Acknowledgments

 

I am currently working with CreateSpace to design the exterior and interior layout for Ages of Aenya. Part of that interior is the Acknowledgments page. So, here it is, a sincere and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has supported me these many years, who offered words of encouragement and praise, who left comments when I most needed them, and who lifted me out of the figurative marsh when the demons of doubt weighed most heavily upon me. Your free copy will be in the mail as soon as (or shortly after) I can get my hands on it!

 

This is for my wife, Hynde, who never lost faith in this project, who put up with me during the ups and downs of the long creative process. I would also like to thank my friends and fans, my tireless beta-reader, David Pasco, whose enthusiasm for Aenya often rivals my own, and Heather Zanitsch, whose literary knowledge keeps my mind from dulling. And to everyone who’s ever given me a word of encouragement, I give my regards, from Dean Ristich, who taught me to see the magic in the world, to my third grade Creative Writing teacher, who inspired me to pursue my dream. Of course, I can’t forget my partner in crime, my editor, Ava Justine Coibion, whose insights have helped make Ages of Aenya the best it could be. 

Aenya Newsletter 9/01/2017

Greetings, fans!

The question I am most asked about Aenya is the most obvious one: when the heck is the book coming out? All I can say is, be patient. I admit to being a bit slow, but it’s only because I abhor the thought of releasing anything but the very best possible work. I’d also like to point out that, as a struggling writer, I, among others, are embarking upon a new age of independence. The big publishers are bleeding money, and as a result, have become increasingly mired by conformity. Vampires. Zombies. Apocalyptic teenage romances. Gritty Game of Thrones wannabes. And when something like 50 Shades of Grey makes a bajillion dollars, we get inundated with bondage porn, and an entire new section at Barnes & Nobles. Now, I don’t really blame the booksellers for this. They are simply doing what they need to survive. As I put it in my new bio:

Since starting out on this journey, nearly three decades ago, the literary landscape has changed. My dream of dropping a manilla envelope at the post office, to have a cigar-smoking editor in New York scream with delight at having found the next great author, is just that, a dream. We are living in a time when bookstores are shutting down and publishers are going broke. People have more addictive things to do these days, like staring at their phones and Netflix. We may be living in the last days of the written word, before the novel goes the way of the play, and I am well aware that the demands of the writer are greater than ever. On the other hand, the stigma associated with self-promotion is quickly fading. This is largely due to things like Kickstarter and YouTube. We are fast discovering that, not only can an independent entertain us, but that they can often be more humorous, and more sincere, than what’s on TV. In the literary world, the advent of e-books has become a double-edged sword, delivering a lot of pulp but also, some pretty great out-of-the-box writing we might never have otherwise seen.

In other words, independents have an even higher bar to jump than your average published writer. The Aenya series must not only be as good as your Tolkien, Martin, Rowling clones, but superior.

OK, getting off my soapbox now.

This summer, I took the family to London, because frankly, it is the world’s capital of great fiction. Being the literary geek that I am, I was only too thrilled to pick up C.S. Lewis, and the late great Terry Pratchett in the original Queen’s English. I was also frothing at the mouth touring Oxford University. But it was in the British museum where I rediscovered my inspiration for Aenya.

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Hero fighting a centaur

This is part of the “Elgin marbles,” named after Lord Elgin, whom my people blame for “stealing” from the sculptures of the Acropolis complex. Greek politics aside, this frieze, which originally adorned the pediment of the Parthenon, shows a Greek hero, possibly Heracles, fighting a centaur, possibly Nessus. For those of you in the know, I first featured Nessus in The Dark Age of Enya. He is responsible for giving Xandr his scar. Unfortunately, I had to cut the scene from Ages of Aenya, but that doesn’t mean I retconned the story. Nessus makes appearance in The Princess of Aenya and will probably crop up in future novels. Notice, also, how the hero fighting the centaur is entirely naked. This is a big part of my heritage. The Ancient Greeks envisioned their heroes sans clothing. It was, for them, an ideal, what has come to be called, the heroic nude. This is something I have long tried to revive in modern culture, through my heroes, Xandr and Thelana.

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Hero fighting a guard

To be fair, you won’t find any women, naked or otherwise, in combative positions on the Parthenon, or anywhere else. But this had less to do with modesty and more to do with sexism, in that the Greeks could not conceive of women as heroes.

The following day, in the Tower of London, I made another inspiring discovery. Will you just look at that sword:

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Holy crap! It’s like 7′ long!

 

OK, this might not have been a real weapon, used by a real person in battle. The Brits, just like the Greeks, loved their legends. Either way, it compares to Emmaxis, the sword hauled around by Xandr, which I have long considered too big to be practical. But just like the heroic nude, the protagonist’s weapon is an ideal, a storytelling tradition, and I do not pretend to be a historian.

