The Cast

Illustration by Alexey Lipatov

Thelana is swift and cunning, adept in archery and swordplay, skills she attained as a hunter struggling for survival in the wilds of Aenya. After returning from war, she finds her home in Ilmarinen an abandoned ruin. With no food and no family, she seeks to survive in the world capital of Hedonia, stealing when she can. Wanting more than to live in the slums as a vagabond, she climbs into the Temple of Sargonus, where she is caught prying the pearl eyes from the idol of the Sea God. In a cold dark recess beneath the city, she waits as a prisoner.

Illustration by Tazio Bettin

Xandr: The people of Aenya know him only as a naked savage, a wild man, a recluse. He is driven to madness by the loss of his mentor and the destruction of his monastery home. Emmaxis, his sword and his burden, whispers violent suggestions to his mind. Summoned from the swamps to the imperial city of Hedonia, Xandr discovers there is more to his life then ever he could imagine. For thousands of years, as their holy history shows, the high priests of Hedonia have awaited him. All the while, a portent of doom hangs over the city as merquid creep upon the shore to murder the innocent.

EmmaWeb

Illustration by Alexey Lipatov

Emma wears black robes that don’t fit her. Her sleeves hang past her fingers and the hem drags along the ground, gathering the grime from the streets of Northendell. She has no friends but the ravens, an evil omen among her people. When the birds are away, her only respite is to play her flute and converse with herself. From before she can remember, Emma has known she must never go into the study of her tower home, where her father secludes himself, toiling morning and night. As she grows into womanhood, her awkwardness brings undue attention, and Emma, accused of witchcraft, becomes an outcast from the only place she’s known as home.

 

Illustration by Julia Bax

Grimosse is a construct of dead flesh brought to life by the lost arts of the Zo. Though he maintains no allegiance to the Empire, he wears the gold and crimson standards of the Hedonian legionnaire. An immense hammer, weighing several times that of a man, is uniquely suited to his inhuman strength. From whence he came, nobody knows. He is discovered wandering the northern plains by a Hedonian patrol. Nothing subdues the monster’s rage but the pleas of the High Priest’s daughter, Merneptes, when her caravan is overcome during a revolt. The golem follows her dutifully for years until her suicide, when the city is overcome by waves and merquid.

Why I Hate Facebook (But Still Use it Everyday)

Social media is designed to depress you. Studies have already linked Facebook to unhappiness and one author I know called Internet forums, “poison for writers.” If you’re a celebrity or if you already have a name in the public sphere, sites like Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and YouTube (to name a few) only help to increase your presence, but if you are a nobody occupying an obscure little niche on the web, chances are, you will never escape obscurity. Despite extremely rare cases statistically equivalent to winning the lottery (Justin Bieber comes to mind) people continue to strive to make a name for themselves through the awesomely vast and vacuous arena that is the Internet. For just this reason, Facebook is the most popular website world wide. You might think it should be Wikipedia, with its amazing feat of collecting all human knowledge (think about that for a moment, ALL HUMAN KNOWLEDGE) accessible by a Smartphone you can keep in your pocket. If Jules Verne or H.G. Wells could only see Wikipedia, they would likely consider it the ultimate human achievement. And yet, we would be embarrassed to admit that, just as in The Time Machine, humanity has lost its way. Like the herd minded Eloi, we’ve become uninterested in knowledge (now that we have it) succumbing entirely to the siren song of self-importance. Social media promises everyone a voice, as if we can all be famous, but what they do not tell you is that when everyone is famous, nobody can be. Truth is ugly and sometimes hurts. We can’t all be smart or clever or talented. And of those few people gifted with a modicum of ability, their voices are too often lost amid the hate speech, the misspellings, and the tortured grammar polluting the Information Superhighway. But that is the nature of total, absolute information—you get the good with the bad, and the bad buries the good like a needle in a haystack. What’s worse, this constant bombardment of information (I call this information pollution) makes it impossible to give even your Friends adequate attention. So what do we do? We compete. We try to outdo one another for Likes, and the sad thing is, what we Like is rarely the most well constructed, thought provoking or meaningful. Soundbites. Funny cartoons. Politics and philosophy are condensed so that nothing of nuance or depth is left. No wonder the gun debate has become so inane. Even the battle between liberals and conservatives is being fought with pithy slogans.

Finding ourselves adrift and insignificant in this new age ocean of information, as we vie for attention, as we struggle to justify why we should be considered more than a bit or byte on someone else’s computer screen, we slowly turn into narcissists. Just look at the recent mass murders. Adam Lanza was obsessed with “outdoing” the Norwegian killer. Read Chris Dorner’s manifesto, the ex-LAPD cop who went on a killing rampage. You might think Dorner would have mostly personal things to say in his manifesto, about his life and the reasons for his violent actions, but almost 50% of it is devoted to what you might see on Facebook: Dorner expressing his political and personal views, from everything to popular music and television to Michelle Obama’s bangs. By becoming a murderer, his name shot straight to the top of the search engines (look, I am talking about him now!) and no doubt he knew it would happen. He knew he would have the ear of the entire world, that people would now listen to him, maybe even care, about what he has to say. Dorner’s manifesto is just an example of the kind of narcissism brought upon by this new age of social media.

As for me, I am not a popular blogger by any count. Thirty-five thousand views so far and growing, but what the numbers mean I could not tell you. Blogger gives these stats to me, and like an addict I check them daily, as if they matter somehow—as if I am part of some Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game that counts views instead of points. But how many of those views account for anything in the real world? How much closer does it get me to becoming a recognized author? A view, by blogger’s accounting, is a far cry from a read, and a read is even less than genuinely moving a human being with words, which is what writing, for me, is all about. 

It’s the disparity between expectation and reality that has brought me to a deep depression. Through blogging, I intended to make myself known as a writer, and if that sounds narcissistic to you, then maybe it is, but at least it’s through hard work and perseverance that I try to achieve my voice, not through cheap soundbites and certainly not by killing anyone. I do not believe I am entitled to be heard just for being alive either. But a blog is not a place to make a following. The returns are too little. I do have some popular posts, with hits of up to seven thousand, but what makes those posts popular has nothing to do with writing skill. Naturist/nudist articles get a lot of attention because there aren’t too many good naturist/nudist blogs out there, and because it’s a niche group needing representation on social media. If there was a nudist shelf at Barnes & Nobles, I doubt I would get as much feedback as I do now. My post about the video game, Mass Effect 3, has more than a thousand views, and I honestly could not care less about it. What matters to me is fiction. But original fiction (not Fan-fiction) is anathema to the Internet. People cannot search for something they do not know exists. Who typed Harry Potter into a search engine before the book was published? Nobody.

