Forward: In 2006, I started work on the sequel to my 2004 novel, The Dark Age of Enya. It quickly dawned on me, however, that POD (Print on Demand) was not a good way to sell books. Clearly, I had to seek big name publication. Two-thousand four was a painful time in my life, realizing I had to dump four years of work (1999-2003) to rewrite Enya. I also had to toss out the work in progress sequel The Dark Age of Enya 2. Flash-forward to today and the magic of the blogosphere offers me the opportunity to share Enya 2 with the world. Renamed The City of the Drowned, this is high-fantasy adventure reminiscent of Robert Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. In The City of the Drowned, you will find exotic locations, pulse-pounding action and terrifying monsters. What more could you want? Oh, how about Xandr and Thelana, the first naturist-inspired heroes?
The story so far . . .
Thelana was forced to leave her home and family to escape the encroaching drought and hunger. But in the outside world, her people, the Ilmar, are shunned as barbarians, so Thelana is forced to become a thief to survive. After she is imprisoned for attempting to steal from the Temple in the city of Hedonia, she is rescued by Xandr, the only other of her kind, before Hedonia is destroyed by a tsunami and an amphibious race known as the merquid. The two have many adventures together, fall in love, and then one day they rescue a young girl from slavery. Her name is Emma and Thelana immediately takes a disliking to her. Through Emma, the Ilmar learn of the Kingdom of Mythradanaiil and of the doomed Princess Radia, who may or may not embody the natural forces of their world. With Emma tagging along, they reach the fabled kingdom in the North, but are too late to rescue the princess from a goblin horde. Before vanishing into the ether, Radia manages to impart to Xandr a jewel containing her power. To escape the goblin underground, Xandr, Thelana and Emma battle many monsters. At one point, Emma is wounded saving Thelana’s life. Eventually, the three make their way to a stable in Alogas, where Thelana steals some horses, and then, camped out in the Endless Plains, she dreams of her lost homeland. So opens the The City of the Drowned . . .
Go to Chapter 1: Orientation
I am not stupid, as far as I can tell, but if I am, maybe I can’t tell. Either way, I appreciate all kinds of writing. My interests are as diverse as astrophysicist Stephen Hawking to evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, from translations of Homer and French classics like The Count of Monte Cristo to modern fare like The Hunger Games and comics like Batgirl: Year One (currently reading). Recently, I cracked open a publication of short-story contest winners and, while the winning entry was well written, the finalists, how shall I put this, made me feel like a 2nd grader. I mean, I couldn’t make heads or tails out of this writing. Each sentence was so cleverly crafted, so cryptically meaningful, that to me it came across like gobbledygook (the language of goblins). Names and places were tossed at random. Metaphors met like atoms in the Large Hadron Collider leaving me scratching my head in disbelief and confusion. Paragraphs were so densely filled, they were like the super dense neutron stars I’d read about in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Death by Black Hole. Here’s a sample:
But then she took a step backward, and saw me on the threshold, and in that motion was another inward turning because when she spoke again her voice was sweetened with courteousness, through what she said to my face all smiling is now not memorable. That seems to be the mechanism of memory, to gather in its thresher the heaviness, which is to say, not the smoothness of false sincerity but what has sunk to spread seed or to foul and rot in audacious stench. Something hateful inside.
After a few minutes of intense focus, this is my best translation, keeping as many metaphors as I could:
When she saw me, something turned inside of her, and when she spoke it was sweet and she was smiling, but I don’t remember what was said. Memory doesn’t keep false sincerity. I recall only the heaviness of her hatred for me, which had spread like a rotting stench.
Better, don’t you think?
