Riding the Donkey Carriage

Are you guilty of this?

A new literary term is needed. It’s something we’re all guilty of, but are rarely willing to admit to. We’ll make excuses or get all defensive about it, because it makes us look like lazy, illiterate zombies watching Walking Dead. I am guilty of it myself, despite my dedication to the written word. So what am I talking about?

For my 27th birthday, the girl who would become my wife got me a stack of books. Knowing I was a writer and avid reader, she figured it would make a great present, and it was. Being from French speaking Morocco, she is partial to the French classics, and among her favorites is little known, Pere Goriot by Balzac, and the much better known, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. At close to a thousand pages, Cristo is a hefty title, but it has political intrigue, romantic triangles, hidden treasure, pirates, revenge, and the most amazing prison escape in literary history. About halfway through, a shipping business loses a galley and all its valuable cargo at sea. Despondent over the loss, father and son are ready to shoot their brains out with flintlock pistols, when suddenly, the missing ship pulls into port! How? Why? Their mysterious benefactor is none other than the newly wealthy and presumed dead Count of Monte Cristo. The scene had me watery eyed and wanting to read more, until the donkey carriage segment begins, where the reader is forced through a hundred or so pages about two guys in search of a horse-drawn carriage. Since no horses are available, they settle for donkeys, and it goes on and on and on. Much later, the two guys meet up with the count, but the donkey carriage chapters were so dull and irrelevant, it made me quit reading, and there my bookmark has been sitting, halfway through The Count of Monte Cristo, for ten years. So I would like to propose a new term:

Riding the Donkey Carriage: An expression used to indicate a person who quits reading a book before the book concludes. Typically, the person intends to finish the book at some indefinite time in the future, but more often than not, never does.

Example, “How’s that book you were reading?”

“Oh, I’m really riding the donkey carriage on that one.”

Why we do this varies from person to person and book to book. I rode the donkey carriage twice before finishing The Lord of the Rings. I am also finding myself riding the donkey carriage with George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire; currently, I am stuck on the third book, A Storm of Swords. Very rarely do I come across a book I simply cannot stop reading. Those are sometimes the best books, but not always. Often, the payoff isn’t as great as I anticipate; The Golden Compass and The Hunger Games series come to mind. Other times, you push yourself through a dense forest of pages only to be pleasantly surprised and satisfied by the conclusion. The Lord of the Rings is the best example.

When events in a story don’t seem to have much consequence to the overall plot, or when the characters are just too difficult to relate to or care about, I typically end up on the donkey carriage. One reason I gave up on Amber, despite the author’s superb writing style, was the uncharismatic nature of his one and only main character. Someday, I may get off that donkey cart and finish The Count of Monte Cristo, but I don’t think that, as readers, we should be ashamed to admit we spent our time watching Breaking Bad instead. TV and video games really can be more interesting than books. It’s up to the writer to keep us engaged, to sell us with the power of his story. No matter the medium, a good story told well is always worth the effort.

Dear Editor: A Query for ‘Ages of Aenya’

Also, here’s this cool pic! How can you turn this down?

Dear Editor,

Ages of Aenya is ‘Naked and Afraid’ meets Homer meets Robert Heinlein, and the first in the fantasy genre to explore environmentalist themes from a true naturist’s perspective at c. 170,000 words.

The back flap might go something like this:

Discover a world shaped by cataclysm, with two moons and one Sea, where night and day can last forever and magic is inseparable from science. Journey to a place where cities wage wars for eons, religions are founded by time traveling historians and heroes are nude but for the sky about their shoulders.

Xandr is a recluse and a savage in the eyes of civilized men. Thelana, having lost her family to famine and friends to war, survives in the slums as a thief. They are the last of the Ilmar, a race of naked primitives, outcasts from society. But when a giant falls from the stars, only the secrets guarded by their people can help to save civilization. With the aid of Grimosse, an over-protective golem; and Emma, a teenage witch who talks to ravens; Xandr and Thelana must race the giant to the frozen peaks of the Pewter Mountains before a second cataclysm devastates the people of Aenya.

At its heart, Ages of Aenya is a tale of loss, alienation and loneliness—it’s about how humanity treats others in the worst of times and how heroes of myth are born from the hard truths of history.

Why you should consider a partnership with me: I wrote my first story when I was six and never stopped writing. Three years later, I convinced my reluctant father to visit DC Comics headquarters in New York City to solicit my Red Panther comic series. I received my BA in English Fiction from the University of South Florida while helping as a tutor, running a Fanfiction website and working as freelance editor. My short story, The Gorgon’s Lover, was chosen semi-finalist for the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award. I continue to write essays, reviews and short fiction on my blog, The Writer’s Disease, while perfecting my craft as a novelist.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Nick Alimonos

E-Mail: alimonosnick@gmail.com

Home Phone: 727-XXX-XXXX
Cell Phone: 727-XXX-XXXX

ANNOUNCING: The Princess of Aenya

More specific art to come!

