Why I Gave up Video Games for Tabletop Role Playing

Don’t get me wrong. I used to get excited about video games. My first system was an Atari 2600, followed by the Nintendo NES, Super Nintendo, GameCube, Wii, Wii U and the Switch. I’ve owned a Saturn, a Dreamcast, an X-Box, X-Box 360, a Playstation, a PS2 … 3 … 4, not to mention the ten grand I’ve plopped down on gaming computers. Among my favorite series is The Legend of Zelda and Street Fighter. But my feeling of tediousness has been steadily growing over the years, and now unopened games just sit on my shelf for months. At some point in time, gaming became a chore. When I look at an inventory screen to get bombarded by a hundred little empty boxes, I just think to myself . . . work.

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After almost four decades of tapping away at controllers, I feel that I’ve seen and done it all. There are very few original ideas in gaming, and even when you come across the occasional weird indie title (Typoman comes to mind) the question then becomes: why would I want to play that? Almost all games fall neatly into a genre: platformer, action, role-playing, racing, fighting—and they are ALL, with little exception, painfully similar. For someone who immerses themselves in gaming culture, the slightest innovations appear to be groundbreaking, but more often than not, these are little more than tweaks. Nintendo’s Wii, with its motion censors, was perhaps the only genuine revolution in recent memory, but then for some reason it was abandoned. Virtual Reality has also failed to wow the general public, because really, who wants to pretend to go to work?

The biggest new idea in shooters, to my knowledge, is auto-cover, a mechanic made popular in Gears of War, and it felt fresh and exciting upon its release, but looking back at it now, much of what you actually do in the game is the same as in every other shooter—running, taking cover, and shooting—just like in Doom, Duke NukemRed Faction, HaloMass Effect and in about a thousand other clones and sequels. RPGs, if you can even call them that, are no different. Whether it’s World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, Oblivion or The Witcheryou are like a hamster on a spinning wheel, repeating the same actions over and over ad nauseam: killing monsters to collect XP, so you can level up to kill more monsters. Rinse and repeat until the boss is dead and a cut scene comes up to let you know the game is over. Sometimes there’s a decent story in there, but for every Eternal Darkness, The Last of Us or Deus Ex, there are about a hundred titles with zombies/demons/aliens invading [insert fantasy realm here] for no damn reason. Even when the story is passable, I am forced to do so much grinding that my life feels wasted. A few years ago I gave up on a game with great animation, engaging characters and a lot of unique ideas, Ni No Kuni. Beautiful though it was, I simply could not play it. After spending the better part of a night trying to kill the first boss, I realized that I needed to grind to progress in the game, and for those of you not in the know, grinding is the process of fighting the same repetitive creatures, in the same repetitive way, while watching the same repetitive animation, sometimes for hours or even days, just to become powerful enough to win. It’s like trying to watch The Lord of the Rings, and having your Blu-Ray player breakdown so that the same scene plays ten times in a row before moving on to the next scene.

The last game I had the patience to sit through was Star Wars: Battlefront for the PS4. Now I know this isn’t the best example of great game design, but it really isn’t so different than any other FPS, where you are ducking behind walls, taking aim and shooting, like I’ve been doing for the past two decades. Quite frankly, I am sick of it. I AM BORED!!!

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Now I won’t go into why tabletop RPGs (real RPGs) like D&D are superior to video games, nor bother explaining how they are tangible, or allow you infinite freedom, or are more social. You can read that here if you want. But I do want to explain why D&D excites me, because with D&D, I get to do different things. Really different things!

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Fun with real people!

Part of the fun for me is creating the game. I get to be a storyteller, an artist, and a level designer. Our current campaign is set on Middle Earth, and the first thing I did was research Tolkien’s world, picking up The Silmarillion, Beren and LúthienThe Children of Húrin and The Fall of Gondolin. Keep in mind, nobody was telling me to read these books. I read only so much as I was enjoying it. To simulate the war against the Witch-King of Angmar, I bought a 3D puzzle of Middle Earth. Again, I could have bought a simple foldout map from Amazon, but I wanted the 3D mountain pieces. Then I went to a hardware store to get a custom cut of plexiglass, and after careful measuring, added squares to the glass using ribbon tape, resulting in a clear chess board. Placing the board over my Middle Earth map, and chess pieces to track the movements of each unit, I ended up with a layout of the war. This was a personal quest I had set out to achieve. Nobody had told me what to do or how to do it. And it involved a lot more thought than simply following an arrow on a screen. The final product is something I truly feel proud of—an actual, real-life achievement.

