simple absurdity. When the Ghostbusters reboot becomes the most down-voted video IN YOUTUBE HISTORY, you have to wonder, what the fuck is going on? Did these same people not see the equally horrific Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remake? Or any of the vomit-inducing Transformers flicks? I think they did, but then again, Optimus Prime wasn’t turned into a girl robot. Look, I get it. For many of us jaded 40-somethings, these franchises are sacred. We don’t want to grow up. We want to fly on pixie dust and fight pirates forever. Making She-Ra with smaller boobs and a longer skirt forces us to see change, and change reminds us of the inevitability of aging and death. Take it from me, a guy who watched She-Ra religiously in the 80s, and wrote She-Porn in college, I understand the sex appeal. And yet, all of our manly, sexist arguments dissolves to nothing when we recognize that the children of today are currently living their own childhoods, and could care less that the original Ghostbusters were a bunch of dudes, or whether Adora’s boobs make her look like a boy. My eight year old loved the new Ghostbusters, and my thirteen year old can’t wait for Netflix’ She-Ra. Consequently, none of my kin so much as noticed the “SJW agenda” in The Last Jedi. For my girls, Rey was unquestionably the hero, in the same way I never once bothered to ask myself why Luke Skywalker had to be a boy. Love her or hate her, Rose Tico is now a part of Star Wars canon, and while I am sure my kids didn’t think much about her Asian features, I am equally certain that many Asian children were only too happy to (finally) see themselves represented in Star Wars. (Seriously, name ONE Asian character from the original Star Wars. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

 

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Asian: a new alien race

The anti-SJW crowd have become outraged by all of this “forced diversity,” despite the fact that for nearly a hundred years, every non-white race was forced to sit through the opposite, and every woman was forced to see herself depicted as little more than a damsel in distress. If we need to force ourselves to recognize that other races do, in fact, exist, isn’t that a good thing? How can the supreme white male be so insecure as to want anything less? Again, I can agree with the KKK in that we may lose our whiteness, and white skin can be pretty nice, I suppose. My hero growing up was the Nazi ideal, with his blond hair and blue eyes. Heck, he even wore a German Iron Cross on his chest, and fought lots of colored villains, including a blue Skeletor, a red Beastman, and a green Merman! He never had a black friend until Clamp Champ, who wasn’t introduced until the very last year of the toy’s run. And let’s not forget his perfectly Aryan sister, She-Ra, now a pawn of the SJW-agenda due to her lack of boobage.

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The new She-Ra: Ruining 40-year old virgin’s fantasies.

 

Whiteness isn’t a culture, a heritage, or even a race. It’s nothing more than an aesthetic, and is not worth keeping, not at the expense of countless lives—lives that do, in fact, matter—not when millions can be made to suffer as a result. We need to grow up and accept the inevitable change happening in our world. If women takeover, I say bring it on. For ten-thousand years, men have called the shots. We’ve had a good run, but in many ways managed to screw things up. If the human race is to turn brown, I say, let’s chocolate it up, baby. The only real solution for racism was discovered two-thousand year ago, by Alexander the Great, who forced his Greek soldiers to marry Persian women. Racism is a continuing problem in America, and there’s only one real solution. We need to end race. We need to fuck our way to a better future.

The Cloud Breaker

Who doesn’t love airships? I know I do! The Cloud Breaker features prominently in my upcoming book, the second in the Aenya series, The Princess of Aenya. Again, I worked with my excellent Ukrainian artist, Alexey Lipatov, to help make the Cloud Breaker a reality.

Unlike many other flying fantasy ships, I tried to add an element of real-world physics to the Cloud Breaker. This is something I have long strived to give my world, to write sword & sorcery & sandal fantasy, while still acknowledging the parameters of science. With that in mind, I base the Cloud Breaker’s flight capabilities on hot air balloons. Two burners create a draft of rising air, which in turn inflate a special light-weight material, whisper-fabric, which is known only to those of the avian race. Could it work in reality? Probably not, at least not with regards to the weight ratios between hull and sail- volume, but even hard Sci-Fi will sometimes run into problems of plausibility.