The lure of social media makes it easy to forget what is really important. Soundbites take the place of real discourse, because we cannot be bothered to pay more than two seconds attention to any one thing. But a good writer must, by definition, go against the grain of popular social media. George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire is an epic work of fiction because it is everything Facebook is not. It is long and layered and takes a great deal of patience to appreciate. To be a writer and to court the soundbite masses is to invite emotional disaster. Bombarded by ads for everything from political activism to penis pumps, no one has time to give real writing a chance.

The road to literary stardom is long and dark and lonely. To succeed, it is a path one must take alone, forgoing the easy path of social media. From now on, I will avoid the immediately popular, the trends and fads that make up so much of Facebook. I will devote more of my time to the minutia of Aenya—to the Bestiary, to the Geography and the Biographies. None of that will make me popular with nudists or video game bloggers or anyone else for that matter. In fact, my last Bestiary entry, about bogrens, garnered only 11 views (eleven!). Being a successful writer is all about faith. It’s about stepping into the Lion’s Den confident you will not be swallowed by the indifference of the world, forging ahead toward the light of your own vision, even when nobody else can see it.

UPDATE: I recently came across this remarkable YouTube video, which offers scientific evidence for why social media is making us depressed (and lonely):      


       
UPDATE 2: For a more humorous slant, check out this article in the Onion: Number of Users Who Actually Enjoy Facebook Down to Four

Book Review: The Dark Age of Enya

Wait. What? How can you be reviewing “The Dark Age of Enya”? Aren’t you the author? Yes, I am. But I am not going to be reviewing it. What I am going to do is post the two official reviews from 2004. The first is the most infamous, the one I have mentioned many a time on my blog and in my bio—the one that broke my heart, that utterly destroyed my confidence, the Dear John letter to my writing career. Why am I bothering with this? Because the damn thing has been haunting me ever since 2004. By posting it here, by confronting it again, by looking at it openly for what it is, I hope to dispel its power over me.

Looking at it now, you may wonder what all of the fuss was about. You had to understand my mindset at the time. I was already depressed by my failure to generate sales. I did book signings, sought magazine reviews, and tried my darnedest to promote it on related forums where I was often treated like a computer criminal. This review was my last hope. So without further ado, here it is,


Xandr is the last man of his people, the Ilmar. After the destruction of his home by the dark centaur Nessus, Xandr wanders the realms of the world of Enya bearing the legendary sword Emmaxis, knowing only that he has been chosen by the goddess Alashiya to be the Batal of legend who will end the Dark Age.

Following a summons to the city of Hedonia, only to witness the destruction of Hedonia at the hands of the Merquid, Xandr flees with his fellow Ilmar Thelana, the last woman of his people, and the golem Grimosse, to seek out his destiny.

If you’re thinking this sounds predictable, you would be right. The back cover of the book as well as Nick Alimonos’ own commentary on Amazon plays up the fact that he is tired of formula-driven fantasy and wanted to create something meaningful. While there are some good moments here and there, The Dark Age of Enya fails to live up to this ideal.

Aside from the plot that leaves little to the imagination, the characters don’t fare much better. Despite Alimonos’ attempts to provide some background for them (which does manage to be one of the better bits of the story), they never really rise above the archetypes of fantasy, especially Xandr.

Finally, the style could have used a bit more buffing. I hate to criticize too much on this point since it is the author’s first published novel, but let it be said.

The Dark Age of Enya has its share of issues but if you’re looking for something that doesn’t break the mold of “traditional” fantasy, this may be right up your.

He gave The Dark Age of Enya a 5 out of 10 stars, which doesn’t sound too bad. It was more the critique itself that hurt, and honestly, if he found so little to like, I wonder why he even bothered with the 5? Why not 2 or 3? I was never quite sure what “seek out his destiny” means. The review makes very little mention of any plot points beyond that, and to this day I wonder how far he actually read. He claims the story “sounds predictable” but I’d be willing to bet all the money I have that no reader could have predicted what follows: Xandr goes to the desert and finds a magic jewel which alters space/time, allowing him to relive the life of his ancestor. I also doubt he could have foreseen the little excursion to the island of Aea (now excised from the novel) where Xandr relates the tale of how he, as a young man, fell in love with a priestess forbidden from knowing a man and, during sex, watched the priestess be turned into a Medusa. If he honestly saw that coming, I’ll gladly shoot myself. He calls it “traditional fantasy” yet there is nothing in it regarding elves, dwarves, vampires, zombies, or schools of magic, or anything Tolkienesque whatsoever. The thing is, I bear him no ill-will. I honestly don’t. If he did not feel the story was interesting or well written enough to continue reading, that was my failure, not his. I only wish he could have been more honest. Or, if he really did read the whole thing (I will never know) it would have been nice for him to have pointed out the more unique aspects. For instance, he never once mentions how Xandr and Thelana are nude throughout most of the story, or how that philosophy played into the plot.

It wasn’t just one man’s opinion that hurt me so. His review was read by hundreds of people and my reputation as a writer, something I’ve worked tirelessly at for decades, was forever tarnished. At the very least, he could have thrown me a bone, mentioned a single thing he liked. If I ever get the chance to meet him, or if he stops by my blog, however, I will thank him. Without his review, I may never have found the motivation to improve, to be the best writer I can be, and Ages of Aenya would not exist. 

Here is the second review, which was featured in H&E Magazine, by Tim Forcer:

Woohoo! Several “firsts” for Yarns Without Threads. The first book to be featured on the site before publication, the first book reviewed here which has been published by a non-traditional publisher, and the first to be illustrated with the author demonstrating his naturism.