After 14 years, I am ready to work on something entirely new. Although my current novel, Ages of Aenya, was started in 2006 and written from scratch, the characters and the basic outline originated from The Dark Age of Enya. As you can imagine, fourteen years is a terribly long time to wait for a new book, and an even bigger age gap when you consider I was 24 and now 38. In 1999, when I first posted the short story He-Man fanfic, The City by the Sea, which became The Dark Age of Enya much the way Fifty Shades of Grey started as a Twilight fanfic, I was still single and living with my parents. Today I own a home, a business, and am married 12 years with daughters ages 3 and 8. When I created Xandr, he was my age; now he seems too young, or maybe I’m just an old fart. Either way, I am not the same Nick Alimonos anymore. I lack the enthusiasm I once had. At thirty-eight, I can go to the premier of Man of Steel or wait for Netflix. For me, a hero fighting monsters often counts less than dramatic dialogue. This doesn’t mean that monsters won’t be meeting their demise in my future novels, but in terms of heroics it’s going to be more Eddard Stark (sans unwarranted decapitations) and less Conan.

My biggest worry is that, like a baseball player past his prime, I’ll no longer be able to hit those home runs. After reading 100+ novels as part of my research, I hesitate to explore an idea. I realize that everything has been done, is cliche. It’s only in the nuances, in the subtle details, where story telling matters. While I’ve learned a whole lot over the past decade and a half, I sometimes fear that I’ve traded imagination for skill, that I’ve lost that childlike sense of wonder so necessary to good storytelling. Ultimately, a story has to be fun for the writer, otherwise, it’s too much like work. Writing a novel is like building a cathedral; it takes passion and faith.

The Princess of Aenya is my next cathedral. It’s not a direct sequel to Ages of Aenya, but takes place in the same world. After all, I spent almost two decades crafting a world, which is why, like Anthony with Xanth and Herbert with Dune and Martin with Westeros, I am going to continue to explore it. In the Princess of Aenya, the reader will go to the northernmost point of the planet, which, unlike Earth’s pole, isn’t frozen but green and habitable. In a circular mountain range, the Crown of Aenya, there is a kingdom cut off from the rest of civilization, Mythradanaiil, or Tyrnael as it is known by its inhabitants. Tyrnael is the most ancient of human cities, once the seat of power for the Zo and the ancient capital of the world. Fallen from glory for untold millennia, its people know little of their glorious past, however, or of the uber-advanced power their ancestors once controlled. Massive terraced structures tower into the sky, abandoned and in ruins, their design largely forgotten. But the people of Mythradanaiil are far from ordinary. They live for hundreds of years without suffering illnesses of any kind, but there are no artists, writers or great thinkers in their society. Marriages are arranged by committee and childbirth is so rare there is no need for daycare. In short, it is a false and stagnant paradise.

This is what I know of Tyrnael. But a good story is about characters, not setting. Here there are two: the princess, known as Radia Noora, and her protector, Demacharon. Keen readers may remember Demacharon from Ages of Aenya. He is an old sword at 55, a jaded warrior burdened by a lifetime of guilt. Radia is fifteen, naive about the ways of the world, but with all the gifts of youth; she is a dreamer, has faith in tomorrow, and is the very embodiment of innocence. These two characters play into the central theme I have longed to explore in my writing, the conflict between realism and romanticism, pragmatism and idealism, a harsh and gritty view of the world vs. happily-ever-after fairy tale. The book will challenge reader conventions. Game of Thrones fans may rethink how accurately Westeros represents life. Fans of lighter fare, like Harry Potter, may reconsider what it means to be a good guy. In terms of overall tone, I hope to strike a balance between two extremes, but am inspired by Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, to capture its sense of timelessness. In terms of setting, I am striving for something along the lines of a Miyazaki film; think Howl’s Moving Castle or Spirited Away. I am really fond of his mechanical marvels and flying machines, not quite steam punk but more gear and crank-punk. If much of this sounds heady and dull, never fear, there is also the tetra claw beast, a monster straight from a D&D game I played when I was thirteen. It propels itself through corridors by clawing into the walls and ceiling!

The Princess of Aenya shouldn’t take a decade to master. I know a lot more about writing than I once did, and more about Aenya, so stay tuned for new artwork and sample chapters!