To invite my players to our game, I wrote a letter imitating Tolkien’s writing, urging them to send reinforcements for the impending war. It was printed on faux-aged paper, and sealed with the Tree of Gondor, before being sent through the mail. This was a real letter, dripping with ink and melted wax, that you could actually hold in your hands. Unfortunately, I received zero response from my hardcore gamer friends, because when a real letter comes in the real mail asking to embark upon a real-ish quest, I suppose they got confused because there was nobody there to tell them what to do.

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A real letter!

For our most recent D&D session, I made a fort and a giant stone head using styrofoam, caulking, Play-Doh and paint. I am always on the lookout for things to make, or unique things I can do, to play outside the box, and by box I mean X-Box.

 

Now you may be thinking, Nick, I don’t really like making things. I don’t like painting, or sculpting, or being creative in any way. And that’s fine. TRPG’s aren’t for everybody, and I suppose there will always be those who prefer multiple choice gaming: Picking between Door A or Door B. Me? I’ll choose to break down a wall every time. The thing about D&D, and tabletop games in general, is that they can be whatever you want them to be. You can even incorporate video games into it, if you want. I actually did this once, using Super Smash Bros. for a Zelda themed campaign. But D&D never forces you to slog through the same repetitive actions over and over, unless you have a bad DM, in which case you can tell him, “Hey, this is boring. Let’s do something different.” And the best part is, every game is unique. NOBODY else is playing your adventure but YOU. Millions of kids have been Link and Mario and Master Chief and Geralt of Rivia. But only I have been Sir Marek the Brave! And this makes for a truly special experience.

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Sir Marek the Brave

In a few weeks, I am planning a kayaking trip with my players. Yes, a real life kayaking trip, and this is going to be part of the game, because we need to get down the Anduin River somehow. Anything goes in my games, and that will always be more exciting, for me at least, than pressing buttons.

The Cloud Breaker

Who doesn’t love airships? I know I do! The Cloud Breaker features prominently in my upcoming book, the second in the Aenya series, The Princess of Aenya. Again, I worked with my excellent Ukrainian artist, Alexey Lipatov, to help make the Cloud Breaker a reality.

Unlike many other flying fantasy ships, I tried to add an element of real-world physics to the Cloud Breaker. This is something I have long strived to give my world, to write sword & sorcery & sandal fantasy, while still acknowledging the parameters of science. With that in mind, I base the Cloud Breaker’s flight capabilities on hot air balloons. Two burners create a draft of rising air, which in turn inflate a special light-weight material, whisper-fabric, which is known only to those of the avian race. Could it work in reality? Probably not, at least not with regards to the weight ratios between hull and sail- volume, but even hard Sci-Fi will sometimes run into problems of plausibility.

CloudBreaker

HISTORY: The Cloud Breaker was built by the people of Yefira, who have a long history of experimenting with aircraft. Ages ago, they learned to take advantage of the region’s powerful wind currents, fashioning windmills, giant-kites, and short-distance gliders called “whirlydinghies”. The Great Chasm, which splits the planet into two hemispheres, provides a perpetual updraft for increased lift while traversing the rift.

The Cloud Breaker is the biggest ship ever to be built by the Yefirans. It is captained by Davos and his mate, a clipped avian named Krow. In calmer winds, the Cloud Breaker sails the waters of the Potamis, the life-giving river of Aenya, along which Davos trades goods from throughout the north-western territories of the world.

STORY: Crossing above and beyond the Crown of Aenya Mountains, to the north pole, the crew of the Cloud Breaker discovers the ancient city of the Zo, Mythradanaiil, known by its citizens as Tyrnael. What Davos uncovers in that fabled land will alter his life, and the future of his people, forever.

Be like Davos! Discover the world of Aenya for yourself! Get Ages of Aenya NOW at www.nickalimonos.com!