Nick Alímonos has been producing stories since the age of six, entertaining staff and customers in his father’s Greek restaurant. After an arduous literary apprenticeship, he has reached the milestone of publishing his first novel, The Dark Age of Enya. And what a milestone! More than 500 pages of “sword and sorcery”, as hero Xandr pursues his quest and destiny across the world of Enya, through landscapes both benign and hostile.

Sword and sorcery is a very old tradition of story-telling – possibly the oldest. Alímonos is not afraid to acknowledge one of the earliest in this tradition, that ancient Greek, Homer. He also quotes from or nods to a wide range of SF and fantasy authors, from Adams to Zelazny. But this is no derivative imitation or poor copy; Alímonos delivers a tale which is well-constructed and moves along at a fair pace. There are a few rough edges along the way – being your own publisher’s editor, as is the norm for those published by print-on-demand Xlibris, must make it more difficult to pick up minor typos – but these didn’t affect my enjoyment. The main characters are all fully-developed, with faults and foibles as well as skills and accomplishments.

Alímonos has been a naturist for a long time, and, partly because this is important to him, has incorporated naturist concepts and ideals into the book. Xandr is an Ilmarinen, a race whose society is totally naturist: “no more than ornamentally clad when possible, dressed when the climate demanded it”. Other cultures on Enya have different mores. Most are emphatically textile, creating difficulties, tensions and irritations for Xandr and his Ilmar companion, Thelana (right), obliging them to cover up with at least a loincloth for Xandr and tunic for Thelana. A minority of societies accept nudity for young people, or tolerate the customs of strangers, providing the wandering Ilmarinen with welcome relief.

Nudity, particularly female nudity, is not unusual in fantasy writing, and has also been a staple of SF&F illustrations and book covers. Generally, this is used to provide titillation, or to add a sexual overlay to an otherwise a-sexual tale. Alímonos is different in that his Ilmarinen naturism is portrayed as something intrinsic to the character of its people – there is no sensationalism. Yet he does not attempt to ignore the sexual import of nakedness for those shackled by cultural taboos on social nudity. Xandr and Thelana face a range of disapproving attitudes ranging from disapproval to outright condemnation and disgust – you can read some of these cultural clashes in the extracts, along with expositions of what nudity means to the Ilmarinen.

Although many of the stories discussed on Yarns Without Threads refer explicitly to naturism, only two are known to have been written by naturists: The Dark Age of Enya and Glory Road. Interestingly, the latter is also a sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel. While Heinlein’s sorcery is of the “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” variety, Alímonos uses supernatural intervention – sparingly – as an extra ingredient.

Overall, I think The Dark Age of Enya is an accomplished first novel. Its conclusion indicates that there may be further adventuring to come from Xandr – I hope so, and look forward to more naturist-friendly fiction from Alímonos.

You probably won’t find The Dark Age of Enya in your local bookshop, but it is available from Amazon, or direct from Xlibris.

As you can plainly see, Tim Forcer was a lot more enthusiastic about The Dark Age of Enya. In fact, he gave it his highest rating, 3 out of 3. He also quotes several lines that appear toward the end of the book, so I know he read it in its entirety. What was especially encouraging was when Forcer wrote, this is no derivative imitation or poor copy, greatly contradicting the first review.

The problem I had with Forcer’s review, however, was that I never fully trusted it. H&E Magazine is dedicated to promoting the nudist lifestyle and The Dark Age of Enya basically did the same. It would be like FOX NEWS reviewing a book by Bill O’ Reilly; there is bound to be some bias.

Finally, after ten years of transforming myself as a writer, and The Dark Age of Enya into Ages of Aenya, I think I can honestly offer my two cents about Enya:


The Dark Age of Enya is an imaginative read, with no shortage of battle scenes, monsters, and exotic locations. The two main characters, Xandr and Thelana, spend a majority of their time in the buff—and author Nick Alimonos, being a nudist himself—makes no apologies for this. On the plus side, the setting is a considerable departure from the many Tolkien clones published these days; there isn’t an elf, dwarf, zombie or evil wizard to be found. The novel also isn’t afraid to take risks, throwing any idea out there no matter how bizarre. One moment they are flying on giant birds and the next battling a cyborg to stop an alien invasion. Xandr and Thelana’s exploits are very reminiscent of “John Carter of Mars” or “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad” and if that’s your thing, you may find something here to enjoy. Unfortunately, Alimonos’ crams several books worth of story into one, which allows very little room for character development. The numerous plots and subplots spread throughout the novel’s 500 pages are minimally explored, so that conflicts are resolved too quickly without any sense of tension. In this regard, “The Dark Age of Enya” hearkens back to an older, pulp fantasy style from the 30’s and 40’s, like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “The Land that Time Forgot.” Finally, the writing sometimes suffers from overlong and awkward sentences, with enough adjectives to make H.P. Lovecraft jealous. Hopefully, Nick Alimonos will continue to hone his skills and find his own voice as he may someday have something worthwhile to offer the genre. My review: ** out of **** 
   

Me and John Kennedy Toole

John Kennedy Toole took his life in 1969

I have been feeling like John Kennedy Toole lately, at least how I imagine he must have felt before he killed himself. Toole is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Confederacy of Dunces. I admit I only got a third way through his book before giving up. Not because it wasn’t any good, but because his life story hit too close to home. Toole tried numerous times to get his novel published, was rejected for years, and finally cashed in his chips. If not for the tireless effort and faith of his mother, who eventually convinced an author to read and promote his book to publishers, I would not be writing about Toole today.

Up until 2004, from age 6 to 29, I was assured, confident. Some people, especially on the Internet, called me egotistical. But it wasn’t like I had no reason to be. Every teacher treated me like a prodigy, like a sure thing. Whoever got the chance to read my fiction; family, fellow students, Fanfic fans, etc., had nothing but good things to say. Then ’04 happened, and my world fell apart. Everything I knew to be true suddenly changed. It’s like the ground fell from under me and I’ve been falling into a dark abyss of despair ever since. My wife often remarks how much I’ve changed, how I am not the same person, that I lost the spark that captured her heart.