Now don’t get me wrong . . . not all short fiction is this way. I adore Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. And Flash Fiction, which I’d read in college, was composed of some brilliant, inspiring and hair-raising stuff. I also appreciated the works of my classmates, some of whom were brilliant. But with the book of contest winners in my hands . . . I am forced to wonder, is this good writing? In my view, fiction should be fiction, not poetry. I have advocated a resurgence of poetic writing in many of my posts, but if a story forces you to read the same sentence two or three times, it’s too clever for me. In desperation I sought counsel from fellow author Michael Sullivan, who wisely reminded me that there are a wide range of tastes; don’t fall into the trap that what you don’t like others won’t. Fine, I can understand that. But the question remains, outside of the classroom, who likes this stuff? Let’s face it, fiction has stiff competition in this ADHD generation, from movies, video games and the Internet. There isn’t a huge demographic for short fiction to begin with. I remember studying something similar, American Masterpiece Fiction, which nobody in my class really enjoyed. Now here we had a group of students uniquely dedicated to the written word, a minor demographic indeed, and yet our consensus was almost always huh?. But there must be people in the world who appreciate this kind of writing, like the Mexican tribes featured in National Geographic who speak nearly-dead languages, otherwise nobody would be awarding them winners of contests.
When I published The Dark Age of Enya in 2004, many criticized that the writing was esoteric and difficult to read. I’d tried too hard to be clever, I realized, and like Yoda said to Luke, I had to unlearn what I had learned. So much for college.
The danger in trying to be the next Shakespeare is that poetry can be confused with being obscure. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever read is poetry makes the rock rocky. If done correctly, a well written piece clarifies, makes details pop from the page, brings the fictional world to life. Beautiful writing are the special effects of fiction. It should never make things obscure.
Or maybe I’m just stupid.
I juggle many balls. Between owning and operating a restaurant (anyone who watches Restaurant Impossible knows how hard this is), to being a father to two young girls (ages 2 and 7), to cycling (for health and hobby), I have a very limited time for writing. On my 36th birthday, I had a nervous breakdown after realizing my life had become too much for me to handle. Something had to give. But having been neglected by my own father throughout my childhood (and even adulthood), taking time away from my kids was out of the question. So I decided to work less, trusting in my delegation skills to get things done.
It’s hard to believe I started the Dark Age of Enya in 1999, which was published as a POD book by Xlibris in 2004. I did a book signing at Barnes & Nobles where I sold nine copies and did a second signing at Caliente Resort where I sold another nine. I even had a couple good reviews in magazines. Unfortunately, they were naturist magazines and hardly more popular than the book itself, so sales didn’t jump much. Of course, for anyone familiar with my life, I was chastised on Sci-Fi/Fantasy forums for going the self-publication route, by people who can never begin to imagine the enormous challenge that is traditional publishing. Despite the popularity of The Dark Age of Enya among tiny circles, I decided to dedicate the next five years to refining Enya into the masterpiece I knew it could be. Only problem? Time. Like I said, I juggle many balls. Without editing, I could have finished my 600 page novel in months. But I am an obsessive, you can say obsessive compulsive, editor. I spend, on average, about an hour per page. In addition, I believe it takes at least three revisions before a story can be its best. Right now, Ages of Aenya, which I completed last year, needs another pass. At two chapters per week (remember, I juggle a lot!) this project should take about 4 months (hopefully).
In the meantime, I hate to neglect my blog. I started The Writer’s Disease as a way to reach out to fans and to build an online presence. So far, I’ve managed to rank fairly high on Google as far as blogs go. My most popular post has garnered over 2000 hits and a day after posting The Martian Chronicles review I was contacted by Daniel Levy who is working on the opera version! Yessiree, my blog is going places . . . and yet, one more ball to juggle!
To keep my one-post-a-week pace, I am introducing a new series: Rough Cut Fiction, fiction that has only gone through one pass of editing. Why? Because if I had time for three passes, I wouldn’t be needing this series. Despite being rough cut, these stories are entertaining in their own right. In my Fan-fiction days, I won contests for stories less polished. Keep in mind, the only reason I am making this post is to alleviate my OCD/guilt for posting anything less than perfect. In my defense, I think being an author is a lot like being an Olympic athlete. In the Olympics, athletes push themselves to their limit, often breaking bones and ripping tendons. Likewise, if I were to put the same obsessive detail into everything I do, something in my brain would most certainly burst. Writers and athletes can’t push themselves that hard all the time—but a figure skater in the mall can still be entertaining to watch even if she doesn’t pull off a perfect axel jump.
