156,584

That’s it. The final word count of my latest book, Age of Aenya. After six long years, I am done with it.

Normally, I like to put more thought into these posts, but tonight I wanted to throw my feelings out into the world raw and unedited. My immediate emotion is relief—this book has been like a thorn in my brain. The names, the plot points, the dialogues; they’ve all been rummaging around in my skull as I took pizza orders or changed diapers. Getting out on paper is a catharsis.

I hesitate to call this book a rewrite. It may have started out that way after the devastating failure of my self-published book The Dark Age of Enya. But so much has changed in the rewrite, I doubt you could even find a single sentence intact from the old. The only things that have really remained the same is the world and the characters, which is good because that’s why I didn’t want to let the old book go: Xandr and Thelana and Emma are my friends, are parts of me—they’ve evolved through me as I’ve lived. Xandr is everything from my childhood that made me love fiction and fantasy, parts He-Man, Conan, Odysseus. Thelana is my passion for naturism; she is carpe diem; she is eternal youth—the girl running naked through the woods teasing me with her superior laughter mocking my adolescent mind. And Emma . . . Emma is the bookworm, the writer, the friendless high schooler vying for the love of parent and daydreaming of friendships. How could I simply abandon these people, which I worked so hard to give birth to, in search of other peoples’ stories to tell? So I am glad that I could, at least, give new life to the children of my brain.

Looking back, I don’t feel that The Dark Age of Enya was a bad book; it is, on the surface, your basic adventure story. My inspirations for it was an odd mix of He-Man, H.P. Lovecraft and Homer. When the book got panned, I realized that Lovecraft does not make for good novels—his stories are plot driven, not character driven, and it’s difficult for people to wade through six hundred pages or so without truly caring about the characters. As for Homer, he is an acquired taste, loved more by history buffs than readers of fiction. For six years, as I struggled to make a home, raise a family, be a good husband and run a business in tough economic times, I devoured every book I could find, anything to make me a better writer. I wanted to expand the scope of my work—to make it accessible to all. I never wished to cater to the fantasy buff alone—to players of World of Warcraft or Dungeons & Dragons; I have no desire to mine further into tales of elves and dragons and dwarves—but to become a Stephen King for those who don’t necessarily adore horror, a J.K. Rowling to those who aren’t fixated with the occult. I read George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame, Scott Bakker, Dan Simmons, R.A. Salvatore, Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis, as well as the less orthodox authors such as J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, Albert Camus, Neil Gaiman and the king of the unorthodox, Joseph Heller. Whatever I could learn from them, without losing my own voice and strength of narrative, I did. The end result is a book that, I believe, is leaps and bounds beyond the original, deeper, richer, more complex and far more meaningful. I wrote it to be published, of course, by the big publishers—but even if rejected, I am proud of this one like I never was with the old; I am more confident that it is worthy of shelf space. Believing in oneself is the greatest challenge any writer can deal with, especially in the face of criticism. I think I have achieved that, and if I have to go on the road, hit every bookstore from here to California to prove it, I will.

Next week, I will begin work on a summary to send to those with the power to decide my fate. And then, maybe, just maybe, I’ll post the new prologue. For those of you who have supported me all these years, directly or indirectly, you have my eternal gratitude.

          
   

Money and Art Make Strange Bedfellows

Internet land is rife with a very angry bunch of people who have nothing better to do than decry certain individuals for being, for lack of a better word, “sellouts”. George Lucas is most famous for this, with message board posts going something like this: “Once, George cared about art! But now, he’s just a businessman, a sellout!” But what exactly is art, or artistic integrity, and what does it mean to be a sellout? These terms are difficult to define. There is this popular notion that the “true” artist cares little about money or success—that everything the true artiste does or doesn’t do is in the sacred name of his art. But just how accurate is this notion? And how legitimate is this hatred for people of film, literature and music spewed by bloggers the world over?

Is Rodin’s Balzac a work of art or
was he just a sellout?