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OK, if this is just making you want the book more, I give you a sneak peak at nickalimonos.com, my upcoming author site. Once it goes live, you will be able to order the book directly from there, for yourself and your friends, and every person you’ve ever met, hopefully. Ages of Aenya will also be available on Amazon.com

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It Can Happen Here 3: Orwell’s 1984

 

1984

This can’t be a coincidence 

 

Whoo-boy

 

Rarely do words fail me like this, but after finishing George Orwell’s 1984, I am utterly at a loss for what to say. Nothing I can put into words, other than the words Orwell uses himself, can accurately describe the depth of despair, the hopelessness, the utter nihilism bound in this book. The most tragic ending you can imagine cannot begin to prepare you for the story Orwell has written. Something along the lines of Hamlet might as well be a Disney cartoon. At least Hamlet gets his revenge, and is ultimately vindicated. Nothing of the kind can be said of 1984. In the world of the book, there is no glory, no heroism, and no possibility for happiness. You couldn’t make a heavy metal song about this, because even the darkest metal lyrics contain an element of rebelliousness, a strength fueled by rage and angst. This kind of fuck you to the world is not permitted in Orwell’s universe, because freedom of thought is not permitted. What I once regarded the ultimate expression of nihilism, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, cannot even come close to 1984, because the life of Hester Prynne, however awful, becomes a stepping a stone to a greater future for others. I am also reminded of the absurd controversy over the ending of Mass Effect 3, with its supposed “nihilistic ending,” that somehow ruined the franchise. To these people, I say, you do not know the meaning of nihilism until you’ve read 1984.

Even if the entire world were obliterated in a nuclear holocaust, I would greatly prefer it to the future imagined in 1984. Or send me to Westeros on the worst day. In the Hub of All Worlds, board up the door leading to 1984 and let’s never speak of it again. As you may have probably guessed, 1984 is a dystopian novel, the standard by which all other dystopias are judged. Having read Brave New World, The Hunger Games, Cloud Atlas, Never Let Me Go, The Giver, The Man in the High Castle and The Plot Against America, among others, I thought I was ready for this book. I wasn’t. And yet, 1984 is of paramount importance to the literary world, serving as a warning, and a very likely prophecy we must do everything in our power to escape.

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Imagine a world where you are not allowed to think, or to believe, what you want. Imagine a world where your sense of logic, your reason­—sanity itself—is torn down. To resist is to commit thoughtcrime, and thoughtcrime can be anything that contradicts Big Brother, the physical embodiment and face of “the Party.” It isn’t simply a matter of professing allegiance to a particular ideology. There is no real ideology in 1984, only total—not obedience—but agreement with the Party. Obedience is too easy, as it leaves room for hope, and for freedom within one’s own soul. Anyone can be made to obey, while sheltering rebellion in his heart. The black plantation slave could still sing about freedom while imagining a better day for himself or for his children. Under the Party, the Negro would be forced not only to work under the lash, but also to love working under the lash.

Long before the start of the novel, the Party has determined that the only way to maintain total control is to force its people into agreement. To avoid the Thought Police, you must believe, in you heart of hearts, that what you are being told is true. The Party manages this by brainwashing everyone from birth. Every book, film, newspaper, and TV channel is a carefully manufactured work of propaganda. No evidence contradicting the Party is allowed to exist, and when propaganda is the norm, it becomes impossible to separate the truth from the lies. In essence, the lies become true. Even the dictionary is used as a tool of obfuscation, as no words are permitted within the language to allow for seditious thought. In the most disturbing example of the politicization of reality, the main character, Winston Smith, is forced into believing that 2 + 2 = 5. Again, he does not have the luxury to simply state the truth of this claim. He must literally believe it. Winston is also forbidden from having basic human emotions, other than devotion to the Party. No one can love their spouse, or their children, only Big Brother. This might not be so bad if the world were composed of unfeeling robots, or if the Party was in possession of some Borg-like technology, but the price for thoughtcrime is imprisonment and torture. If you are even suspected of guilt, you are made to suffer until you sincerely believe you are in the wrong.

The truly scary thing about 1984 is how plausible it all is. We will likely never be invaded by aliens, or be taken hostage by AI, but the Party feels right around the corner. Orwell paints so complete and convincing a picture, in fact, it all seems inevitable. The technology now exists, from hidden cameras to microphones, to record everything a person does, from your facial expression to the pitch of your voice, to determine what you may be thinking. Modern day computers can make the process even more efficient. We know, thanks in part to Edward Snowden, that the NSA can be watching your every move. Before Orwell, I had never fully appreciated the Right to Privacy. I had always considered, quite erroneously, that if I had nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of, privacy doesn’t matter so much. But when a political party comes into power that criminalizes the things you strongly believe in—being a nudist, an atheist, or LGBTQ+—then privacy is the only way in which you can be protected. Already, we are seeing our right to privacy being eroded. Add to this the dilution of our cherished values, the right to a fair trial and laws against torture, both of which were diminished following the Patriot Act, and 1984 edges closer to reality.

I started this series, It Can Happen Here, as a response to the Trump election. But even after comparing Trump to Hitler, I am hesitant to mention Orwell’s Party in the same breath. There is no greater evil than Big Brother, no more Hellish a place in all of literature than the world of 1984. Mitch McConnell’s wildest imaginings have yet to touch upon such a dystopia. That being said, Orwell has forced me to reevaluate and even to course correct some of my earlier assumptions. The Party is, after all, a government institution, and conservatives have long maintained that the greatest thing to fear is big government. Between the out-of-control capitalist corporatocracy in Cloud Atlas and the Party of 1984, I’ll take the former any day. No doubt, many conservatives turn to Orwell to reaffirm their ideals. But the most pressing question at the moment is whether the current administration resembles the Party in any way. To this I would answer that the parallels are too close for comfort, particularly when it comes to matters of science, history and, to a finer extent, truth itself. Consider how conservatives perpetually strive to rewrite the history books, to omit the atheist assertions of Thomas Jefferson, to refute slavery as the cause of the Civil War, to continually insist that America was founded as a white Christian nation. Consider their opposition to evolution and climate change. In 1984, the very idea of history and science, and of objective reality, has been expunged, politicized to the point of losing all meaning. What is true or not true is based on the dictates of Big Brother, which is how 2 + 2 = 5.

Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes; only in the mind of the Party […] Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. 

p. 222

While the relative nature of truth may seem absurd, at first, Orwell’s antagonist argues the point with such twisted logic, he almost convinces the reader. After all, how can we be certain that 2 + 2 = 4? Or that George Washington was America’s first president? Or that the year is really 2017? Or that the Earth is round? Everything we know or think we know was taught to us in a school, and public schools are government institutions. The same paranoid sentiments are echoed today by the Flat Earth Society, who accuse teachers of brainwashing children with the “globe theory.” And while we can make simple observations to determine the shape of our planet for ourselves, it is easy to see how everything we believe could turn into a matter of politics, particularly if we are forced into a left or right leaning bubble, wherein lies become omnipresent.

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient […] to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies …

p. 191

Considering the book was written in 1949, it is remarkably prescient when looking at how carelessly Trump lies, and how his adherents are expected to deny or to accept objectifiable truths. We have never seen a political movement like this before. It has given rise to anti-intellectualism, anti-science, anti-vaxxers and the Flat Earth Society. At this very moment, the Trump administration is robbing us of our health care, our clean air and water, and every institution established to help the sick and the needy. They threaten anyone who stands beyond their control: the free press, the scientific community, any and all educated “elites” who disagree with them. All the while, those who voted the administration into office stand to lose the most, and yet they are convinced that every action taken by Trump and his cronies is for their own good, that while big government is the enemy, it also, paradoxically, represents their own interests.

All that was required of them [the lower classes] was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations.

p. 63

Orwell called this doublethink, holding two contradictory beliefs in your mind simultaneously. So while millions of the poorest Americans will lose their health care, it’s all for the best, because the government says so. In this nation, facts are ceasing to matter. You can no longer argue objective reality because reality has been politicized. Stating that a million people attended Trump’s inauguration, or that hundreds of thousands of voters were bussed-in from other states to vote illegally, is equivalent to two plus two equaling five. Evolution, climate change, even the shape of the Earth is being called into question. And so now I ask you, what year is it? Are we living in 2017? Or are we closer to 1984?

I can think of only three authors whose names have become adjectives: Shakespear(ean), Lovecraft(ian), and Orwell(ian). What greater mark on society can a writer hope to achieve? Without question, Orwell is deserving of his spot on this mantle. His brilliance is effortless, his writing without flaw. But more impressively, his insight into human nature, political philosophy and metaphysics and the interplay between them is without peer. 1984 is a timeless masterpiece. It is a story that, quite frankly, needed to be told. And it is as important today as it ever was, perhaps more so.

****

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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I feel that I owe J.K. an apology. I had always felt that her depiction of evil was a bit naive, 2-dimensional, “comic-booky.” I had long taken the liberal stance that real evil doesn’t exist, or if it does, it’s very, very rare. People are genuinely good, I thought, and genuinely want to do good things. A scene that stands out in my mind is from Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, wherein the titular character, a Nazi industrialist, tells the soldiers working in his factory that they can shoot the Jews if they want to. He makes this announcement after the war is declared over. Before then, he had protected his workers from harm, despite his wearing a swastika pin. By asking the Germans to kill the Jews, and I paraphrase here, “if you want to,” he demonstrated the basic goodness of humanity, because no one in uniform acted of his own accord to commit murder. That, I believed, is the reality. Hitler brainwashed his people first before using fear and intimidation to carry out his misdeeds. Aside from Himmler and Goebbels and Mengele and other SS officials, few Nazis were actually evil. In my own The Princess of Aenya, the villain, Zaibos, creates an atmosphere of perpetual dread to exert control. So when, in the Potter films, devotees by the hundreds come out in support of Voldemort, it felt somewhat implausible. It wasn’t as if Voldemort had had some stranglehold over the wizarding community. On the contrary, Death Eaters in hiding went out of their way to serve him. The transition within the Ministry of Magic was jarring. In no time at all, every position of power, including Headmaster of Hogwarts, was filled by followers of the Dark Lord. Where were the institutions to prevent this from happening? How did the good wizards get so quickly pushed underground and into a role of resistance? This was pure melodrama, Ms. Rowling, and poor writing. Or so I thought.

Then of course, it happened in the real world. Now I am sorry if you’ve read thus far and you’re a Trump supporter (and really, did you get nothing out of the Potter books?), you can click the X in the corner or leave me an angry comment, but the way I see it, the takeover of the current administration perfectly mirrors the way in which Voldemort and his cronies seize the wizarding world. What has startled me isn’t how evil and inept Trump is, but rather, the sheer number of his followers who are racists, misogynists, homophobes, and outright hate mongers, people only too happy to throw away their freedoms to ally themselves to a greedy conman. At breakneck speed, we have come to the edge of dictatorship, and Trump isn’t even to blame. He is far too stupid to have manipulated anyone or anything. Rather, it was the people that gave him power. This recent turn in history has helped me to understand that Hitler didn’t make the Nazi Party, it was the Germans who harbored a hatred of Jews and a love for authoritarianism. Likewise, I now realize just how brilliantly J.K. Rowling portrayed Voldemort’s rise to power, because, even as far back as her second book, The Chamber of Secrets, Voldemort’s followers were there, hiding in the shadows, manifesting themselves in the fathers of Draco and Crabbe and Goyle

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Do these guys look familiar?