 

D&D in the Faerie Tale Kingdom

As I’ve focused my attention away from The Writer’s Disease, I’ve been spending more time on gaming with my kids. Aside from family, my chief love remains storytelling. If I could not write books, I would make screenplays for TV or movies. Barring that, I could settle for a good campfire.

Story gives life meaning. It defines who we are, what we believe, and provides an answer to the deepest questions of existence. History, religion, even the memories we have of our own lives, is little more than the stories we tell ourselves. Before YouTube, Netflix or PS4, there was fire, and the images our minds formed from the heart of the flame. Playing D&D with the family is a continuation of this old age tradition, and it beats any other entertainment medium IMO, because other mediums lack the human connection that comes from sitting face-to-face with your storyteller.

If much of this sounds grandiose, my apologies, poetic license is a bad a habit. On a more down-to-earth note, I am learning the ways of YouTube, how to stitch audio and video together to give my fans more Aenya-related content in a new way, and so that I may reach out to those unfamiliar with the Aenya-verse. The story below may also, in a loose way, serve as inspiration for upcoming novels. It is a bit long for YouTube, admittedly, but it recounts our seven months of gaming. Enjoy!

 

Lilliea and Rose Mathonway continue their adventures through the multiverse in the Faerie Tale Kingdom! This is the complete retelling of our seven-month fairytale themed D&D campaign, featuring the fifth setting in the three years I have been DMing for my family and friends. I’d like to give a special thanks to my players: to my two daughters, who play Lilliea and Rose, to my wife, who plays Kalima, and to our closest family friend, Elgy “Mimi” Marie, who rocks it as Sekhmet. I would also like to thank my nephews for their occasional contributions, to Fonda, who gave life to Kraktock, and to Arthur, who shamelessly took on the mantle of Alabaster, daughter of Snow White. Without you guys, this otherworldly experience could not have been possible. I would also like to thank all of the people who’ve contributed art and inspiration to this project.

 

Aenya Newsletter 03/21/2018

Existenz.

Existenz is a 1999 Sci-Fi flick about a virtual reality world much like the Matrix, which happens to have been released the same year as The Matrix. Every morning, I wake up with this word in my head. Existenz. I am not thinking about the movie, however, but the ideas the movie explores, the notion of existence itself. At forty-three years of age, the act of simply existing is beginning to weigh on me. I feel the heaviness of life’s tribulations, and a mountain of day-to-day responsibilities. What concerns me most, is that my life may resemble that of Sisyphus, the Greek king who was punished in Hades, forced to push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back again and again for all eternity. What headway am I making in the world? What does it all mean? And what value is there, truly, in becoming known and recognized, given the inevitable cold death of the universe?

Sometimes I wander my neighborhood in the bewitching hours of the night, racked by these thoughts. My blog, I am continually reminded, is aptly named. It is no exaggerating to say that artists suffer. I suppose I should take my suffering with pride. Creativity brings me great joy; it is a conduit through which to explore other worlds. But by the same token, it makes me an outsider. I am like a superhero, like Dr. Manhattan. Nobody can relate. The way I see it, I’ve got another good decade and a half to open the world to Aenya. I want people to visit this universe in my head in the way readers vacation to Middle Earth and Narnia and Westeros and the Wizarding World. With time running out, I’ve decided to give my parents two-years’ notice. Come Hell or high water, I’ll be quitting my pizza job by 2020, to turn my efforts to Aenya and beyond. 2020 is a nice round number, as is 45.

If I am Sisyphus, and the goal is nation-wide recognition, I can honestly say I am getting there. I have been receiving some really great praise on Amazon. Ages of Aenya stands at 4.5 Stars, with 10 reviews in, and 1-Star from my pet troll (hey, where you at? Miss you!). Some of my commentators are particularly eloquent:

 

At a deeper level, Ages of Aenya explores the conflicting human impulses for myth, religion, and scientific reason by mixing them together circling through the minds and discoveries of the characters he has created. There’s plenty to ponder here about what makes us human. The unashamed nakedness of the main characters strongly integrates the real and the metaphorical dimensions of honest and authentic humanity.