For the past decade, I have had my share of ups and downs, but the downs seem more frequent and weigh more heavily on me. I sometimes feel that wanting to be a writer was a mistake. What once brought me joy and escape is now the source of endless grief. I worry what something like this does to my work. How can I write well if the result is always pain? At some point, a Pavlovian reflex is bound to kick in. Then again, a quick search of famous writers brings up many stories similar to mine. Toole fought with depression and lost. Robert Howard also did battle with despair, but unlike Conan, the hero he created, he was defeated and took his own life. Even J.K. Rowling fought with depression, though she somehow managed to win against her dementors.

You could call me the hero of my own story, on a road to becoming an author. But this road is fraught  with rejection letters, the neglect of family and friends, and the continued indifference of the world around me. Apathy bores into my soul continually, making me feel apathetic toward other people. I find myself hating everyone who refuses to acknowledge my work. I find myself keeping my writing a secret from coworkers and friends, lest I give them an opportunity to ignore it, like so many have. The worst part is that there seems to be no end in sight—no shining light, no beacon, for me to follow. I must rely on my own faith, my own waning confidence; I must believe when there is no reason to believe. Every word of encouragement helps—it does help—but it’s so very little, drops of water to a man dying of thirst.

Two years ago, before my thirty-sixth birthday, I didn’t necessarily plan on suicide, but what scared me were thoughts of it. Death no longer seemed frightening or terrible to me, but a release, an escape from stress, and from the ongoing pain of rejection and neglect. My biggest problem is a sense of being a fish-out-of-water. I manage a restaurant, only because my father planned my life and my siblings’ lives from birth. My ultimate regret is not having had the courage to tell him no. I was, quite frankly, afraid to lose his love and respect. The restaurant business, after all, was all that ever mattered to him. More than that, I was afraid to lose the certainty of, what I thought, was financial security. I wish I had escaped when I could have, when I did not have a wife and children. I could have gone to New York to rub elbows with agents and writers; I could have at least been an editor at a newspaper or an English teacher. Instead, I spend late nights taking pizza orders, worrying about paying the seemingly infinite expenses the restaurant continues to incur, fearing I’ll end up like my father, eighty years old and doing the same damn thing I am doing now.  The restaurant business is hard, one of the hardest jobs, but it’s the fish-out-of-water feeling that kills me. I simply do not belong there. It isn’t me. It never was and never will be. Customers ask for the manager, and even after twenty years, I feel like a liar when I say I am the guy they are looking for. But for the sake of my family, I cannot escape this hell. It would be selfish to shut the place down and hope for the best. It would be selfish of me, also, to take the suicide route.

I work a lot less now and that helps a little. I have more time to focus on writing. But it’s still a battle to look for faith, to search for reasons to believe, to drag myself to a bookstore or a coffee shop to write or edit. It’s a battle to look for encouragement on Facebook, in my e-mail, or in the comments section below, when there almost never is any.

I am utterly alone.

But I have a plan in place. I have a third draft of Ages of Aenya to get through, then another book to write, The Princess of Aenya. By age 40, I hope to have an agent at least. If not, I feel that I have to have another avenue to take. Self-publication is still an ugly word. It sounds like failure, like desperation. I tried it before with disastrous results. But at least I had something to show for my life’s effort, something to market, something to give to friends and family. If I do it again, it will be different, an all out assault on the public. Alexey Lipatov, my amazing Ukrainian artist, is already working on an amazing book cover, to be used on this blog for now, but later, who knows? I’ll hit every bookstore, reading festival, and library in the nation. I’ll buy advertising on Facebook and other literary sites. It worked for Michael Sullivan and Christopher Paolini, so why not? A plan is something, is hope, is a reason not to cash it all in.

My birthday is this month. I will be 38. I will have been writing for thirty-two years. From age six. What I would like for my birthday is hope, because, quite frankly, I do not want to end up like John Kennedy Toole.  

When Words and Images Collide

Something is definitely going on here!

I love DeviantArt. For those unfamiliar with the site, DeviantArt is the Facebook for visual artists. With the click of a mouse, you can browse between artists from around the globe, from a German painter to an Australian graphic designer. It is probably one of the very best things to come of the Internet—the largest sharing of art in human history, a virtual museum to rival the Louvre in Paris.

If I could not be a writer, I would like to be a fantasy artist, because I think in images. When I was a kid, I drew my stories (comic books) just as much as wrote them. That continued until I realized I wasn’t quite on par with others my age. Scenes of vivid detail still stick in my mind, however, which is why I have a tendency to describe every little thing in my fiction. It’s an amateur mistake I try to avoid, since no matter how well you write a scene, every reader comes away with his or her own picture. Despite the hundreds of thousands of words devoted to Xandr and Thelana and Emma, there is just something magical that happens when a character crosses into the purely visual medium; it brings them to life in ways that words cannot. For just this reason, I am grateful to the artists who have contributed over the years to my work, from my friends Evan Kyrou (Greece) and David Pasco (USA), to Julia Bax (Brazil) Tazio Bettin (Italy) and Alexey Lipatov (Ukraine). If I have anything to gripe about (and don’t I always?), it’s that the feeling isn’t mutual. Artists don’t seem to value my skills the way I value theirs. Not wanting anyone else playing in their imaginary sandbox, they spend an exorbitant amount of time drawing characters with no real story, no real life. Their illustrations are often based on their own amateur fiction, but just like the hundreds of junk novelists on Amazon, they fail to recognize their literary limitations. I pay artists to realize my characters visually, at the mercy of their interpretations, but I have never been approached to aid in writing a background. I could just as well draw my own heroes, but my skills with a pencil are as wanting as theirs is on the keyboard.