 

So what does this have to do with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? Not much. But I will say my criticisms for The Cursed Child are applicable to this book, in that Fantastic Beasts… is not a novel but a screenplay, and screenplays are meant to be watched, not read. I had so hoped that J.K. would put the same effort into this series as she had Harry Potter, but she may be burned out. I know I would be after writing seven novels! Still, most Potterheads will agree that the movies are inferior, due to the wealth of information the books contain. Film is a limited format, bound by two to three hours’ running time, whereas there is just so much more storytelling you can fit on the page. For Fantastic Beasts…, which was written for the screen, the process should work in reverse. The book should provide more information, to give readers a reason to pick it up. Some adaptations, like for the Star Wars prequels, actually do this. There is a chapter describing how Shmi Skywalker was kidnapped by the Tusken Raiders in Attack of the Clones, which you never see on screen. Unfortunately, there is nothing like this to be mined from the Fantastic Beasts… screenplay. Honestly, I would say that if you’ve seen the movie, there is no reason to go out and buy the book.

 

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How ’bout now?

As for the story, it’s quite a simple adventure, featuring a dozen creatures straight from J.K.’s furtive imagination, which are all better portrayed visually, and a lot more interesting than the protagonists. Newt and company can’t hold a deluminator to Harry, Ron and Hermione. But what stood out for me, in the grand scheme of her connected universe, is a subplot involving an evil wizard briefly mentioned in the Potter books. Grindelwald was the original holder of the Elder Wand, until he was defeated by a young Dumbledore. It may be that here, J.K. is showing us how history repeats itself, knowing how Tom Riddle follows in Grindelwald’s nefarious footsteps. What might make this villain more interesting, however, and more relevant to our time, in the book, Grindelwald gives a short speech regarding the inferiority of muggles, his sentiments echoing those of real-world “wizards.” And with Rowling tweeting daily against the abuses of right-wing ideologues, it would not surprise me to see life imitating art imitating life.

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.

 

Trump is a fictional character

donald-trump-election-caricatures-5824634f342d9__700“The Editor-in-Chief will see you now, Mr. Hovah.”

Jay straightened in his chair and got to his feet. He could feel the surge of excitement, tingling his extremities, energizing his limbs. Finally!

The receptionist with the short brown hair and spectacles ushered him through the hall to the editor’s office. In gold leaf lettering, a glass panel read, Jorge Orwell. RealWorld Publishing. It was mid-afternoon, and Jay could see the sun poking through the blinds, striping the back wall with shadows. Jorge was unexpectedly good-looking for a man in his fifties, with a fashion sense straight out of Mad Men. Jay expected a halo of cigarette smoke and a glass of scotch, but there was only his manuscript. The sight of his writing, in the hands of the editor-in-chief, made him feel like he was tightrope walking across the grand canyon.

“Mr. Hovah. Please sit down.”

Jay didn’t feel like sitting, but did so anyway. “Thank you for me seeing me.”

“Yes, well,” he answered, looking over the manuscript once more, to be certain. “Mr. Jay Hovah. Can I call you Jay?”

“Sure.”

“We like your book.”

Jay felt like a trapdoor had dropped from under him. Everything he had planned to say—every prepared answer for every imaginable question—flew from his mind. “Really?”

“This is certainly the kind of work we like to publish here at RealWorld. Tom Clancy. John Grisham. Political stuff. Big sellers. Your book reminds me a lot of the Manchurian Candidate. Have you read that?”

“No sir, I haven’t.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter. We didn’t publish it.” He chuckled softly to himself. “But we do have some issues to work out.”

A sick feeling came over him. He expected something like this would happen, that they would want to mess with his work, his baby, what he’d sweated over for ten years. But Jay could only sit and smile, like an idiot waiting for his girlfriend to say ‘yes’ to a marriage proposal.

“Don’t get me wrong, we love the concept. This Trump character, really great stuff, really interesting.”

“So, what’s wrong with it?” Jay managed.

“Nothing too hard to fix, really. We see this a lot with first-time authors. You’re trying to write too many books at once.”

“I don’t—I don’t understand.”

Jorge leaned in his chair, picked up the ring-binder containing Jay’s life work, and dropped it again. “Let me get straight to it. You’re writing a book about a terrible president. Great. But, this Trump character, in one chapter you have him groping women, grabbing them by their, um, private areas, without consent. He’s very crude. Sexist. Reminds me of that book about President Clinton. Have you read that?”

“Not really. No.”

“Well, anyway, the Clinton book sold millions.”

“Are you saying it isn’t original?”

“Nobody in the business cares about what’s original. Have you counted the vampire novels lately?” He waved the idea away. “No, the problem is you’ve given your antagonist too many flaws.”

“Are you saying Trump’s unrealistic?”

“I am saying it beggars credibility. You can have a novel about a sexist president who assaults women, or a racist president who is supported by the KKK and puts white supremacists in his cabinet, or you can have a president in the pocket of the coal industry who cuts environmental regulations . . .”

“I still don’t see—”

Jorge touched his fingers together, and took in a deep breath. “Is there anything good about Trump?”

Jay found that an odd question. He paused for a moment to think, answering finally, “Not really. No.”

“Can’t you see how that’s a problem? You’ve made Trump a narcissist who only talks about himself. A billionaire who cheats his workers and is continually filing for bankruptcy, but is somehow still a billionaire. He has no personality. No charisma. He’s also an idiot. Who’s going to vote for the guy?”