The first rough cut story I’ll be posting is The Dark Age of Enya 2, the direct sequel to The Dark Age of Enya. I fully intended to publish it before I decided to go back to refine the original. The first part of the story is complete, so you won’t be reading anything without a conclusion (unlike many published books). And, who knows, some of it may end up in the official sequel to Ages of Aenya, so you, dear fan, can think of this as a sneak peek into the future of Xandr and crew. Despite being written in 2006 in Morocco, no one has ever laid eyes on it, and I hope fans of the original novel will find it worth the look!
Ray Bradbury died last month on June 5th. In honor of his memory, I decided to review his 1950’s masterpiece, The Martian Chronicles. I am almost ashamed to admit that I’d never read any of Bradbury’s books before. I am familiar with many of the giants of Sci-Fi, like Wells, Asimov, Clarke and Frank Herbert, but Bradbury somehow fell under my radar.
But The Martian Chronicles is much more than a collection of well crafted words. Ray Bradbury definitely has something to say, using science fiction as a pulpit from which to comment on the many issues of his day. The 1940’s and 50’s was a radical time. It saw the end of the second World War, the possibility of nuclear apocalypse, and the continued struggle for race equality in America. It was a fertile time for social commentary. In The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury’s Mars is a mirror reflecting the prejudice and ignorance of human society. In this regard I identify as a kindred spirit. Bradbury rails against everything from racism to dishonesty in government to the hubris of religion and science. In one controversial story, edited out of some editions, black people, oppressed by their American “bosses” and by the KKK, build a rocket ship to find a new world of equality. Mars is a clean slate from which humanity has an opportunity to start anew; the red planet, and the Martians who inhabit it, exist as a kind of Eden, or Ilmarinen (if you’re familiar with my book). Unfortunately, the first human explorers bring their humanity with them.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There is a bit of dark humor and silliness to be found here, as even Bradbury could not take himself too seriously. In the early parts of the book, hilarity ensues when the first astronauts attempt to make alien contact. Despite the Martians ability to communicate with Earthlings, trouble comes from the clash of cultures. As precursors to Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Bradbury’s Martians are so mentally and physiologically alien, relations between them and humans becomes impossible.
If there is one small caveat I might make, it’s that The Martian Chronicles isn’t what I expected. It’s more of an anthology than a straightforward novel. Many of the stories were previously published in Sci-Fi magazines. Despite this fact, every story is self-contained within the same chronological universe, and characters from previous stories make reappearances later on. The biggest criticism one could argue is that there are no protagonists, and I sometimes wished to continue in the same character’s footsteps, but it later dawned on me that it’s not the individuals that matter. Bradbury’s novel exists on much greater time scales, and to tell the story through the eyes of one or two people would be missing the point. The focus, rather, is on the setting as the characters move through it. Setting is the character. And just like any good character, Mars has its struggles for identity and survival and its transitional epiphany. Humanity is the other protagonist. When these two meet, there is wooing, shunning, mutual understanding, and finally, coexistence. It is, in some way, a love story.
The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself
Yes, I am a nudist! Or naturist, as I prefer to call myself. I’ve been beating around the bush regarding this issue, hinted at it here and there, in articles and in my fiction, and to many of my astute readers this may come as no surprise. So here it is, my official “coming out” so to speak, or maybe “my undressing” is a better metaphor. Why else would I have dedicated the past ten years of my life to a fantasy novel with nudist/naturist heroes? I have been a nudist since I was twelve years old, from the time I visited the Cycladic Islands of Greece, where bathing suits were often too formal. I spent every summer on those beaches, and it was not long before I realized life is better without clothes, even while doing algebra. Back home in the U.S., I explored secluded woods the way nature intended, and whenever the parents were away, the clothes stayed off. But most of my friends and family would never guess that I spend most of my time in the buff. For decades, I’ve kept this a secret, fretting over how people would react, because there are too many misconceptions and negative stereotypes regarding nudism. But society is changing. With the numerous scandals involving the Catholic Church, the battle for gay rights within Protestant denominations, and continued terrorist acts associated with Islam, organized religion is losing its moral authority. At the same time, the advent of social media has delivered an explosion of understanding and tolerance. People once afraid to ask about different lifestyles can now find like minded individuals from around the globe. Homosexuality, an issue most people feared to discuss in the 80’s, is rapidly gaining popular support, and I have no doubt that in ten or twenty years, society will accept gay marriage as they have interracial couples. While nudism is not nearly as stigmatized in the public eye as is the LGBT community, I can identify with the need to hide oneself from scrutiny. But I find courage in the new society that is dawning, a society where personal identity will be an inalienable right, where people, including those who prefer not to wear clothes, will be afforded the same respect as those of differing faith and sexual orientation.