A perfect example of characters failing as story can be seen in the many nude or semi-nude women on DeviantArt. It is a testament to free expression that virtually no censorship exists on DeviantArt, aside from self-censorship, and of course, who doesn’t enjoy looking at such scantily clad vixens? But more often than not, the nudity is meant as a tease, to grab attention, solely to arouse. The way female warriors are dressed, if in anything at all, rarely makes sense in a literary context. Why would anyone wear breastplate armor but no underwear, leaving their genitals, a much more tender spot, unshielded? What is the sense in that? At least, if she is completely nude, you might argue in favor of increased agility, but how encumbering is a loincloth or a bra, really? I am equally annoyed by chainmail bikinis. How do these things stay on? And what exactly are they protecting? In a medieval setting, the bikini is anachronistic. After all, it is a uniquely American convention, a product of our hypersexualized/Puritanical culture, meant to satisfy both voyeurs and censors; but even in a fantasy setting, it defies all logic. What function does it serve? It neither shields from enemies, protects from weather, nor gives the impression of chastity. The loincloth, at least, is in keeping with African and South American cultures, and in the rare instances that the women of the tribe hunt, it is not by choice that they go without protection. In Frank Frazetta’s animated feature, Fire and Ice, the heroine runs around the movie in nothing but a flimsy piece of thread that barely covers her pubic area, and somehow, despite climbing hills and being kidnapped numerous times by ape-like creatures and getting swept up in rivers, etc., her silky thong never tears or falls off. In my book, Ages of Aenya, Thelana is either fully naked (because her people don’t wear clothes), or fully dressed in either a tunic, a keshaba (a traditional desert robe), or in furs (when it’s cold). She might wear armor (she does, at one point, after joining the Kratan army) but anything less than complete coverage is just added weight, and if she were to ever come across a thong, she would likely wonder what it’s for (a slingshot, maybe?). Sure, it’s fun to imagine a topless, thong wearing warrior with a two-handed sword, and art should not be limited to logic (Picasso and Dali made careers out of defying logic), but these kinds of characters lack story potential. Frank Frazetta is my favorite fantasy artist because his work told a story (just look at the image above). It wasn’t just in the detail of the bodies of his characters—but that his characters came alive. When you look at a piece by Frazetta, you feel as if you’ve stumbled upon something that extends beyond what’s on the canvas. You get the impression that if you close your eyes, the scene will continue to play out. Let’s take, for example, the topless girl with giant sword motif. When I look at such a picture, I often ask myself, Who is this girl? What kind of culture does she come from? Is everyone topless there? Are breasts considered sexual in this world? Are her allies from among this same topless society? What do they think of her exposing her breasts? When she goes to town to buy milk, what does the average merchant think of her? Or are we talking about a planet without bra technology? Is she a shy person? An exhibitionist? A naturist? A stripper? A prostitute? A porn star? Did she have a mother? Father? What do they think of her going topless? Did she know her parents/her family? These are the kinds of questions a writer has to ask himself, but most visual artists don’t care to. If you can’t imagine a character coming to life, if you can’t extrapolate a back story that follows logic, your character possesses no depth. They may look cool, but they’re nothing but static images, 2-dimensional eye-candy.

DeviantArt is an amazing place for talented people to come together. I simply wish there was greater collaboration between writers and visual artists. I wish there was greater understanding and appreciation between mediums. We know, from history, the amazing things that come about when people of different skills put aside their egos. Where would Frazetta be without Conan author Robert Howard? Just look at film, animation, and comic books. Look at Walt Disney. George Lucas. Stan Lee. None of whom would be where they are today without the talented people who supported them.

To see how words and images come together, check out the Illustrated “Ages of Aenya”—featuring art I have had commissioned over the past ten years. When viewed in order, the images tell a story. It is by no means a perfect or complete work, more a “work-in-progress”; I wouldn’t even call it a graphic novel, but it’s a start!

The Heroic Nude


What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed?

How NASA represented mankind to possible alien species

I have scoured the Internet, talking it over with many naturist readers, but I have yet to find heroes quite like Xandr and Thelana. They are unique to the fantasy genre, the first naturist heroes, as their bodies are their costumes. Some people bring up Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov or Edgar Rice Burroughs, all of whom dabbled with nudity or naturist philosophy in their writings, to a limited degree and with mixed results. Sure, the Martian in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land prefers to be nude, but he is too far removed from humanity to be relatable, going so far as to consider cannibalism proper etiquette. Burroughs, while featuring both Tarzan and John Carter in the buff, devotes very little time to naturist philosophy. In Carter, the nudity is incidental and inconsequential to the plot, a matter of titillation for adolescent boys in an age before Internet porn. There have also been a number of naturist novels, written by and for naturists, like Co-Ed Naked Philosophy by Will Forrest, but while his musings are sometimes worth the read, the novel fails as fiction. As with most naturist books, his characters are 2-dimensional archetypes, mannequins to be dressed in the author’s beliefs. Now a reader might question, and I have often put this to myself, Why does it matter? Couldn’t Xandr and Thelana be just as heroic without their genitals dangling? What makes being naked so special? And what is it with my preoccupation/obsession with the human form? The answer can be summed up in three words: the heroic nude.

The heroic nude is largely forgotten in our culture. Any representation of a naked man or woman, in art or in fiction, is almost always for sexual stimulation. But this is an unnatural attitude, a myth propagated by mega-corporations who manipulate our sense of arousal to sell their products; what’s more, the myth must be continually reinforced by increasingly sexualized imagery. Simply showing a body is not enough. Just type the words “nude” in any search engine and you will find every kind of erotic pose, extreme close ups of erections, artificially augmented breasts, and grotesque distortions of anatomy in XXX cartoons. You rarely find the human body as it truly is, in its simplest form, which is precisely why so many people find it difficult to see nudity in an honest and realistic way. When I look for artists for Xandr and Thelana, I have a hard time explaining to them what I want to see. Americans simply do not accept nudity without sexual intent. Often, the artists I am soliciting think I am asking for porn, and if they have moral objections to porn, they turn me down. It is no wonder that, after ten years of searching, the three artists I found come from outside the country. One lives in Brazil, the other in Italy and another in the Ukraine. Having studied art history, they understand what the heroic nude is and why it matters.