Jay started to feel small, and embarrassed. Whatever elation he had felt coming into the publishing house was turning into despair. Still, he tried to defend what he had spent a decade writing. “Racists. A lot of racists voted for him.”

“But how many racists are there in America? And what about women? Half the country are women. That’s half the vote right there.”

“Oh, well, a lot of women voted for him too, I guess.”

Jorge sighed. “OK. Look at the Clinton book. That president was good looking, charming, spoke eloquently and—here’s the important part—his affair with Monica didn’t happen until after he became president.”

“So what you’re saying is, people shouldn’t find out how bad Trump is until after the election?”

“Well, you could at least leave out some of the details. And give him some good qualities. Make him attractive. Or a clever speaker. A fat guy in his sixties with a bad comb over becomes president? And he tweets insults at celebrities late at night? No way that’s happening in the real world.”

“He’s seventy, actually, and I did leave out the stuff about Russia.”

“Right. That’s another thing I wanted to talk to you about. You’ve written a book about a sexist, racist, idiot, who is secretly working with Russia to subvert the government, and who, somehow, is elected president. Is there anything you’ve left out? Maybe you could make him mean to puppies. Or a cannibal.”

“That’s not a bad idea.”

“Mr. Hovah, I was joking.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“All I am saying is, pick a plot and stick with it. This Trump character, he’s not believable. He’s a a comic book villain, a two-dimensional caricature, every American’s worst fears rolled into one. A believable hero has flaws, things that make them relatable, and for a villain to be believable, you’ve got to do the opposite. Nobody can be all bad.”

“Trump is all bad,” Jay said quietly.

“That’s not good writing.”

“So, does that mean you’re not going to publish my book?”

“Here’s what I am going to do, Mr Hovah. I’ll have some of my interns get in touch with you, after they write up some suggestions, and you can decide whether you want to implement the changes. Sound fair?”

Jay felt a mixture of hope and despair churning in his stomach. Did he really want to cut so much out of his book? Choosing between plot threads was like picking which limbs he’d like to keep. “Thank you, Mr. Orwell. I’ll definitely consider it.” Finding the strength to stand, he started for the door.

“Oh, and one more thing, Mr. Hovah. About the name. Trump. Really?”

Jay felt a tinge of irritation. What was it now?

“Was Victor Von Doom taken? I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound rude. But, well, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word trump as to invent a false accusation or excuse. I looked it up just before you came in. It’s a clever play on words, I’ll grant you, but we don’t do that here. At RealWorld, we’re looking for credible, not clever. Consider changing it.” 

 

It Can Happen Here 2: “The Plot Against America”

md8057491406TRUMP SUPPORTER: “What’s that you’re reading?”

ME: “Oh, it’s a book about Charles Lindbergh winning the presidency.”

TRUMP SUPPORTER: “I remember that.”

ME: “What?”

TRUMP SUPPORTER: “I learned about that in school.”

ME: “Charles Lindbergh was the first man to fly a plane over the Atlantic, from New York to Paris.”

TRUMP SUPPORTER: “Right. And then he became president.”

ME: <<rolls eyes>>

It should not surprise me that Trump people don’t know their history. If they did, they would never have voted for a fascist. In our universe, of course, Lindbergh never ran for office, and Roosevelt went on to win an unprecedented third term in office, wherein he lead the United States into World War II. It’s easy to paint a rosy picture of the past, to imagine a government full of wise, determined men like Roosevelt, who, with little opposition from the American people, bravely charge into Europe to save the day. History is murky, however, and the history of politics even murkier. While it may seem a no-brainer that America should have joined the war effort, in the 1940’s, there was considerable contention over the matter. Republicans, namely, felt the need to “put America first,” and not get involved. Sure, Hitler may have been massacring Syrians Jews by the millions, but that wasn’t America’s problem. We had our own economic depression to worry about. But thanks to the charismatic leadership and foresight of FDR, the isolationist America First-crowd lost the argument, and the world as we know it is free from the grip of fascism (at least so far). What Roosevelt understood, even back in 1940, was that the world’s problems eventually become our problems. It isn’t only unethical to ignore the plight of nations, but downright dangerous to our security.

 

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At least Lindbergh was a looker! And he could fly a plane!

 

This is the crux of Philip Roth’s novel, The Plot Against America, wherein Charles Lindbergh defeats Roosevelt in his third run for president, leaving America deaf to the genocide across the Atlantic. In both reality and in the novel, Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer. The result of his presidency was to delay America’s insurgency in World War II, as Lindbergh and Hitler agree to a treaty of non-engagement, leaving the Nazi blitzkrieg to steamroll over Europe and into Russia with only Great Britain to contest them. Aside from the odious politic of non-intervention, what I found most timely and disturbing is how accurately the book mirrors current events. If I did not know better, I could accuse Roth of blatantly ripping the plot of his book from today’s headlines. Here’s just a few of the similarities between Lindbergh’s and Trump’s presidencies:

 

  1. Before his election, Lindbergh is demonized for his racist comments.
  2. As a non-politician, Lindbergh becomes the surprise Republican nominee, winning against great odds and considerable controversy.
  3. Lindbergh is said to speak off the cuff, without prepared notes, telling it “like it is.”
  4. Lindbergh runs his campaign his own way, frustrating Republican leaders.
  5. Lindberg runs on a platform of putting “America First.”
  6. Lindbergh loses in the polls, but wins the presidency anyway, to the shock and consternation of many, against a popular career politician and Democrat.
  7. After Lindbergh is sworn in as president, he tones down much of his racist rhetoric.
  8. Lindbergh is said to admire a foreign power (Hitler) and is accused of having secret ties with Germany.
  9. Lindbergh is repeatedly accused of being a fascist.
  10. Lindbergh’s followers belong to white supremacist groups. They commit acts of violence against Jews, destroying businesses and synagogues.
  11. Lindbergh stifles the free press. Those in the media who speak against him lose their jobs.