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HISTORY: The Cloud Breaker was built by the people of Yefira, who have a long history of experimenting with aircraft. Ages ago, they learned to take advantage of the region’s powerful wind currents, fashioning windmills, giant-kites, and short-distance gliders called “whirlydinghies”. The Great Chasm, which splits the planet into two hemispheres, provides a perpetual updraft for increased lift while traversing the rift.

The Cloud Breaker is the biggest ship ever to be built by the Yefirans. It is captained by Davos and his mate, a clipped avian named Krow. In calmer winds, the Cloud Breaker sails the waters of the Potamis, the life-giving river of Aenya, along which Davos trades goods from throughout the north-western territories of the world.

STORY: Crossing above and beyond the Crown of Aenya Mountains, to the north pole, the crew of the Cloud Breaker discovers the ancient city of the Zo, Mythradanaiil, known by its citizens as Tyrnael. What Davos uncovers in that fabled land will alter his life, and the future of his people, forever.

Be like Davos! Discover the world of Aenya for yourself! Get Ages of Aenya NOW at www.nickalimonos.com!

 

D&D in the Faerie Tale Kingdom

As I’ve focused my attention away from The Writer’s Disease, I’ve been spending more time on gaming with my kids. Aside from family, my chief love remains storytelling. If I could not write books, I would make screenplays for TV or movies. Barring that, I could settle for a good campfire.

Story gives life meaning. It defines who we are, what we believe, and provides an answer to the deepest questions of existence. History, religion, even the memories we have of our own lives, is little more than the stories we tell ourselves. Before YouTube, Netflix or PS4, there was fire, and the images our minds formed from the heart of the flame. Playing D&D with the family is a continuation of this old age tradition, and it beats any other entertainment medium IMO, because other mediums lack the human connection that comes from sitting face-to-face with your storyteller.

If much of this sounds grandiose, my apologies, poetic license is a bad a habit. On a more down-to-earth note, I am learning the ways of YouTube, how to stitch audio and video together to give my fans more Aenya-related content in a new way, and so that I may reach out to those unfamiliar with the Aenya-verse. The story below may also, in a loose way, serve as inspiration for upcoming novels. It is a bit long for YouTube, admittedly, but it recounts our seven months of gaming. Enjoy!

 

Lilliea and Rose Mathonway continue their adventures through the multiverse in the Faerie Tale Kingdom! This is the complete retelling of our seven-month fairytale themed D&D campaign, featuring the fifth setting in the three years I have been DMing for my family and friends. I’d like to give a special thanks to my players: to my two daughters, who play Lilliea and Rose, to my wife, who plays Kalima, and to our closest family friend, Elgy “Mimi” Marie, who rocks it as Sekhmet. I would also like to thank my nephews for their occasional contributions, to Fonda, who gave life to Kraktock, and to Arthur, who shamelessly took on the mantle of Alabaster, daughter of Snow White. Without you guys, this otherworldly experience could not have been possible. I would also like to thank all of the people who’ve contributed art and inspiration to this project.

 

Digital Heroin

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Remember chatrooms? Thirty or more strangers blinking from your computer screen, with names like poonsnack6324, rambling simultaneously and incoherently, with tortured spelling and non-existent grammar, while that one guy tried to impress everyone with his keyboard doodles as half a dozen others are engaged in a text-orgy? Those sure were the good ol’ days, amirite?

Nope.