First, let me address what naturism is not. It is most definitely not about sex. My mores are as conservative as can be. I believe the best arrangement for lovers is post-marital sex, because there are far too many unwanted pregnancies and single parents in this country. Of course, it’s hard to argue that that is a realistic goal, but I’ve always followed one simple rule: sleep with someone you love. A couple can better raise a child, even if the child came about by accident. So for me, nudism/naturism has nothing to do with sex. You might find this difficult to believe if you’ve been raised, like most people, to equate the human body with intercourse. You might suspect us to be closet perverts. But from a naturist point of view, textiles (non-naturists) are the sex crazed weirdos. Think about it this way, the textile philosophy is this: every man, woman and child must be clothed at all times because, if not, we’ll all want to have sex with one another. A naturist, on the other hand, looks at a body sans apparel and simply sees another human being. We have no fear of accidentally seeing our siblings or friends in the shower or changing booth. Desire for fornication does not overwhelm our judgment. Don’t believe me? In college, I spent two days at a resort, fully naked with a girl from New Jersey. We ate naked; we played pool volleyball naked; we played scrabble naked, and guess what? No sex. We didn’t even kiss. Why? Because I hardly knew her. She was going back home the following day and neither of us wanted a meaningless fling.
On the other hand, naturists are not sexless robots. Unfortunately, this is a common misconception even among naturist communities. Nudists/naturists have been fighting the idea that nudity = sex mainly because sex was, for the past century, taboo outside of marriage. But public mores have moved on. Society no longer demonizes fornication and even the “one-night stand” has lost its stigma. I have the impression that if nudism was about sex, it might actually gain popularity. The truth is, nudists, like everyone else, appreciate the human body for its beauty and yes, its sex appeal. Does this contradict my earlier paragraph? No. Human nature is complex. These days, sex appeal is everywhere, from sports cars to clothing to movies. Needless to say, Avatar would have been far less appealing had the Navi been giant blue blobs. In Avengers, Black Widow would not have been as popular without her ass-hugging tights. Even tutus and bikinis are designed with sex appeal in mind. Does this equate going to the beach with visiting a porn shop? Of course not. Naturists appreciate the human body in the same way a man might enjoy seeing an attractive girl in a bikini, yet, just like at the beach, there is little fear at a naturist resort that an orgy will break out. We’re human beings, after all, not animals.
Thirdly, nudism/naturism has nothing to do with gawking at people. A visit to any resort will almost instantly dismiss this myth, because seeing hundreds of naked people of all shapes and sizes, from toddlers to grandmothers, is anything but arousing. And if gawking is something you crave, there are specific places set aside for that. After my second trip to a strip club, I was disgusted and have never gone again.
Fourthly, naturists are not weird. Sure, we’re in the minority, but we’re not impractical. Every time a TV show tries to make fun of us, they seem to have a hard time keeping the joke going, or they find some crazy person that doesn’t represent the movement at all. Nudists/naturists are just “too normal” for TV. If it’s cold, we put on clothes. If it’s hot, we take them off. If we’re in a public place, like a restaurant or a grocery store, we dress appropriately. Would I prefer to live naked 24/7? Certainly! But we do not live in the Amazon, or in Ilmarinen, and I no more wish to go to Carrabbas naked than anyone in a bathing suit. There is a proper time and place for everything.