 

Did I mention the book was written in 2004? Which begs the question: Is Philip Roth a time traveler? Or does he simply understand that people are predictable in their hatreds and prejudices, and that such happenings (albeit with eerie specificity) are simply inevitable?

While political in theme, The Plot Against America is far from a political treatise. Roth does not seek to find or give answers here. Instead, he examines fascist America from an intimate perspective, the story unfolding through the eyes of a young Philip Roth in a kind of pseudo-autobiography, wherein the author imagines the childhood he might have had—had Lindbergh won the presidency in 1940. This unique approach helped lend credibility to Roth’s reimagining of the past, and I do not doubt that anyone reading this book, ignorant to history, might take it for one. Roth conjures real world people, places and events, tweaking them just enough to service the story.

It doesn’t happen right away, of course. But ever so gradually, the rights ensconced by the Constitution are eroded away. And as always, it is the minorities, the immigrants, the others who are made to fear, and ultimately, to suffer. What I found particularly poignant was the way in which the author portrays America. Through the lens of his Jewish heritage, he paints two contrasting pictures. We are a nation of promise, where differing ethnicities, races, and religions find acceptance and equality. The other, more sinister portrait, is the hidden face of America, with its undercurrent of prejudice waiting to burst at the emergence of a demagogue—someone to push into the fore the undying resolve that the only true American is white and Christian.

I had planned to review this book in the usual way, critiquing for style and content, and if you are questioning whether you should pick up this book, I will only say that Roth’s style can be off-putting, at first. He leans toward page-long run-ons and has a tendency to trail into wild tangents. But when I consider the importance and, dare I say, necessity of this book, especially now, these seem like minor quibbles. The Plot Against America is a warning against fascism and the politics of hate. I found myself reading ahead just to see how everything was going to turn out, as if it was a book of prophecy, with a chance to quell my fear of the next four years.

How tenuous is our democracy, really? Can the Founding Fathers’ checks and balances endure the onslaught of a tyrant bent on dismantling them? A man who runs on a platform of discrimination? Who challenges the right of the courts? Who demonizes the Free Press? Who puts America first at the expense of the world?

 

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This has happened before.

 

Without giving too much away, I found Roth, ultimately, to be an optimist, and his love for America all the more genuine in that it stems from his Jewish roots. Only here, in this country, could his people have found a respite from the hatred that has dogged them for millennia. America is defined by its inclusiveness. It is a promise, and owing to this promise, people have chosen to live here from all over the globe. But that promise has never come without challenges. In The Plot Against America, it is Lindbergh against the Jews. Today, in the story that is our lives, Trump is the villain, and Muslims and Mexicans the protagonists. But what kind of a story are we living in? A tragedy? A triumph? A cautionary tale? Only the ending can tell us, can give answer to the question—will the promise of America endure?

2016 is Over (Finally) Year in Review

As of this writing, most of humanity is still alive. But there’s still time. So far, we’ve lost Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds (her mother), George Michael, Watership Down author Richard Adams, and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s dad. Proving we are all living in a computer simulation, or as I prefer to think of it, in some author’s imagination, George Michael dies on Christmas Day, and is known for the song, “Last Christmas.” Fisher played Princess Leia, a character whose mother, Padme Amidala, dies of a broken heart, then Fisher’s actual mother, Debbie Reynolds, goes and dies of a broken heart. If that’s not proof enough, our government is hijacked by a KKK-approved fascist propped up by a Russian dictator (yes, I went there, fuck you) closely imitating Philip Roth’s novel, The Plot Against America, and Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate. At this point, we’ll be seeing Game of Thrones-style dragons in 2017.

But there’s also been a lot of good this year. I finished The Princess of Aenya, found a fantastic editor for my first Aenya book, and a new artist for the cover of said book. So, if Trump doesn’t trigger the Apocalypse, we should be seeing Ages of Aenya on sale sometime next year. Or, if he does, maybe the adventures of the Ilmar will provide comfort to those hunkering down in their bomb shelters without electricity. With electricity, well … who the hell wants to read when there’s PS4?

As for The Writer’s Disease, I feel this blog has begun to run its course. Most of what I have wanted to say, about writing, fiction, naturism, religion—has been said. I could go on, of course, into the never ending minutia of literary analysis, review another million authors, continue to share my radical views on naturism. But the thing is, I’ve never wanted to be a blogger. To run a successful blog, you have to focus on something. Video game blogs, movie blogs, naturist blogs, all see more traffic than mine. When I wrote Why Don’t We Live in a Perfect (Nude) World, it was shared 4,500 times on Facebook. I was invited to write for a naturist related magazine and a newspaper. My reaction? I quit writing about naturism.

All that has ever really mattered to me is storytelling. I’d rather be the late-great but lesser known Richard Adams than a YouTube star with a million followers. I’d rather pull the heartstrings of a single reader in earnest than lure thousands with some click-bait bullshit. And to that end, blogging is a dead-end. My time is better spent in fiction. Alas, writing is a lonely endeavor, and I must learn to embrace solitude.