What is important to understand about the heroic nude is context. The Greeks did not literally conceive of their heroes as nudists per se. Homer goes to great lengths, in fact, to describe Achilles’ armor, and Heracles often wore a lion’s mane. But what mattered to Europeans of antiquity was the human ideal expressed through nudity. Michelangelo’s David, for instance, is more than a character from Hebrew scripture; he is man in his highest and most idealized form. For the Ancient Greeks, there was nothing more beautiful than the human body. It was the apex of natural design, the highest expression of art, utterly divine. This is an important distinction, because it set the Greeks apart from the rest of the world. At roughly the same time you would find, in Ancient Egypt, gods with the bodies of animals, Ra with a hawk head, Anubis as a dog, Bast as a cat. In India, you find Shiva with many arms and blue skin, Brahma with three faces, and Ganesha with the head of an elephant. Other cultures were more extreme in their conceptions of god. For the Hebrews, god was and is invisible and unknowable. The supreme deity for the Aztects, Quetzalcoatl, was a feathered serpent. Only the Olympians were human, and often, naked. In fact, you can easily identify Aphrodite, goddess of love, in any museum, since she never wears any clothes. For the Ancient Greeks, the gods were not up in some inconceivable realm. They did not look down upon mankind with indifference, or shame or judgment. Man was not born into sin. Nor was man, as the Viking myths portray, the product of giant sweat. In fact, Zeus found human females so attractive, he could not help but descend from the heavens to mate with them. By depicting gods as human in every way, with muscles, bones, veins, and genitalia, god and man became inseparable, which had a profoundly positive effect in how the Greeks perceived mankind. Like the gods, man could be inventive, could create, do anything imagination allowed. It is no wonder that Daedalus managed to build wings and fly. This positive outlook gave rise to history, geometry, drama, philosophy, and democracy. The Greeks elevated humanity, from lowly creatures groveling before god-kings, to divine beings with reason and individuality. Without the Classical world, our modern society would not exist as it is today. We could never have dreamt of going to the moon much less gone there. And the heroic nude is rooted in this tradition. With Hermes, Praxiteles achieves the heroic ideal, the highest of man’s aspirations, man made larger than life, inspiring, divine.

Hermes, a heroic nude masterpiece.

So what happened? In a word, Christianity. The collapse of the Roman Empire was followed by centuries of disease, war and poverty. In such a harsh existence, it was easy for Europeans to reject the world of the senses. Taking cues from Plato and Judaism, early Christians focused on the heavenly kingdom, the world of the spirit and the afterlife. YHWH could not/would not mate with Mary (conceiving without sex), nor could man ever hope to achieve divinity. Man became a shameful creature, born into sin and destined for the fires of Hell. Only by God’s grace could he hope to be saved. Anything of the physical world, whether food or sex, was of the Devil, which is why so many monks lived in seclusion, away from women, often castrating themselves. Worshipers of nature (who often went naked during pagan rituals) became “demonized”, which meant they were witches in the eyes of the new faith, and as witches, were tortured and burned. The heroic nude became utterly forgotten, and the human body a thing of evil, of temptation, to be rejected if possible.

Flash forward a thousand years to the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s when the counterculture rebels against Church doctrine. While many become sexually “liberated”, attitudes about the human body, deeply entrenched for centuries, do not wash away. American society is deeply divided. It is a country with a billion dollar XXX film industry that delays the Superbowl for seven seconds lest a performer accidentally reveal a nipple. With the advent of the Internet, these divisions run deeper. Graphic and unnatural depictions of sex, things that would shock even the most depraved Greeks and Romans, are at the fingertips of any man, woman or child, and yet Facebook censors a woman breast feeding. A perfect storm of deeply rooted Platonic/Christian beliefs and an equally powerful counterculture has resulted in our current schizophrenic state, and what we have forgotten in all this, is how to look at human beings as human beings.

We have forgotten that our bodies are good things, that gods and heroes often went naked, that that was the ideal. Through my fiction and my art, I have tried to revive this age old tradition, to bring about a new Renaissance, which is why Xandr and Thelana, as modern vestiges of the heroic nude, are so compelling to me. Their costumes are their bodies, because they are descendants of Apollo and Aphrodite, of gods and heroes that once inspired and elevated our thinking from our prehistoric and superstitious beginnings. Xandr and Thelana carry the Olympic torch of heroic nudity so that we might see within ourselves and in our bodies something pure and good and divine.

One Dead Child is One Too Many

What matters most to you?

What matters most to you?

People who worry more about their toys than a child’s life quite frankly scare me, and I sure as hell don’t want a wave of fanatics protesting my blog. At the same time, my conscience is not letting me sleep at night. Since the Newtown massacre, I feel it is my moral obligation to do something, to contribute my voice to the growing chorus that is saying enough if enough!

The problem with guns in America is a problem with the gun debate itself. Solving gun violence is not a liberal or conservative issue, nor is it a freedom vs. tyranny issue, but an issue of common sense. Nobody wants more children to die, right or left. I think we can all agree on this. Our focus should be on reducing these crimes. But I find it simply appalling that so many who side with the NRA simply shrug their shoulders and accept these massacres as inevitable, as if more children need to die for freedom, as though there is nothing anyone can or should do about it. Evil will always be with us, but admitting we are powerless to do anything about it is to give murderers free reign. The truth is, we can make a difference. LESS is the key word. While we may never do away with murder altogether, we can at least work to LESSEN murders in this country. But the gun lobby refuses to acknowledge this simple reality, and rather than argue against the other side, they debate against “imaginary” positions nobody is making. They repeat logical fallacies ad-nauseam, that may sound good on poster boards and memes, but do not hold up to scrutiny. Their favorite tactics are straw manslippery slope and false analogy. Here, I will tackle each fallacious argument one by one:


1) Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People: This statement is true. The problem is, nobody is arguing that guns magically lift themselves up and commit murder. This is an example of a straw man argument. While guns don’t kill by themselves, they do make it easier to kill. After all, that’s what guns are made to do, kill, and kill easily. If you’re Adam Lanza and you want to kill twenty or more kids before anybody can stop you, you’ll have much greater success with a semi-automatic rifle.

2) If You Ban Guns, What’s Next? Knives? Cars? Rocks? People Will Find Ways to Kill No Matter What: This statement makes three fallacies: straw man, slippery slope, and false analogy. I will go through these one by one. 1) Straw Man: Nobody is saying that by limiting access to guns, all murder will cease. But while we cannot reasonably ban every single thing that can be used to kill (hell, even a pillow can be used to kill) I think most people would agree that Adam Lanza would have been hard pressed to murder twenty children with a pillow. Yes, people will indeed find ways to commit murder, but by limiting access to things that make killing easy, murder becomes more difficult to commit. 2) Slippery Slope: Laws restricting gun use does not, by default, lead to bans on other things, especially if those things are benign in nature. Furthermore, things that can be harmful, like cars, do have restrictions. Why else do we have speed limits? Seat belts? Emissions tests? The pro-gun slippery slope argument, if true, can also be used in reverse. If people will find ways to kill no matter what, why ban anything? Why ban Gatling guns? Flamethrowers? Nuclear bombs? 3) False analogy: Yes, a kitchen knife can be used to kill, but the purpose of a kitchen knife is to cut food. If used correctly, a knife harms no one. If we could make knives safer, we would. A “safe” gun is an oxymoron. Guns exist for killing. Period. So, while we cannot reasonably ban things like knives, we can put reasonable restrictions on guns.