Now to address a bit of absurdity: naturists/nudists do not live in colonies. What, exactly, is a nudist colony? We’re not a nation of people. We can’t show up on some distant shore to plant a flag for our people. In reality, nudists/naturists are everywhere. If you don’t immediately dress after taking a shower, you might be a nudist yourself. People also think we like to move in circles. They say we “parade” around in the nude, like we’re putting ourselves on display. We are equated to flashers, to attention grabbers, or strippers. They think we want to shock and offend people with our genitals. But nothing could be further from the truth. Visit any clothing optional beach and you will always find the naked people at the very far end, often in hiding. Typically, we get the worst parts of the coast, with the rocks and the urchins and the seaweed, because we do not want to offend anyone or draw attention to ourselves.
So if it’s not about sex, gawking or showing off, what’s the point? Answering that question is like answering why it’s fun to dance, or to swim, or to bike. You just have to experience it to understand. You’ve probably been a naturist at some point in your life already and forgotten. You weren’t born ashamed of your body. Take a diaper off a toddler and watch how joyfully they run around the living room. Clothing is a learned habit, a product of society, not nature.
OK, but clothing is certainly a good thing, right? People can’t revert to animals and go live in the jungle . . . and I agree. I will be the first to admit that “primitivism” is a bad idea. Modern society provides access to food and medicine and shelter that I wouldn’t want to live without. On the other hand, much of what modern society has given us is also harmful, like the sedentary lifestyle brought on by TV and the Internet, or the salty foods and high-fructose corn syrup that is slowly killing us. So we have to choose the good from the bad, and modern society’s obsession with hiding the human body has been and continues to be harmful, to both children and adults.
Naturism, in all reality, is a non-thing. Just like cold is the absence of heat, naturism is the absence of shame. Shame can be a good thing for the right reasons. It should be shameful to lie, cheat, or steal. But simply having a body, and being seen in that body, should never be shameful. Naturism, as a movement, exists as a response to an outdated prejudice.
To me, naturism means many things; it is a philosophy with numerous implications.
1. Naturism = Self Respect: Nudity is not uncommon in our world. We see it everywhere, from Cosmopolitan magazine to films like Machete to your local strip club. Women (and men) are allowed to show their bodies only if they fit an extremely narrow and unrealistic conception of beauty. The message this sends to young people is clear: if you don’t look a certain way, you must hide your ugliness. This is a harmful message in that it causes girls (and sometimes boys) to become anorexic, bulimic, or to simply hate themselves. If people could only see the wider range of body types that exist in the world, they might not hate their own.
2. Naturism = Equality: We are all human beings, living on the same planet, made up of the same parts. That much is simple. From an African American to an Anglo-Saxon to a Hindu to a Jew, we are all remarkably similar. Without clothes, Bill Gates looks no wealthier than a homeless man and the President no more important than his janitor. Unfortunately, the labels we create for ourselves divide us, causing us to envy, to hate, and to wage wars. It’s so much easier to kill another human being when he or she is seen as something alien. Uniforms identify the enemy. In nothing but our bodies, we find little difference between us. Imagine how quickly the Palestinian/Israeli conflict would dissolve if the people of that region focused on their shared humanity rather than on their fairy tales.
3. Naturism = Feminism: Look around the world. Wherever women are forced to hide their bodies, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Saudi Arabia, the women have little freedom and are deemed inferior to men. In Spain, France, Sweden and Norway, where women can go topless in public, you will find sexual equality. In Finland, one of the most liberal and pro-naturist nations on Earth, education is #1 in the world. Compare that to Afghanistan, where women were unable, until recently, to show even their eyes in public, the literacy rate was as low as 18%. For centuries, it was believed that modest dress protected a woman’s dignity. But for a man to dictate what their wives, girlfriends, sisters or daughters are allowed to wear, if they choose to be clothed at all, robs them of their right to define themselves. A woman walking the streets in skimpy shorts signals she is a prostitute, but another woman on the beach, wearing even less, is given no labels. Without the nude taboo, women could only be judged by their character. Modest clothing has less to do with sexual mores and more to do with power. What are we saying to half the population when the only time they can be legally naked is in the act of entertaining men?