This doesn’t mean I am quitting altogether. Every now and then, a topic will come along to compel me onto my soapbox. The free will debate is a recent example. But you won’t be seeing weekly updates when there are adventures to be told. Without doubt, you will also be receiving updates on The Children of Aenya.

Now, without further ado, here are my favorites from 2016:

 

The Fantasy Writer’s Dictionary: Too often, when you’re reading a book like Game of Thrones, you come across a word like wain or postern that simply doesn’t register. To give an impression of historicity, fantasy authors lean on archaic nouns and verbs, many excised from the OED. So I made this resource. Best part is, it’s a living post, to be updated as terms I don’t know cross my eyeballs.

The Nomad: A Love Story DLC: Dynotus wanders twenty years in the desert in search of his abducted fiancee. This is one of my earliest novels, from when I was in high school, a romance adventure set in a mythological world. Download it here for free in PDF.

The Destructive Power of Ego: If you want to succeed in writing and in life, it’s best to set ego aside. I discuss my struggles with self, with regards to my own person and those I have worked with.

The Princess of Aenya: This year saw the completion of my latest work. Here I offer the prologue and sample chapters.

The Aenya Bestiary: Updated to include the avian race, with new artwork!

DMT and D&D: I talk about drugs, tabletop role playing games, and the power of the human mind. What more do you need to know?

The Death of Truth: We seem to be living in a post-truth world. A gross number of people are no longer concerned with what is actually, demonstrably true, choosing, instead, to accept comforting delusions. This is a scary thing.

What is Free Will?: I challenge Sam Harris’ notion that free will is an illusion, and all such a philosophy implies.

 

 

Aenya News Update: 11/29/16

A few months ago, I put out a request for artists for the upcoming 2017 edition of Ages of Aenya. After a bit of vetting, by which we produced the Avian and Horde (below), I settled on the talented Zhengyi Yu.

I chose Zhengyi for his painterly style, which better suits a novel, I feel, than the more cartoony styles of my other, albeit equally talented artists. Mr. Yu also impressed me with his landscapes. When I see a book with some impossible, otherworldly terrain, it draws me in, igniting my imagination, and I hope to capture readers in the same way. More importantly, Zhengyi has been wonderful to work with, being attentive to my needs and more than willing to brainstorm and make changes. If you’re looking for a talented illustrator, look no further! Also, be sure to check out his awesome gallery at Zhengyi Yu

aoa2017cover

Thelana overlooking Hedonia

Here we find Thelana overlooking Hedonia. The massive pyramid temple of Sargonus eclipses the background. Depicting our heroine in her natural state, without triggering any censors, was a challenge. I wanted her in a normal looking pose, not too sexy or bashful, and without any comically placed leaves in the way. And she had to be dynamic, to show her power and fearlessness. She’s naked in a city of thousands and yet she does not feel vulnerable! That being said, Zhengyi and I are working on an alternate cover, with Thelana draped in her trademark jade cloak (hey, she gets cold sometimes). That way, you can read about the Ilmar on the subway without getting any weird looks!

OK, you may be thinking, all this is fine and good, but when can I read it? Glad you asked! As the old adage says, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and while I don’t believe this to be 100% true, story remains the most important thing, seconded only by the quality of the writing. Without those things in place, you can’t hope to sell a million copies, unless of course you’re writing bondage porn.

I’ve spent more than a decade building this world, its history and geography; fleshing out its races and its characters. Nine years alone I spent editing, as I ran a restaurant and helped my wife raise our two kids, but even the best of us need another set of eyes. If I could give myself amnesia, I could do it all myself. But it’s impossible to judge yourself objectively, to judge any story really in a non-biased way. Nobody can. But finding an editor you can trust isn’t easy. An author’s story is their baby. Giving it up, I am forced to wonder, will the editor tear it up for the sake of tearing it up? Will they maintain my voice? Avoid their own biases? This is a legitimate concern for me, as I’ve had professors try to “correct” my work in the most inane ways. One of my teachers actually suggested that the nun in my short story, Anna and the Devil, masturbate. After all, Satan can’t touch you so long as you abstain from carnal thoughts. His PHd, not surprisingly, was in religious studies.

Then I met Ava Coibion. Ava offered me a free sample edit, of my prologue, and we talked over the phone about our favorite writers, literary styles, and the best way to edit without encroaching on the author’s art. I found her to be intelligent and sensitive. And also, she had this to say,

 

Nick,

There are a thousand praises I could sing here, and with your permission, I’d love to at least give my friend Frank Beddor a sample of your novel to review, or perhaps put you in touch directly with him. But for now, here is the edit for Book One. I was determined to complete the work before Thanksgiving, in hope that you might have a little down time to review my suggested changes. In truth, I devoted this last week and a half solely to the completion of the edit, not because we are on a deadline, as I know you aren’t concerned with a timeline on this, but because I simply couldn’t stop! The prose is intelligent, poetic but often nicely spare/concise, and full of emotion. A true pleasure, and even if you don’t take me on for Books 2 and 3, I will read forward on my own because I simply must know what happens next . . .

Let me know what you think of my comments. I do think the final chapter could be split up into 2 or even 3 separate chapters.

All best,

Ava

 

I know I know, mere flattery. And I might be thinking the same thing, if it weren’t for the fact that, all of my beta readers have given me a similar response. Still, it’s great to get this from a professional, who no doubt has to trudge through literary swamps of poor storytelling.