AOL was a black hole, destroying all sense of decency, nuance and meaningful discourse. It revealed to the world the darkest and most depraved inner workings of the human animal. Before AOL, I used to think the world would be a better place if we all had telepathy, if we knew what everyone was thinking. Now we know that what everyone is thinking is gross. We are in dire need of a filter, a tradition of civility to keep civilization from descending into chaos, what is sorely lacking when social interaction is coupled with anonymity. As if chatrooms weren’t bad enough, we have also discovered the dangers of Instant Messaging, and random profile searches. This early feature appears, at first, like a vast technological improvement over Facebook. Want to talk to someone from halfway around the world about your favorite My Little Pony episode? Just look for MLP, under Hobbies, and you’ll find someone, maybe a guy or girl who lives nearby, or is of the same age, or potentially a romantic interest. The problem became apparent when men—mostly men—started stalking preteen girls, pretending to be girls themselves. The producers of To Catch a Predator, a show built around catching online predators, were shocked and dismayed by the success of their show, owing to the sheer number of adult males looking to rape underage girls. Eventually, AOL got rid of their pedophile search feature, but they couldn’t remove the ugly truth we learned about humanity.

Back in the 90s, we were enamored by AOL. It was never as interesting, fun or helpful as a visit to the library, but we were amazed by the technology. Suddenly, you could talk to anyone anywhere from the comfort of your own bedroom! Problem was, we just didn’t know how awful other people could be. We assumed, as we often do, that newer means better.

In hindsight, the AOL era seems absurd. It’s like we collectively fell under a Jonestown-like spell, and now that it’s over, we are embarrassed by the hours we wasted on it. This begs the question: will we eventually come to feel about other social media platforms the way we do about chatrooms and Instant Messaging? I think the answer is already coming to fruition. Facebook users are dropping like flies, especially among the youth, who no longer see it as the thing of the future. Nobody cares what you had for breakfast, or wants to see your vacation photos, or your newborn baby. And what kind of narcissist do you have to be to share the minutia of your everyday life anyway? Do we really need to connect to everyone we’ve ever known since elementary school? Over the years, Facebook has morphed from a virtual space for friends and family, to a pop culture news channel. I use it to learn about D&D and Marvel movies, so there’s that.

Nevertheless, social media remains a powerful force in our lives, and the kids have moved on, to Instagram and Snapchat, and stuff I am too old to care about (I stopped at Twitter). What differentiates these forums from previous ones isn’t that they provide more features, but less. Twitter gives you 280 characters (up from 140) to get your point across. Instagram exists primarily for photo sharing, because nobody has the time to actually read what you have to say. Thanks to a never-ending bombardment of information, we’ve lost our ability to focus, and still hunger for more. We struggle to keep up, to separate everything that might interest us from the noise, but it’s sensory overload. If you’re reading this, you may start to wonder why you’re even here, when you could be watching Netflix, or finishing the last thing you bought for PS4, or better yet, reading a book. Our attentions have become the world’s greatest commodity, and entertainment companies are competing over it the way governments fight for oil.

Now I want you to ask yourself a simple question. Do you love Facebook? Or, if you don’t use it, some other platform? Have you ever heard anyone say, “I love Instagram!” the same way they might talk about their favorite heavy metal band or movie or book? I haven’t, and I am betting you haven’t either. And yet, according to TIME magazine, Americans look at their phones 8 billion times a day, or 46 times a day on average per person, and it’s not just for Angry Birds (fuckit I’m old). But if we are not loving what we are doing, what could be the cause of our obsession? The answer, I think, is obvious. Social media is digital heroin. I have spent my life avoiding addictions, abstaining even from beer, and yet here I am, hooked on this little plastic rectangle in my pocket. Even when I am watching my favorite TV show, I’ll pause to check the damn thing. It’s a demon that’s taken over my life, and that might be a good thing, if I truly loved my phone, but I don’t. I feel about it the way an addict feels about heroin—he doesn’t want it, but he needs it.

Like any other drug, there is a chemical component to this addiction. Every time we receive a like, or a positive comment for something we’ve written, a tiny dose of endorphins gets released in our brains. I am always looking for that next fix, and I can get pretty high whenever somebody tells me they loved my book, or found my latest post worthwhile. But just like heroin, the reward-center of our brains fails to deliver over time, and we are forced to do more just to get the same feeling. When we can’t get a like, when we feel that nobody out there truly cares, we fall into a depression.

