It’s finally finished! After two and a half years of writing, I am proud to say I have a completed draft of the latest in the Aenya series, The Princess of Aenya. Call me melodramatic, but it’s nice knowing I have two “good” books under my belt, so if I die suddenly, I will have left something on this planet to be discovered. Pending a final edit, the word count stands at (c) 125,000 (roughly the length of Tolkien’s The Return of the King), which is quite a bit shorter than my previous book, Ages of Aenya, at around 170+k. Unlike AoA, Princess is a simpler story, but that’s not to say it’s inferior. I like to think of it like Peter S. Beagle’s, The Last Unicorn, from which I have drawn a great deal of inspiration. I wanted to write a fantasy novel that not only captivates the imagination, but has something meaningful to say about life. The very best fiction, IMO, does this. And I aspire to do the same.
Of course, I couldn’t have done it without the help and encouragement of my three beta readers, my wife, Hynde, my good friend, David Pasco, and, strangely enough, someone who contacted me out of the blue, Tobias Tholken, who lives in Germany. When I asked Tobias why he chose to take this journey with me, he said simply that he was a lover of good fantasy, not the cookie cutter, mass-produced kind littering so many bookshelves today. I was honored to know he regarded my work in the same vein as some of the German classics we both adore, like Michael Ende’s The Never Ending Story (another inspiration, incidentally). Truly, amid the glut of sprawling, sword and sorcery world-building epics, there must be a scarcity of meaningful fantasy for him to have reached out to me. At any rate, I cannot thank Hynde, David and Tobias enough. They have definitely earned their place on the book’s Acknowledgment Page!
So what’s next? Well, naturally, I feel that a book like this deserves its spot in every bookstore in America, perhaps the world. The hard part is convincing an agent or an editor to read it. There is this misconception that there’s a guy someplace, reading every submission from cover to cover, tossing manuscripts into either the rejection pile or the approval pile. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. But even if I could get someone to read it, they might decide there aren’t enough vampires, zombies, or moody teenagers to warrant publication. Bookselling is all about making money, and the only formula publishers seem to understand is “if it worked before, it will work again.” Why do you suppose Superman is looking so much like Batman, after The Dark Knight became the third highest grossing film of all time? Such formulaic thinking is, sadly, anathema to art. If you’re writing bondage erotica for the express purpose of capitalizing on the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, sorry, you’re not an artist. This is not to say, however, that artistic endeavors cannot be lucrative. In fact, it is usually the most inspired books that become global sensations. Few thought Harry Potter, which was deemed too long for a kid’s book, would ever succeed. Now, because of Rowling, we have an entire ‘YNA’ section at Barnes & Nobles, right next to the ‘bondage’ category. The problem for publishers/producers is that they simply cannot predict what the next big new thing will be, precisely because it is *new*. As a lover and promoter of great fiction, however, I maintain the belief that a good story will find its way into the hands of readers. Gone are the days of Emily Dickinson and John Kennedy Toole, whose beautiful works were only discovered upon their deaths.
As my dutiful wife goes about sending out queries (because I do not have the heart or the stomach for it) I will be turning my attention to new fiction. There are a number of short stories I have been meaning to write, for the heck of it mostly, though winning a contest would be nice. I also have a stack of books to read. Long ago, I was taught to be wary of reading fiction while writing it, because the style of the author tends to creep into your own. So for the past year, I’ve been devouring a lot of non-fiction, like Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, Islam and the Future of Tolerance, and Waking Up. I also read Bill Nye’s Unstoppable, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Heretic, Bob Ripley’s Life Beyond Belief, and I am finishing up (trying to understand, at any rate) Lawrence M. Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing. Sounds like heady stuff, but it’s actually easier, for me, than reading George R.R. Martin and having to wonder, “do I measure up?” Either way, good writers have to be voracious readers! Even non-fiction helps, for how can I write sufficiently about a subject I know nothing about, lest I limit myself to, God forbid—restaurant management?
But what does the future hold for Aenya? Glad you asked! Eventually, I am going to start on The Children of Aenya (are you detecting a theme here?). Like PoA, it is going to be another spin-off, because, like Harry Potter and The Hobbit and Star Wars, which were each wrapped up neatly, I do not want to invest time on a sequel to a book nobody has read. I would also like to write a novel that my kids can enjoy, who are now 11 and 5. Don’t worry, it won’t be too kiddie, but more along the lines of the fourth Harry Potter and subsequent installments. I’ll simply be omitting the sex, nudity, torture, and the extreme violence (all the good stuff, basically). The main characters will be children, after all, with an older supporting cast. And it will play on multiple levels. In Princess of Aenya, I explored the dichotomies between good and evil, compassion and cruelty, and an idealistic worldview from a more cynical one. With Children of Aenya, I would like to explore the wonder of childhood, and how that wonder connects to the biggest questions we can ask about life and our place in the universe.
To give you an idea, the main character, Lilliea, is a 12 year old ‘apprentice astronomer.’ I picture her stargazing on the roof of her house, with a picnic blanket, a plate of biscuits and a small telescope, and a mind full of questions. The best part is, I will be employing my actual 12 yo daughter, who will be contributing concept sketches soon to be seen here!