 

Thelana 2018

Every year, since 2003, I have commissioned a portrait of Thelana, my favorite heroine, and you don’t need heroin when you’ve got heroine. Sorry! Hal Glick used an advanced 3D modeling program for the 2018 rendition, and while I am less a fan of computer-generated art than what can be generated by the human hand, I can’t deny the beauty of this piece. Conveying the power and dignity of the nude form can be a challenge in modern day America, and as I have been discovering with the release of my book, it isn’t the feminists who give me trouble, but the men who cannot help but think of Thelana in terms of pornography. It has gotten to the point that I may abandon naked heroes altogether, not because I do not love the idea, but because this country has yet to grow out of its awkward teenage phase. Fortunately, I feel that Hal managed to steer clear of our lowest instincts with this piece. So, if you’re more than a halfman and can keep it in your pants, check out Thelana’s other portraits in my Deviant Art gallery.

 

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Thelana 2018

 

 

To Be Read: A Literary Podcast by Nick and Mars

It has become clear to me that people are moving away from blogs to podcasts and YouTube videos. I don’t blame them. While I still believe in the power of the written over the spoken word, humans are lazy, and are simultaneously being drowned by information. Who has time to sort through the noise? What makes writing so special is the depth and richness of information something like a novel can provide. No other media, film or otherwise, can fully convey the worlds contained within The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and A Game of Thrones. It is for this reason, precisely, you always hear people say “the book was better.” But the advantages of a blog are minimal. Still, I love fiction, and talking about fiction, and so my partner-in-crime, Mars, has started a literary podcast, with the aid of yours truly. Every week or so, we will be chatting up our favorite books and authors, and more importantly, we’ll be discussing current events in this crazy world we happen to be living in, and how those events are reflected and informed by literary works both classic and modern. And really, I am starting to think this is a simulation, or at the very least, that when the wave-function last collapsed, I barely slipped through to this reality . . . Ah, never-mind.

So be sure to hop on over to our new blog to hear Mars and I talk books at To Be Read.

 

Ages of Aenya Kindle Edition Now Available!!!

The long wait is over. If you’ve been living in another country, planet or plane of existence, and you have access to a smart phone or other e-reader, and if you are dying to explore Aenya, NOW is your chance!

Get Ages of Aenya Kindle Edition from Amazon for just $9.99. It’s the greatest thing since the replicating molecule.

Ages of Aenya Holiday Special!

Whether you commemorate the birth of your savior or honor the Green Goddess of the Ilmar, ’tis the season to celebrate!

Starting today, I am offering Ages of Aenya at the DEEPLY discounted rate of $10.00. That’s down from $17.95! This is my GIFT to you!

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So if you’ve been sitting on the balustrade about taking your first step into Aenya, NOW is the time! Don’t know what to get the book lover in your life? Tired of waiting for George RR Martin to finally finish Winds of Winter? Itching to find some new fantasy series to lose yourself in? Explore Hedonia before the Sea washes it away. Lose yourself in the Great White Flat. Brave the pewter peaks of Northendell. Follow Thelana and Xandr as they brazenly hunt the Wildwood. But you’d best hurry, because this offer is only good for the holidays, and supplies are limited.

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VISIT AENYA

 

Ages of Aenya Launch Day!

It’s Ages of Aenya launch day everybody! Today, after ten years in the making, my book officially goes on sale on my new author site, nickalimonos.com! It’s available on Amazon, but you can get it directly from me at a discounted price, with free full color maps of Aenya. You can also find exclusive Aenya-related artwork, by Zhengyi Yu, Alexey Lipatov and Frans Mensink, at my store.

If you have been following this blog, have any interest in Aenya or in my naturist heroes, or if you simply love fantasy adventure, you can’t miss picking this up!

Welcome to the world of Aenya!

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GET IT NOW!

Aenya Newsletter 10/25/2017

Exciting news, everyone! My book came in the mail today! There’s just something magical, transformative even, when you get to hold your story in your hands for the first time. You know this is it, after more than a decade of writing and rewriting, the novel in its final form. Ages of Aenya is here.

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So where and when can you get it? Well, you can order it from Amazon.com, or next month from my new author site. I recommend cutting out the middle man and getting it directly from www.nickalimonos.com, as I can offer it at a discounted price, along with some Aenya inspired artwork! For all you e-readers out there, a Kindle version is in the works, and will be available next year.