Life is chemistry, and what separates happiness from despair is simply a matter of the chemicals running through us. Almost everything we do is for the sake of those sweet sweet endorphins, or dopamine or oxytocin; or serotonin, which you get from love and chocolate. This makes anything and everything a drug, and our brains is the biggest dealer. Food is a drug. Sex is a drug. Exercise is a drug. Drugs are drugs. But this isn’t to say that all drugs are equivalent or necessary. The purpose of our happy-chemicals is to make life rewarding, but when we choose something like heroin over, say, friendship, we are cheating the system, and this more often results in destructive consequences.

Social media is cheating the system. We become addicted to ‘likes’ because we crave approval, because we are inherently social creatures. We all have a need for belonging, for acceptance and love. But there are crucial differences between interacting online and a face-to-face chat. Online, we remain anonymous, and can disappear at a whim. Imagine walking up to a person, saying hello to them, and then watching that person simply walk away without acknowledging your existence. Such behavior borders on the cruel, and yet it happens everyday on Facebook. Aside from how we treat one another, we miss out on seeing a human face, reading another’s expressions, or hearing a tonal inflection. Wordless communication is as important as the words themselves. Social media also doesn’t take into account the sense of urgency, the sense of presence and sense of the present one finds when sharing physical space with another person. You are forced to pay attention to your loved one when they are focused on you. This makes your time together all the more meaningful, because you can’t scroll past them. This is what Facebook has failed to provide us, and as we spend more time away from real human beings, we begin to lose our sense of self. We become invisible, begin to feel inconsequential, because to almost everyone you meet online, you are.

This isn’t to say we need to rid the world of social media. Facebook brings people with diverse beliefs and opinions together. Atheists, nudists, and those among the LGBTQ community can find each other readily, particularly if they are living in the Bible Belt. Before the Internet, I used to think I was the only one who liked to go nude, or collect action figures, or play D&D. Now I know that I am not alone, that my interests are in fact common.

We need to find a sense of balance. You can have your online-only friends, but it’s just as important, if not more so, to spend time with actual flesh and blood people. But it’s not just social media that’s robbing us of our humanity. Too many of us spend hundreds of hours in front of a screen, whether it’s binge-watching Netflix, or substituting life with their favorite MMORPGs.

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Real fun with real people!

Good thing is, society is waking to the dangers of this infant internet technology, which might explain the sudden and unexpected explosion in board games. Twenty years ago, you couldn’t find a lonely chess set at my local bookstore, now there’s an enormous section of everything from Pokemon cards to Catan. Honestly, if you had told me five years ago that D&D would enjoy it’s most profitable year in 2017, I would have laughed in disbelief. But video game systems, despite their exponentially growing processing power, cannot replace genuine human interaction. When I am sitting at a table with friends and family, rolling dice, I get a sense that I am having a real experience, something I will remember and cherish. I can also say the same for the books that I’ve read. Sure, it’s all imaginary, but it’s still more rewarding than a funny meme, because there is a greater depth of meaning to be found in the pages of a carefully crafted story. Books, board games, sports (ok, I don’t do sports) endure the test of time because their value lasts in our memories, and the endorphins we get from them push us not away from life, but toward it. That’s why I can say I love D&D, and reading, and riding my bike. But I may not do those things as often as I should, because things of lasting value take time to earn, and to attain these things we must remember how to focus, and how to have patience.

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A day of cycling never feels wasted

 

I guess what I am trying to say is, click the X in the corner of this screen and pick-up a book. Or a d20. Or, use your phone as phones were intended and call a friend. Get off your lazy butt and do something. Reality is waiting.

Aenya Newsletter 03/21/2018

Existenz.

Existenz is a 1999 Sci-Fi flick about a virtual reality world much like the Matrix, which happens to have been released the same year as The Matrix. Every morning, I wake up with this word in my head. Existenz. I am not thinking about the movie, however, but the ideas the movie explores, the notion of existence itself. At forty-three years of age, the act of simply existing is beginning to weigh on me. I feel the heaviness of life’s tribulations, and a mountain of day-to-day responsibilities. What concerns me most, is that my life may resemble that of Sisyphus, the Greek king who was punished in Hades, forced to push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back again and again for all eternity. What headway am I making in the world? What does it all mean? And what value is there, truly, in becoming known and recognized, given the inevitable cold death of the universe?