3) The Second Amendment States that Congress Shall Make No Law Infringing the Right to Bear Arms . . .: Gun nuts seem to have the 2nd Amendment memorized, but tend to ignore its establishing clause, which states:

as ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, then-Secretary of State:[30]

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

In other words, the “right to bear arms” does not pertain to any nut wanting to walk around with an AR-15. But even if we were to disregard its original intent, nobody is advocating a repeal of the Second Amendment. The notion that any gun control will lead to an overall ban is an example of slippery slope. The problem here is the word arms, which is such a vague term, it can literally mean anything. An atomic bomb can also be considered an arm, yet nobody is suggesting private citizens have nuclear weapons. Common sense dictates that the Second Amendment was intended to have limits. Even with the First Amendment, you cannot legally threaten someone, you cannot yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, and you cannot, inexplicably, walk around naked. The Constitution is not a religious tract; it is not the Word of God and it is not infallible. In fact, the Founding Fathers meant for it to change, which is why the Constitution is called a living document, which is why they set up the Supreme Court to interpret it, to take into account new evidence and changing circumstances. An NRA member on TV stated that if the Founding Fathers had not wanted us to have certain weapons, they would have stated so, but they could only have permitted the types of arms they knew to exist, like muskets. Fortunately, they were wise enough to keep the law vague, realizing that muskets would not remain the arm of choice forever. They understood that times change and that the Constitution, to remain relevant, would have to change with it.

4) If You Take Guns Away from Law Abiding Citizens, Only Criminals Will Have Guns: Again, nobody wants to take guns away from law abiding citizens. In fact, the intent of background checks is to determine who the law abiding citizen is. Of course, criminals will find ways to obtains guns regardless. Nobody is contradicting this possibility, but just as in point #1, the idea is to make guns more difficult to obtain. In Australia, where guns have been outlawed, automatic rifles go for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market. No $35 grand for an AR-15? Less deaths at mass shootings! New laws also help get criminals off the streets should they be found in possession of a gun. And to say that criminals will simply ignore the law is like saying there is no point making murder illegal, since people will murder anyway.

5) The Only Way to Stop a Bad Guy with a Gun is a Good Guy with a Gun: Here I find some common ground with the NRA. I believe there should be armed security in all schools. I agree that private citizens should be allowed to have guns in their homes, if only to make them feel safer. The problem is that the facts don’t match the rhetoric. More people are killed by guns accidentally than are ever saved. In the case of a massacre, more guns isn’t the answer. A teacher with a pistol in her desk would never have had the opportunity to stop Adam Lanza. This is simply logistics. You cannot stop an attack if you never know when or where or if an attack is coming. A trained security guard might, if they were in the right place at the right time, have taken Lanza out, but again, schools, malls, and movie theaters are big places and it is entirely unrealistic to expect people to defend themselves at a moment’s notice.

6) Gun Restrictions Won’t Change a Thing/Places like Chicago, with Strict Gun Laws, Have More Murders than Other Places with Lesser Restrictions: This is an example of false analogy. Chicago has been infamous for its crime rate since the 1920’s, starting after prohibition, and which continues to this day due to drugs and gang warfare. With no border control between them, comparing any two cities in the U.S. is a pointless exercise. Anyone can buy a gun in Texas, drive to New York, and commit a massacre. It’s much more accurate to look at statistics in places before and after gun legislation has taken place, where border patrol limits outside influence, such as in the U.K., Australia and Japan. In those countries, murders dropped dramatically after gun legislation was enacted, yet gun advocates refuse to acknowledge these statistics.

7) Without Guns, the U.S. Government will Turn into Nazi Germany: This statement is demonstrably false, ignoring both history and common sense. Every tyrannical dictatorship started with economic collapse. The revolutions in France and in Russia took place because the people in those countries were desperate for regime change. They willingly elected tyrannical rule. Hitler was placed into power after the first World War, after economic sanctions bankrupted the country, leading to inflation of the deutschmark. Whether the Germans were willing to give up their guns is beside the point. They were not given a choice, nor could they have hoped to fight the Nazi regime. Remember Waco, Texas? The Branch Davidian cult had stockpiled guns for the coming apocalypse, in a well fortified bunker, yet they were powerless to defend against the FBI and S.W.A.T. If President Obama elects himself Emperor of the United States, you can be certain that a bunch of rednecks hold out in the Appalachian Mountains will stand no chance against the combined forces of the Marines, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. While I agree that, as American citizens, we must remain vigilant against tyranny, stockpiling guns is the wrong way to go about it. Rather, we must use the vote to hold our elected officials accountable.

I have two young daughters, eight and two. When I learned of the Newtown massacre, it hit way too close to home (and heart). Those could have been my kids. I would do anything, give up anything, to keep my children safe. While we can never hope to live in a perfect world free of crime, we can at least strive for such a world. Gun advocates are convinced that new gun legislation will have no effect on the murder rate, despite statistics to the contrary. If I were 99% as certain as the NRA, I would still enact stricter gun laws, because a 1% chance at saving a life is enough. Quite frankly, I am appalled by the callousness of our society. The gun lobby seems to fear for the loss of their guns more than for their children. Look, if tomorrow twenty kids were killed by a bicycle, and the government was considering banning bicycles, I would be the first to give up mine. Freedom to enjoy things does not supersede a person’s right to live in safe world. There are many things we ban for the safety of our communities: drunk driving, drugs, dangerous chemicals, yet nobody cries foul that their personal freedoms are being infringed upon. I understand that protection is a concern, but nobody needs a semi-automatic rifle for self-defense. These weapons serve no purpose but to kill many people, and rapidly; they are machines ideally suited for mass murder. Gun advocates rattle off statistics that show many more people are killed by handguns, which misses the point. If we cannot ban handguns, why not make background checks universal? Why not make it at least harder for criminals to obtain them legally? Why not limit the power of firearms, and the capacity of magazines, so that as someone like Adam Lanza squeezes off rounds, one-by-one, or when they are reloading, more people might chance to escape? If one more massacre can be averted, if one more life can be saved, we, as a society, are morally obligated to it. One massacre is one too many. One dead child is one too many.