Watch my YouTube video to learn more, or read the transcript below.

 

“Hi everyone! I’m very excited to show you what came in the mail the other day. It’s my book … Ages of Aenya!

I am really happy with the way this turned out. As you can see, it’s a hefty book. You can really do a lot of damage with this if you wanted. There’s Thelana on the cover, overlooking the city of Hedonia, with the pyramid of Sargonus in the background.

For years, people have been asking me ‘when is your book coming out?’ Well, now it’s here!

So, I really cannot wait to get this into your hands! It has everything lovers of fantasy adventure could ask for: fighting, monsters, exotic locations, romance, naked heroes, not-so-naked heroes; it’s been inspired by heroes like Conan and He-Man, and by writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, HP Lovecraft, and Homer (if you love Greek mythology).

It should be available to order mid-November, or even sooner from Amazon.com. But I recommend you wait and get it from me at my new author site, nickalimonos.com, where I will be offering it at a discounted price, and where I’ll be selling some Aenya inspired artwork. I will be providing links to buy it from my other social media platforms as well, from aenya.net and my blog, writersdisease.net.

Some people have asked me about a Kindle version. The Kindle version will be available early next year, but I wanted to get the physical copy into people’s hands first. There’s just something magical about a physical book. It has weight. It has substance. You can display it on your shelf. Too much stuff these days is digital, on a screen, so I think it’s nice to have something you can touch and feel. And besides, that’s actually a theme of the story!

Lastly, I’d like to thank my beta readers, who’ve supported me all these years. They include David Pasco, Heather Zanitsch, Tobias Tholken, and my brilliant editor, Ava Coibion, whose insights helped make the book even better. And of course my wife, Hynda, who has always been there for me!

So again, I am really excited to get this book into your hands. It’s been my passion for over a decade and now it’s here. Finally. Thanks for watching.”

D&D and the Fantasy Author

Roleplaying games, and by that I mean “real” roleplaying games, the kind with dice and paper, can be a powerful resource for any writer of fantasy, a great source of ideas and inspiration. My most recent novel, The Princess of Aenya, was inspired by a one-day 4th edition D&D campaign. In the game, my wife played Queen Isadora, a cleric. One of my nephews was a ninja/assassin sent to kill her, and my other nephew her protector, Demacharon. I imagined an enormous stairwell spiraling down a chasmic tower, with arrows raining down on them from all sides. Years later, that exact scene made its way into the first chapter of my novel, except Isadora was now Radia, and the ninja assassin appeared later in the story. Incidentally, Radia and Demacharon would later come upon a monster in a crypt, the tetra-claw beast. I first drew the tetra-claw beast when I was twelve, for a 1st edition campaign, and there it sat in my brain for 30 years, waiting to emerge on the stage of chapter 3 to pounce on my heroes!

The beautiful thing about roleplaying is that it allows you to create without having to worry about being judged. Too often, writers are discouraged by the literary world. Want to write a story about a knight saving a damsel in distress? No way! That’s both cliche and “sexist”. Want to have a ninja teaming up with a robot for a swashbuckling adventure? Not if you want to appeal to older, more jaded readers of “serious” fantasy like Game of Thrones. But in D&D, you can do whatever the hell you want. Write like nobody’s reading. Dream like you’re twelve again. And then, as is often the case, lightning strikes. An idea is born that germinates into something great. All it took for Harry Potter to happen is for JK to board a train.

Sometimes in this hyper-competitive market, we forget just why we read, why we write, and why we play. And the reason, in case you’ve forgotten, is because life is just too short and the world just too small for our human-sized brains. The fantasy enthusiast craves more than one planet to explore, longs to step outside the boundaries and limitations of this one-time existence. This is what novels and RPGs have in common; they are the gateways to something more.

If you’re a gamer, or just curious to read an adventure in a different way (this is where the oft-disregarded second-person narrative thrives) you can download the file below. Whether you’re new to D&D or a seasoned veteran, you may find it useful. And, unlike in the literary world, everyone is free to steal!


 

Heraldo the Great

5th Edition D&D Adventure

The Princess of Aenya

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Radia by Selene Regener

Once, not long ago, there lived a king in the land of Tyrnael, who had but one daughter. This daughter he loved with his whole heart, but upon her eleventh year she fell ill, her cheeks paling like the petals of a dying ilm. Never leaving her bedside, the king called for every physician in his kingdom, but all were at a loss, for her ailment was unlike any they had seen. With enduring hope, the king sent emissaries to lands near and abroad, and learned men did arrive from as far south as the One Sea and from as far east as Shemselinihar, yet all were utterly mystified by her sickness. Beset by grief and desperation, the king offered all that he had, his very kingdom in recompense, to save his little girl from doom. 

And it so happened, that upon this decree, a wizened sage appeared at the gates of the Compass Tower. Examining the girl with care, he declared with confidence that he could make the girl whole again, brewing an elixir so that she might drink of it and become well. And shortly thereafter, the rosy hue returned to the little girl’s cheeks. Overjoyed, the king asked what the stranger wished from him in return, reminding him of his vow. 

“So long as you know,” the sage said to him, “I can stay the hand of the Taker, but only for a time. At the close of three days, before the moon eclipses on the third night, if she does not drink of my elixir, Death shall surely claim her.” 

Hearing this dreadful prophecy, the king turned ashen, but the sage comforted him, saying, “Be not dismayed, for it is not beyond my power to procure this remedy, enough to keep your daughter in good stead for her remaining days. Yet it is not without its price.” 

The king readily agreed, preparing to surrender his great wealth, his kingdom if need be, but the sage asked for one small thing, and one thing only, in return for his ministrations, that the king take as his own a young boy to be adopted. The sage’s own son.


 

Chapter 1: Radia: Upon her father’s death, Radia inherits the throne of Tyrnael, ancient capital of Aenya. Though she is only 15, Radia finds the courage to refute her brother in court, only to be betrayed by the people she trusted to protect her. Her only hope is Demacharon, an aging soldier from the distant land of Hedonia. But why should a stranger risk certain death, for a girl he hardly knows, when all the military might of Tyrnael is bent on destroying her?

Chapter 2: Demacharon: He has no memory of who he is or how he came to be. He walks through a nightmarish wasteland and his dread is palpable. Is it a dream? The afterlife? Or merely a glimpse of things to come?

Chapter 3: Eros: Like his mother, Eros is branded, invisible to society. It makes him the ideal assassin, the only man capable of hunting down and cutting out the heart of the princess. But can even the self-appointed king of Tyrnael deliver his fee?

Songs and Poetry: Noora’s SongThe Procession

Zaibos Facing You

Zaibos by David Pasco

SUPPORTING CAST: DEMACHARON – ZAIBOS – NESSUS

Races of Aenya: Avian – Bogren – Horg

Eldin’s Brief Timeline

Cosmology of Aenya: The Hayden Planetarium Answers Questions about Aenya: Aenya is uncommon in the fantasy genre in that it follows real world physics. Specifically, it is a moon of the gas giant Infinity. Close proximity to this large planet accounts for the turquoise “moon” Radia and Demacharon can see in the sky. Since one side of their world perpetually faces Infinity, life can be harsh on Aenya. I would like to thank Alejandro Nunez, at the Hayden Planetarium, for helping me add credibility to this fictional world, by answering my questions about an Aenya-type planet.

About the Author: I wrote my first story when I was six, and by age nine, convinced my father to take me to DC Comics Headquarters, in New York City, to solicit my own comic book series. I later attended the University of South Florida, where I graduated with my BA in English Fiction, helped as a tutor, ran a fan-fiction site, and worked as a freelance editor. My short story, The Gorgon’s Lover, was chosen a semi-finalist for the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award. For more about my life, please visit my bio page.

 

The Princess of Aenya is the second book set in the world of Aenya.

The Nomad: A Love Story DLC

The Nomad is a love story, a mythical tale of heroism and enduring faith, parts Odyssey, parts The Arabian Nights

Like the Greek hero, Odysseus, Dynotus is twenty years from his homeland, searching the desert for Sali—the woman he loves—who has been taken as a slave. It is rife with fantastic locales, mythical monsters, and epic bloodshed, all set against the endless sands of the Sahara.

The Nomad is my first novel, that I wrote when I was in high school. It is presented here for the first time in its entirety in PDF.

 

[The Nomad: A Love Story]