Most people consider Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel a true masterpiece. But Michelangelo had little desire to paint the ceiling, doing so rather reluctantly after being pressured by the church. Auguste Rodin, famous for the Thinker, was commissioned by the Parisian government to create a statue of France’s most famous novelist, Balzac. Although Rodin worked enthusiastically for many years on the statue, the completed work was hated by the French, so much so that Balzac’s sculpt was hidden for decades before finally becoming accessible to the public. Like Michelangelo, he did what he was paid to do. But unlike the Sistine Chapel, Balzac was universally panned. Of course, no one today would argue that Rodin was a sellout. If born during the Internet Age, however, I’ve no doubt his integrity as an artist would be challenged. In music, consider the depiction of Mozart in Amadeus (which, I know, is of questionable accuracy). The film depicts Mozart’s greatest compositions being those for which he was paid, including his own funeral dirge.

What the public perceives as “art” has little to do with the circumstances surrounding how the art originated and more to do with the end result: does the public think the work any good? Typically, if the work moves people emotionally, it is labeled great art; if, on the other hand, the work is deemed inferior, the artist’s integrity is challenged.

The subject of art and business is near and dear to my heart. When I was in college, I rebelled against my creative writing teacher; the first chapter of our textbook insisted that art had little to do with inspiration and more to do with hard work. Since this didn’t feel like the position of the true artiste, I flat out told the teacher the book was bunk and I refused to read it. Due to my passioned argument, he told me I didn’t have to. I wish now I wasn’t so pigheaded; it would have saved me lots of heartache. I would have learned that great art can come from the head as well as the heart, and that, usually, the very best art comes out of a confluence of the two.

Unlike Michelangelo or Mozart, some artists with purely artistic intentions churn out garbage; case in point: Lady in the Water by M. Night Shyamalan. This was a movie that, as the director describes it, came straight from the heart, an actual bedtime story he told to his kids. Despite its artistic intentions, the film was universally panned and Shyamalan’s promising career as “the next Spielberg” quickly disintegrated. George Lucas had the same problem with his first art house film, THX 1138, which was based on a student film he made in college. The film was a flop both commercially and critically, and only after succumbing to studio pressure did he come up with American Graffiti. Though Graffiti was largely based on Lucas’ childhood, and no doubt came from the heart, it was financial pressure that pushed him to making it. Decades later, when Lucas made the Star Wars prequels, which he described as the first films he was allowed to make without studio intervention (purely artistic) the films were met mostly with criticism. Many argued that Lucas no longer cared about art—that the prequels were intended solely as moneymakers, but considering the billions he earns running his FX company Industrial Light and Magic, that doesn’t make any sense. If anything, the prequels were a huge expense for Lucas, paid for directly out of pocket. Though Episode I made a fortune for him in merchandising, the expense for the movies could have been split by 20th Century Fox, as the 1977 film, but just as in Empire Strikes Back, Lucas funded the prequels to maintain artistic integrity. Whether the prequels were any good is beyond the scope of this blog, but I’ve never questioned George Lucas’ artistic integrity.

Often, art and commercial appeal go hand in hand. I learned this in the most painful way in 2004 when I wrote my first book, which came straight from the heart to become a total fiasco. After a bout of depression and much soul searching, I reevaluated my beliefs and started reworking the book. In the rewrite, I took greater care to consider the interests of the reader. Rather than becoming a sellout, the need for commercial viability pushed me to becoming a better artist. The end product, Age of Aenya, has, in my opinion, greater artistic integrity than the old version. This mode of thinking is contrary to the notion of “art for art sake,” but a whole lot of heartbreak taught me otherwise.

I don’t think anyone can say what is in the heart of any artist. I cannot presume to call anyone a sellout. I cannot bring myself to believe that anyone who once cared about the craft would stop caring over love of money. But I do believe that, due to need of money, an artist may direct his efforts toward more commercially viable art. Does that mean he has lost his artistic integrity? No. The two concepts are mutually exclusive but often exist in a state of confluence.

The Internet is so rife with couch critics calling famous people sellouts that Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of South Park fame, in one Interview decided that, knowing they would be called sellouts eventually, decided to jump the gun and admit that their goal all along was to “sell out as soon as possible.”