Post Script: After the recent shooting in Arizona on October 9th (2015), I wanted to get philosopher Sam Harris’ take on the gun debate, via his podcast, The Riddle of the Gun. His position is far more nuanced than that of the liberal media or the NRA, and he brings up a lot of points we both agree on. But we also disagree on a number of issues. Incidentally, Harris is a firearm enthusiast, so one must wonder about his own biases. I list my rebuttals to his points below:

8) Banning Guns in America is Impossible: Unlike in the U.K. and Australia, there are 300 million guns in America. Due to these numbers, Sam argues, there is no possible way to eliminate them. I think this is a very short sighted view. Just because something is impractical, does not make it impossible. Harris also comes across as somewhat contradictory, when he argues in favor of permits and training to restrict who can carry a gun, while disregarding his first point that, with more firearms in the country than people, it is just as difficult to stop criminals from attaining them illegally. Guns can be stolen, bought on the black market, or obtained through a simple personal transaction. While neither of us advocate for an outright gun ban, we can limit their size and power. It is not an easy challenge, to be sure, and there are far more brilliant people to tackle this problem than I, but here are some ideas:

1) Restrict the production and sale of bullets. Guns are useless without them! Of course, there are people who will stockpile ammunition, but it does not change my basic premise: that one dead child is one too many.

Scenario #1: A man in a domestic dispute reaches to shoot his significant other, only to realize he is out of ammunition. Keep in mind, this is in the heat of the moment, so he has no time to borrow bullets from a friend or call up his cousin on the Appalachian trail who hides million of rounds in his basement. By the time he can consider an alternative (a knife?), his wife/girlfriend/mom is long gone, and the next time they meet, temperatures have cooled and common sense prevails. Domestic abuse, incidentally, is a common prelude to gun violence.

2) Have a “buy back” program, similar to what was done in Australia. Harris dismisses this idea, because such a program wouldn’t get rid of “all the guns.” But why must we have all or nothing? Most crimes are committed by poor, desperate people, many of whom are drug addicted. So imagine this,

Scenario #2: A man hooked on oxycontin decides to rob a drug store to get his fix. Only problem? He can’t, because he sold his gun for drug money the week before. Point is, lessening murder is the goal here. Arguing that “we simply can’t ban guns” is another way of saying, “we can’t stop all murder, so let’s not even try.”

3) Limit the most powerful weapons. If numbers is the problem, this should be easier. How many AR-15’s are out there? But Harris calls this an empty gesture. The only sensible solution, he posits, is to have trained security everywhere, and a general public prepared to “attack their attacker,” the way crew members take out terrorists on planes. The latter suggestion, that teachers and children turn into guerrilla warriors mid-lesson, is patently absurd. In theory, five people going at a gunman with school books and pencils might be effective, but we’re human beings, not zombies. When someone is shooting at you, your instinct is to run. You can’t compare an elementary school to a plane, because people on planes have nowhere to go, so their only choice is to fight. While I agree that having a guard in a school might be helpful, how many hundreds or thousands of people occupy everyday public places? Has Sam Harris even been to a college campus? This is not a sensible solution.

Scenario #3: Congress passes a bill allocating enormous funds for security guards in every room in every school, mall, movie theater, library, museum, sports stadium and restaurant in the country. This accounts for perhaps half of all military spending, but at least people feel relatively safe from mass shootings, right? Knowing this, a shooter drives through the parking lot where a popular movie is premiering, and with an automatic rifle, guns down dozens of bystanders before a guard has a chance to respond. Had the shooter been limited to a pistol, casualties would have been LESS, and isn’t that the goal? This leads to my next point …

9) Coconuts kill more people . . . Apparently, more people die from nurses not washing their hands than from guns. But here’s the thing: nobody is suggesting nurses not wash their hands. If there was a campaign to boost sanitation awareness, I’d be the first to sign up. Harris recounts numerous statistics, comparing firearm fatalities to other things, and then, handgun homicides to that of automatic rifles. His facts are accurate, but his conclusions are erroneous and somewhat callous. Given this logic, nurses needn’t wash their hands either, when comparing sanitation-related deaths to cancer and heart disease. Mass shootings are indeed rare, and automatic weapons are involved in only a fraction of these incidents. But if you’re a parent, it does not matter whether your child accounts for less than 1% of 1%. I do not know whether Sam has children of his own, but when he describes how awful these massacres are, and in the same breath, goes on to call them “statistically negligible,” it makes me think he does not understand what it means to be a parent. If you are a devoted father, your child is your ENTIRE WORLD. And this brings me right back to the premise of my post.

Perhaps, if Adam Lanza had had a pistol instead of an AR-15, he might have killed one less child. Does Sam Harris suggest that one child’s life does not warrant a ban on high-powered weapons? We’re not talking falling coconuts here, or shark attacks, or lightning storms, or any of the other countless things that can and probably do kill children every year, we’re talking about weapons that serve no practical purpose other than to murder. What if it were your kid that died? Would you describe the death of your son or daughter in terms of statistical relevance? Or call a ban on assault rifles a show and a distraction? If you knew that a smaller magazine might have given your child a chance to run or hide, would you not push for greater restrictions? I think you would.

Too often, in this age of information, we become divorced from our humanity, and our fellow human beings are turned to little more than nameless, faceless numbers. This is why story matters. Why poetry matters. Science leaves too great a hole where something we once called a “soul” resides.

At the end of the movie, Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler breaks down in tears of guilt, after having saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust, knowing he could have saved, “two more people.” That scene never fails to make me cry. And in that spirit, I would like to end with this quote from the movie, and the Talmud,

  • Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. — Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9; Yerushalmi Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a.

Please Note: Sorry, this post is not up for debate. There are plenty of other forums where you can voice your opinions. This is not one of them. Argumentative/debate related comments will be deleted. Thank you.