Sometimes I wander my neighborhood in the bewitching hours of the night, racked by these thoughts. My blog, I am continually reminded, is aptly named. It is no exaggerating to say that artists suffer. I suppose I should take my suffering with pride. Creativity brings me great joy; it is a conduit through which to explore other worlds. But by the same token, it makes me an outsider. I am like a superhero, like Dr. Manhattan. Nobody can relate. The way I see it, I’ve got another good decade and a half to open the world to Aenya. I want people to visit this universe in my head in the way readers vacation to Middle Earth and Narnia and Westeros and the Wizarding World. With time running out, I’ve decided to give my parents two-years’ notice. Come Hell or high water, I’ll be quitting my pizza job by 2020, to turn my efforts to Aenya and beyond. 2020 is a nice round number, as is 45.

If I am Sisyphus, and the goal is nation-wide recognition, I can honestly say I am getting there. I have been receiving some really great praise on Amazon. Ages of Aenya stands at 4.5 Stars, with 10 reviews in, and 1-Star from my pet troll (hey, where you at? Miss you!). Some of my commentators are particularly eloquent:

 

At a deeper level, Ages of Aenya explores the conflicting human impulses for myth, religion, and scientific reason by mixing them together circling through the minds and discoveries of the characters he has created. There’s plenty to ponder here about what makes us human. The unashamed nakedness of the main characters strongly integrates the real and the metaphorical dimensions of honest and authentic humanity.

 

Thelana 2018

Every year, since 2003, I have commissioned a portrait of Thelana, my favorite heroine, and you don’t need heroin when you’ve got heroine. Sorry! Hal Glick used an advanced 3D modeling program for the 2018 rendition, and while I am less a fan of computer-generated art than what can be generated by the human hand, I can’t deny the beauty of this piece. Conveying the power and dignity of the nude form can be a challenge in modern day America, and as I have been discovering with the release of my book, it isn’t the feminists who give me trouble, but the men who cannot help but think of Thelana in terms of pornography. It has gotten to the point that I may abandon naked heroes altogether, not because I do not love the idea, but because this country has yet to grow out of its awkward teenage phase. Fortunately, I feel that Hal managed to steer clear of our lowest instincts with this piece. So, if you’re more than a halfman and can keep it in your pants, check out Thelana’s other portraits in my Deviant Art gallery.

 

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Thelana 2018

 

 

To Be Read: A Literary Podcast by Nick and Mars

It has become clear to me that people are moving away from blogs to podcasts and YouTube videos. I don’t blame them. While I still believe in the power of the written over the spoken word, humans are lazy, and are simultaneously being drowned by information. Who has time to sort through the noise? What makes writing so special is the depth and richness of information something like a novel can provide. No other media, film or otherwise, can fully convey the worlds contained within The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and A Game of Thrones. It is for this reason, precisely, you always hear people say “the book was better.” But the advantages of a blog are minimal. Still, I love fiction, and talking about fiction, and so my partner-in-crime, Mars, has started a literary podcast, with the aid of yours truly. Every week or so, we will be chatting up our favorite books and authors, and more importantly, we’ll be discussing current events in this crazy world we happen to be living in, and how those events are reflected and informed by literary works both classic and modern. And really, I am starting to think this is a simulation, or at the very least, that when the wave-function last collapsed, I barely slipped through to this reality . . . Ah, never-mind.

So be sure to hop on over to our new blog to hear Mars and I talk books at To Be Read.

 

Ages of Aenya Kindle Edition Now Available!!!

The long wait is over. If you’ve been living in another country, planet or plane of existence, and you have access to a smart phone or other e-reader, and if you are dying to explore Aenya, NOW is your chance!

Get Ages of Aenya Kindle Edition from Amazon for just $9.99. It’s the greatest thing since the replicating molecule.