4. Naturism = Environmentalism. The Religious Right and the conservative movement have long fought efforts to save the environment. Why? The reasons are numerous, but one might be found in the Bible, where, in the book of Genesis, God gives man dominion over nature. Basically, the thinking goes, we can destroy nature because we’re above it. But as a naturist, I do not see myself as a separate thing from nature. Human beings are highly evolved, highly intelligent animals, but animals nonetheless. It’s obvious when looking at the naked body how much a part of nature we are. For a naturist, devastating animal habitats is a crime against family.
5. Naturism = Health. Few websites equate the two, but at the turn of the century, nudism/naturism was considered a health movement. It was argued that sunshine and fresh air were good for the body, which is most certainly the case, but of course that part of the movement died quickly when people with more common sense argued, and I paraphrase here, “Does the sun have to shine where the sun don’t shine to get enough vitamin D?” I do believe, however, that naturism is healthy in other ways. It promotes outside activity, like swimming and hiking, which are more enjoyable in the nude, and it forces us to take care of this thing we call a body, which naturists have profound respect for. Part of the stigma that nudists/naturists face today is that the movement is made up of aged, out-of-shape people, and from my experience this seems to be largely the case. If we ever wish to go mainstream, we’ll need to shape up. Of course, this isn’t to say that we need to fit the narrow mold of beauty established by the magazine industry, but we do need to learn to eat healthy and exercise, because ingesting processed foods and sitting on our naked butts all day is far less natural, and far more harmful, than wearing clothes.
6. Naturism = Spirituality. This is a tough one to explain, especially if you’ve never experienced it yourself, but I’ve felt closer to God in my birthday suit than I have ever felt in stuffy Sunday clothes in church. There is just something spiritually uplifting, awe-inspiring even, when you’re naked in an environment untouched by civilization, without any synthetic fibers to remind you of time and place. On a beach in a Greek island, I stood on a rock where the Ancient Greeks stood, where prehistoric man stood millions of years ago; they felt the same sensations on their bare feet, watched the same tides roll in and out, looked dreamily over the same sky. Without clothing to remind me of my daily existence, past and present melded into one, and I could feel the connection between my body and an infinite universe.
7. Naturism = Romanticism. As a writer, I feel that I have a special appreciation for nature and the human body that even many naturists do not share. Writers challenge the status quo, transcending social prejudices and boundaries to get at the truth or essence of life. For me, it is no coincidence that I should love both writing and naturism. The two go hand-in-hand, especially in the literary romantic tradition (not to be confused with romance) which often romanticizes (to put simply, makes larger than life) both nature and the human body. Here are just a few quotes I would love to have written myself:
Walt Whitman American writer, A Sun-bathed Nakedness:
Never before did I get so close to Nature; never before did she come so close to me… Nature was naked, and I was also… Sweet, sane, still Nakedness in Nature! – ah if poor, sick, prurient humanity in cities might really know you once more! Is not nakedness indecent? No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your fear, your respectability, that is indecent. There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent.
Henry David Thoreau, In wildness is the preservation of the world., Walking:
We cannot adequately appreciate this aspect of nature if we approach it with any taint of human pretense. It will elude us if we allow artifacts like clothing to intervene between ourselves and this Other. To apprehend it, we cannot be naked enough.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, from Tarzan,
Clothes he abhorred – uncomfortable, hideous, confining things that reminded him somehow of bonds securing him to the life he had seen the poor creatures of London and Paris living. Clothes were the emblems of that hypocrisy for which civilization stood – a pretense that the wearers were ashamed of what the clothes covered, of the human form made in the semblance of God.
Many other authors were naturists, including Victor Hugo, Ernest Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, Benjamin Franklin, Franz Kafka, and Robert Heinlein. My dream, ultimately, is to inspire change in the world. But that change can never happen if we are too afraid to show the world who we are and what we believe.
To learn more about naturism/nudism, you can visit these websites: