Aenya Newsletter 5/31/2017

Greetings Aenya fans! First, let me apologize for my long absence. For the past few months, I have been working diligently at completing the final, final (hopefully) edit of Ages of Aenya, with the help of my brilliant and insightful editor, Ava Coibion. Honestly, I won’t be changing another word unless a publisher insists upon it.

Overall, Ava’s enthusiasm has greatly stirred my long dormant feelings for the story and its characters, to see the adventures of Xandr and Thelana with fresh, new eyes. More importantly, she has helped me realize that the book is really up to par, that it deserves its place on every bookstore shelf.

After going through all 170,000 words, Ava forwarded Ages of Aenya to a well-known fantasy author (as in, his books frequent Barnes & Nobles top shelves). While I cannot yet divulge his name, here is what she wrote,

 

The novel is titled “Ages of Aenya” and includes elements of time travel, utopian societies vs. warring ones, mythical creatures and history, good against greed, civilizations gone awry, prophecy … Two of the main characters come from a now-extinct woodland society where they lived harmoniously and innocently and now the couple has to face all kinds of peril. They grow together as a couple though their relationship gets challenged in some unique ways. Nature and science figure in to the text really nicely … the book, overall, is really well balanced. Much like your Alice series, this book has the emotional range that a lot of fantasy/sci-fi does not. I edit a lot of stuff, and this book really had me hooked.

 

Ava and I are hoping for his help, because in the publishing world, the name of the game is knowing the right people. At the very least, he can shoot me a blurb to slap on the back cover.

Either way, I am more confident than ever that the Aenya series can find an audience, and that’s what the book business is all about. It’s not about satisfying every reader, but a sizable number who will find what I do enjoyable. I am sure many will think it garbage, but just visit Amazon’s comment section and you’ll find people who think Harry Potter is utter trash, and Song of Ice and Fire is boring, or that The Lord of the Rings is poorly written. It’s not the haters that matter, but the lovers that make sales, and the job of the successful writer is to find those lovers.

Should Ava’s author friend choose not to endorse me, you (dear reader) will still be seeing Ages of Aenya in your hands, hopefully before the end of this year, as I will be continuing my original plan to self-publish. I am only holding off on it at Ava’s request, who feels the book is sure to win over agents. But if I do end up going the original route, I feel far better about it, as the online world has changed significantly since 2004. Thanks to the web, entertainment media is becoming more and more independent. YouTube stars make as much, if not more money than people on TV, with production quality that is often superior. Kickstarter offers a flood of new, independent board games, which are more fun to play than anything at Toys-R-Us or at hobby stores (Cards Against Humanity, anyone)? And the three biggest console giants, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony, have all embraced independent gaming. It all points to the death of the old age stigma, that if something doesn’t come from a big name company, it must be worthless.

On the fictional front, going over the novel has helped me realize the potential for an Ages of Aenya sequel. This is something I have been sitting on since 2006, because I could not be certain anyone would ever get their hands on the first in the series. I was also reluctant, because of the excessive nudity in the book. I wasn’t sure the world was ready for all-nude heroes, and in retrospect, I feel that Xandr and Thelana, in 2004, may have been too ahead of their time. The world looks quite different now. Today we have shows like Naked & Afraid and Naked Dating; and HBO’s Westworld features so much casual nudity, an Ages of Aenya mini-series seems well within the realm of possibility. Even celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian and Orlando Bloom can post full-frontal selfies on social media without scandal.

Perhaps more importantly, naturism is slowly growing synonymous with feminism. Emma Watson vehemently defended her feminist cred after posing for a magazine where part of her boob is showing, stating, “What do my boobs have to do with feminism?” and Patty Jenkins, director of Wonder Woman, argued in favor of the first cinematic female superhero’s choice of thigh-revealing attire.

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OK, maybe I dwell too much on what my heroes are wearing. Either way, Ava didn’t find Thelana offensive at all, and that’s encouraging, as the Ilmar, in true naturist fashion, choose to forgo clothing for the entirety of the novel. The working title is, The Naked Gods, and will feature heavily revised scenes from both The Skyclad Warriors and The City of the Drowned.

Thelana 2016 by Lipatov

Thelana: Your Time Has Come

Finally, I have not forgotten my other big project, The Children of Aenya, or Lilliea’s and Rose’ Adventures through the Hub of All Worlds. It’s going to be a fun adventure story for a wider age group, something both my kids and long time readers can enjoy. Of course, I cannot devote the next two years to writing without exploring the themes I feel most passionate about. In this case, I will be exploring the sense of wonder that comes with childhood, how that shapes and motivates our lives. I will also be dwelling on belief, imagination and fact, and the interplay between them. Or in other words, between magic and science, and how they differ with regards to our perceptions. I think this may be of particular significance given our current political climate, as the very idea of truth seems to be under attack. Sounds like heady stuff, I know, but there’ll be no shortage of crazy monsters, jaw-dropping locales, and of course, characters you will want to call your friends.

 

Aenya News Update 3/26/2016

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Radia by Selene Regener

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!

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Amalthea the unicorn, courtesy of my daughter

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.

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Zaibos courtesy of David Pasco

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?

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Nessus courtesy of David Pasco

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.

 

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Demacharon courtesy of David Pasco

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!

 

Olympia Publishers and the Art of the Soft Scam

Nobody has time for yours.

This post was going to be something else entirely, a celebration. My wife and I received a positive response from a publisher, and the other night, we made a special toast at P.F. Chang’s, “To passing the second gate!” See, there are three main obstacles to publication. First, your query letter has to catch the eye of an agent or publisher. This is the first gate. If they are interested, they will ask for your synopsis and three sample chapters, and if the powers-that-be are impressed, they’ll request the entire manuscript, and this is what had my wife thrilled, even though I had my doubts. Now my wife isn’t gullible. “It looks legit!” she said, after looking over their website and checking out their covers, many of which are quite professional looking. The company is Olympia Publishers, based in the U.K.

At one point, I thought, “Hey, all the best writers are from there!” Which, for me at least, is true. I went through my shelf, picking out my favorites, originally published in the U.K., like Harry Potter and Cloud Atlas and Never Let Me Go. Yessir, I thought, the British know good literature when they see it! 

A cursory look into their company revealed a small press, which rang a few alarm bells. But I rationalized, “Hey, they’re taking a chance on an unknown, so why not give them a chance? Maybe I can help put them on the map.” After all, smaller companies are more willing to take risks, whereas the mega-publishers, like Tor and Bantam, are homogenized, afraid to try new and different things. Ages of Aenya isn’t your typical rogue/elf/dragon story, and I needed a company with the balls to sell it. Then, when I sat down with my wife to print a hardcopy to send to them, I decided to do a little more research.      

The thing about scams these days is that they don’t look like what you see on TV. Nobody is going to sell you a box of rocks and run off laughing with your money. Just like consumers, scammers have wizened up. They know how easy it is to Google them before you give out your credit card, and so now we have the soft scam, and the best (or worst) part is, it’s not illegal, because what you hope to be getting is never explicitly stated, only implied. I experienced this in 2000, after exhaustively researching self-publishing, and a company called Xlibris. Now, it’s not as if Xlibris gave me nothing in return for my money. In fact, their print quality is superb, and in some cases superior to many books sold in stores. But the headliner on their website read, “Write your success story!” They imply fame and fortune, but what they don’t tell you is that none of their authors have ever managed it. Could it happen? I don’t doubt it, but the chances are so unlikely, it might as well be a scam. 

Olympia Publishers isn’t doing anything illegal, but I put them into a category below Xlibris. At least self-publishing houses have the good graces to admit what they are offering. Small presses like Olympia pretend to allow for success, to do what publishers are supposed to do: promote your writing and profit from readers, but they work in reverse. They ask you to send in a query and synopsis, and after a few tense weeks, ask for the manuscript. If it passes the scrutiny of their editors, you become a published author! If not, there is a second option, a pay to play option. After a little Googling, I found dozens of heartbroken writers tricked by this scheme, who were told they would be published, only to be asked to cover costs of up to 3500 pounds (nearly $5000)! 

With the advent of free Internet media, free e-books, and the sheer glut of crap novels making the rounds these days, it must be difficult for any publisher to survive. I wouldn’t doubt whether many small presses started out in earnest, only to realize they couldn’t cut it the traditional way. Inundated with desperate would-be authors and totally indifferent readers, it was only a matter of time before someone got smart and reversed the flow, profiting off of writers instead. After all, making money is all about supply meeting demand, and the demand writers have for recognition is palpable!  

Still, it sickens me to know people will profit off desperation, from crushed hopes and dreams. My wife was so visibly shaken by the experience, I ended up feeling worse for her than for myself. 

But, what if we hadn’t found any bad press about Olympia Publishers? What if we had been the first to be duped? Well, there’s an easy trick to finding out who’s legit, and who isn’t. Just go to Amazon, under the Book department, and search by Publisher. Olympia has many books listed, so at least they’re not a total scam, but not one of their titles ranks above one millionth in sales! If you want to be ranked a millionth, by all means proceed, but that isn’t any publisher I want representing my fifteen years of passion! Heck, one book was ranked in the 5 millionths, worse than my own The Dark Age of Enya, which is in the 4 millionths! It is an unusual situation when a POD book is outselling a “legitimately” published book.    

Being a writer these days is to court insanity and despair. My honest advice to you is: choose another profession, because there is more heartache and disappointment in this field than in any other. Not only do you spend thousands upon thousands of hours working at something without getting paid for it, but the people in your life don’t even consider it a job. Add to that the total lack of moral support from friends and family, and mix in, as a special bonus, all of the scammers trying to take advantage of you, and well . . . that’s the industry. The only reason I haven’t quit, can’t quit, is because it’s a part of me, my writer’s disease. And, god dammit, Ages of Aenya is good book. 

 

2017 UPDATE! A great alternative to Olympia and other scam-publishers is CreateSpace. They make no promises regarding fame and fortune, but provide aspiring authors the basic tools to achieve success. With CreateSpace, everything is up to you. They helped me design the layout of my book, using artwork I provided them. Best of all, you decide how much or little to charge. All you pay is for setup, printing and delivery. Today, I am reaching more readers than ever through my author site, http://www.nickalimonos.com.

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NOW AVAILABLE!

 

The Hurdle of Reading and Dealing with Hubris as an Undiscovered Writer

Is it???


So, the other day, a fan of mine (I do have them) suggested I act more enthusiastically about my book. I need to sell it like it’s the greatest thing since movable type. This was in response to my disappointing Kickstarter campaign. As of today, I have only managed to raise about $900 of the $10,000 needed for editing and marketing. But the thing is, I am not a salesman. I couldn’t sell Gatorade to a man dying of thirst. Nor can I bring myself, in good conscious, to brag. Judging my writing is like judging how attractive you are. It just looks bad. Unfortunately, I am in the unenviable position of prostituting my mind, and as I have been learning lately, a big part of the publishing industry is shoveling BS. I cannot express my level of disgust for covers declaring such and such author is brilliant, or promises of, You won’t be able to put it down! It’s true about 10% of the time, which is why my favorite jacket is of Catcher in the Rye. Front and back are identical, just a horse on a merry-go-round. No praise whatsoever. Nada. Zilch. And the ironic thing is, Salinger is a true, literary genius. But just like me, he abhorred anything that was BS, or as he put it, phony. Nowadays, saturated by video games and YouTube and Twitter feeds, the influx of phoniness would probably make his head explode. But it’s worse for us, I think, because all this click-bait crap (You won’t believe what happens next!) is turning us into zombies.

This remarkable illustration by Steve Cutts


We hunger for memes like the walking dead feasting on brains, but have no appetite for genuine storytelling, for anything meaningful or nuanced. But story is what I live for. It isn’t just something that matters a lot to me, it’s the only thing that matters. Call me crazy, but story is what we are. Our religions are stories. Our lives are stories. And when I am dead and buried in the ground, all that my children and grandchildren will have of me are memories, my story. Even when the human race goes extinct, the thing that will remain is our story. To trivialize story is to trivialize existence itself. 

Given a chance, a good book can outcompete any form of entertainment. But it takes patience, something we don’t seem to have much of these days, and publishers have taken note. My favorite novels are classics, like The Iliad, A Tale of Two Cities, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Grapes of Wrath, but the industry urges us to avoid such books, lest we fall into the trap of writing that way, because substance takes too much effort, and the payoff, however life changing, takes too long. Modern style (if you can call it style) is reflected in books like the The Martian, so instead of, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” readers are treated to, “I’m pretty much fucked.” Hey, obscenity is fine, simplicity not so much.

As an aspiring author, I am getting to a point where I cannot enjoy reading. While there are some truly great new books out there, The Road and Never Let Me Go come to mind, these are far and in-between, and you really have to dig through the dreck to find them. And there seems to be no pattern, no way to be guaranteed of a good read. Not every classic is great, for instance. After Frankenstein, I found Bram Stoker’s Dracula to be dry and dull, a glorified slasher from the 1800’s. Both A Princess of Mars and Tarzan are equally inane, but then I have to remember the context in which they were written, and the target audience, pubescent boys living in the 1900’s. More and more, I am coming up with excuses for bad storytelling. “Well, this was written at a different time,” or “This was popular then,” or “The publisher rushed him,” or “She’s a well established author and this is the fifth in the series, so the demand for quality isn’t there …” Now you may be wondering, why am I even bothering with excuses? Because I don’t have the status to knock a famous piece of fiction. I am a fucking restaurant employee asking people what they want on their pizza, so what the hell do I know? 

And this, this, is the dichotomy splitting my brain in two, the thing that’ll have me foaming at the keyboard in an insane asylum someday. Prudence dictates I never compare, never admit, “Shit, my book is better than this, a lot better, in fact …” But I cannot help these feelings, and the frustration that follows. It’s like being in love, and you want to share it with the world, but she’s a married woman. Too often, when I start reading a new book, I find myself reworking the story a dozen different ways, to improve it, and I just have to the put the damn thing down in frustration, especially if said author is a millionaire. On the other hand, if a writer truly intimidates me, I am overjoyed. I am overjoyed by Kazuo Ishiguro and Cormac McCarthy, by Robert Holdstock and David Mitchell, and dozens of others. I want to have them over for tea and get deep into words.

This is the kind of person I am: people come to the restaurant where I work and say, “You’re pizza is the best in the world!” I hear it all the time, and every time I feel embarrassed, and worse, like I am somehow deceiving the public. Best in the world? According to who? Some customer? Nah. I’m sure some fancy chef in Italy or New York can make much better pizza. How good of a book is Ages of Aenya? Is it great … good … decent even? This I know to be true, it’s a lot better than half the books on my shelf. The trouble is saying it. Who would believe me?

The hardest part about being a writer isn’t the writing, it’s getting people to notice you, to discover what you’ve spent half your life bringing to the world, in the hopes that, just possibly, it might stir something deep inside of them. The writer/reader relationship is a lot like romantic love, when one pines for the other, but the love is unrequited. Having to remain humble in this instance is like being Gatsby, throwing the biggest party from afar, in the hopes the one you cherish stumbles through your door. 

The Quest for Literary Greatness

The greatness of literature cannot be determined solely by literary standards
— T.S. Eliot 

Was it crazy to believe in this? Many said it was.

In her post, Top 10 Ways to get rejected by your dream agent, Barbara Rogan talks about fellow agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, who was attacked on her way to her car by a writer whom she had rejected. Naturally, Barbara used this as an opportunity to plug her book, which happens to have the same plot (an agent stalked by a writer), which makes me wonder whether this story was a ploy to boost sales (OK, maybe not), but what really incensed me was the followup section, in which Barbara jokingly lists the things writers can do to get rejected. Under the heading, Be crazy, Barbara writes, “If you have a solution to the world’s problems, let the agent know.” Really? If that scares her off, what a sad and jaded outlook she must have! Look, I realize agents receive a gajillion queries a day, most from megalomaniacs, so I cannot entirely blame them for their cynicism. On the other hand, people like Mrs. Rogan need consider the words of Gandhi, who said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Every serious writer has, at one time or another, considered the impact of their work on society. I am not crazy enough to believe that my book will result in world peace, but I do know that throughout history, men and women have been inspired by art, many of whom went on to do remarkable things. To achieve something historic, someone must first imagine doing it. If Jules Verne had not imagined man traveling to the moon, we might never have landed Apollo 11 on its surface. Outside of the Bible, the Koran and the Communist Manifesto, no single piece of writing has resulted in global change, but the collective output of an enlightened and artistic community usually does. Writers, like myself, exist as a tiny thread in the tapestry of human events.

If agents see fiction as little more than a means to a living, that view is symptomatic of their profession, not mine. Finding “solutions to the worlds’ problems” has always been part and parcel of the writer’s resume. Only recently, perhaps due to our current age of information and a flood of poorly written manuscripts, writers have been discouraged from this traditional role. All the while, scientists like Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins urge children toward scientific literacy for the express purpose of solving the world’s problems, using rhetoric reminiscent of Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. But the power of fiction and its impact can take many different forms.

For the past few years, the heading to my blog stated,

Fiction is a lens through which we see the truth behind reality. It touches our core values and defines who we are. It takes a life of random events and gives it meaning.

I am proud of this statement and stand by it still. Fiction encompasses a wide range of mediums, whether book, play, film, TV or video game. Even religion falls under the category of fiction, and yet is no less crucial to society. From the beginnings of history, mankind has searched for meaning, through cave art and in stories related through word of mouth. Fiction gave the men and women of antiquity the strength and inspiration to fight for survival, overcome tragedy, and cope with death. Even in our modern lives of convenience, where the wolf is no longer a threat and starvation is a rarity, we deal with challenges of purpose. We still wonder about our existence, asking the same questions as philosophers and theologians, is this all there is? We are born, we live, we die. Is it even worth suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as Shakespeare so eloquently put it in Hamlet’s soliloquy? Without art, life is nothing more. To inspire even a single life is to change the world. 

Editors and agents act as the gatekeepers of fiction. They owe their lofty position to large populations and the necessity to weed out the “wheat” from the “chaff”. During the early days of the Internet, circa 1996-1997, when fan-fiction was practically unheard of, I was a kind of agent myself. My site, The Grayskull Library, welcomed He-Man fiction from all over the Internet. Since our community of enthusiasts was small, most anyone willing to put in the effort got their fiction posted, and the site garnered hundreds of thousands of views. A similar situation existed during prehistory. In a village of a few hundred, those born with the writer’s disease had no problem sharing their stories about the campfire. But as knowledge of our community grew, so did the number of submissions to my site. It quickly became unmanageable and I was forced to reject people. So, in many ways, I understand the difficult job of the agent, but also feel the need to be better understood and appreciated. If agents do not believe in the power of literature, they will never recognize greatness when it comes to pass through their gate. 

As a writer, my ambition has never been merely to entertain or make money (though important enterprises in and of themselves) but to inspire readers, the way other writers inspired me, to achieve what I can only describe as literary greatness. And while this may sound like the words of a megalomaniac, the difference comes from my rational belief in hard work and perseverance, without which greatness cannot be achieved, and that, while I may not be great I can reach for greatness, and if Barbara Rogan thinks me crazy for reaching so high, so be it. Henceforth, the new subheading for this blog will be:

THE WRITER’S DISEASE: THE QUEST FOR LITERARY GREATNESS