So now, dear reader, you may be itching to get your hands on this bad boy. Well, the next step is working with Ava through the 170+k words, about 500 pages, until every “T” is crossed and “i” is dotted. Then I get to slap Zhengyi’s contribution over top of it, and last but not least, skedaddle on to the printers.

Ages of Aenya should be available sometime in 2017. In the meantime, my wife will be querying my latest effort, The Princess of Aenya, and I will be dutifully pursuing The Children of Aenya, the third book in the Aenya series, partly based on the Dungeons & Dragons campaign I have been playing with my friends and family these past two years. If you’d like to learn more about The Children of Aenya, and the game we are playing, feel free to join us on Facebook at The Hub of All Worlds.

 

 

 

It Could Happen Here: A Review of The Man in the High Castle

I’ve already been a victim of hate speech. This wasn’t your normal troll variety flaming. This guy got eerily personal, digging deep into my life to attack my lifestyle, my beliefs, my career, and most disturbingly, the person I chose to marry. Sadly, he concluded I should leave the country. People like him have never understood what America is and what it stands for. But to understand America, you have to look no further than its founding document, The Declaration of Independence:

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

 

You won’t find “white Protestant Christian” mentioned anywhere in our founding document, but you will see it in Jefferson Davis’ traitorous Articles of the Confederacy. Our constitution specifically states that ALL MEN are created equal, and that they have a right to Life, Liberty, and Happiness. This is what it means to be an American. This is our founding ideal. If these ideals are threatened or abolished, if people of color or those of differing religions are cowed by an institution of fear, then the U.S.A. ceases to be. We won’t need to leave America because America will have left us. Honestly, it amazes me how these trumps claim to be patriots. These same folk insisted our first black president must be a Muslim terrorist dictator, born in Kenya. They want to kick us out to make America what it isn’t. To them I say, Go back to Germany!

In The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick imagines the allies losing to the axis powers during World War II. In this sobering alternate history, America is no more. The land is still there, as are its people, but its founding principles have been abolished. Nazism is law and the ideals of aryan superiority. Jews are forced to change their names, to better hide their identities, and blacks, Indians and handicapped people veer close to extinction, and it’s all due to the ramblings of a paranoid, narcissistic strongman.

Now I didn’t plan to be sitting here writing this review as this nightmarish scenario edges closer to reality. But life can have a sense of irony. In all honesty, I picked up The Man in the High Castle because of the Amazon show, and because Philip K. Dick is among the greats of the Sci-Fi genre. His novels adapted to screen include Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Bladerunner), We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (Total Recall), Super Toys Last All Summer Long (A.I.), and The Minority Report. Bad titles aside, Dick is known for his mind-bending concepts, deeply couched in philosophy. In Bladerunner and A.I., he challenges our notions of consciousness and sentience, and our ethical intuitions with regards to synthetic life. In The Minority Report, he imagines a totalitarian world where a prescient police force can stop and punish a crime before it happens. Stop and frisk? But The Man in the High Castle deals not with some far flung future, but post-America circa the 1960s.

It isn’t difficult to imagine this happening, and it can be argued that, by the slightest tweak of events, our world might appear totally alien to us. Consider what would have happened had the German scientists behind the V2 rocket made the atomic bomb? A single nuke, dropped on New York City, and we might all be shouting, “Sieg Heil!”

Looking at the story of the human race, you come to see repeating patterns and the same foolish mistakes being made again and again. The Roman Republic collapsed due, in part, to xenophobia. Julius Caesar was charged with protecting against northern incursions, acting preemptively and genocidally in the name of Rome. Shortly after his military campaign, he declared himself emperor, but was assassinated, stabbed by sixty senators on the senate floor. The political factions dividing the Republic went to war, and when the dust settled, democracy was no more. A similar thing happened in Germany after the first Great War. Hitler was elected chancellor, owing to his impassioned rhetoric regarding German exceptionalism and a pure Arian race. He was viewed as an outsider and a strong man, someone who spoke his mind and could get things done. He blamed all of the nation’s problems on immigrants, particularly the Jews, but those with disabilities as well. It is impossible to talk about these events and not think of Trump. To a student of history, the parallels are all too clear, too frightening. This is why a book like The Man in the High Castle matters.

Alternate histories show us a startling picture of what could have been, shaking us out of our complacency, helping us to recognize the invaluable lessons of the past, lessons we too quickly forget. Dick offers a startling reminder of a world we fought so hard and sacrificed so much to escape, a world where every man, woman and child are judged not by their character, but by their race and nationality. The picture he paints is often haunting. There is no cooperation in his Nazi world. No NATO. World leaders show courtesy to one another so far as they prepare for the next war. In this hellish setting, the only remaining powers are Japan and Germany, with America divided between them. Nuclear devastation is a forgone conclusion, because the Nazis do not want peace, only to conquer, to prove their superiority. Humanity be damned.

All that being said, it’s unfortunate The Man in the High Castle isn’t a better book. Philip K Dick is a rare genius, but his genius too often gets the better of him. His book diverges into wild philosophical tangents that have little bearing on the plot. While his characters run the gamut from an antiques salesman to a Nazi undercover assassin to a Japanese diplomat, they all lose themselves in thought. Dick has a lot to say about the human condition, the nature of suffering, the psychology of cruelty and the politics of race. It’s far too much to condense, and it’s an admirable literary endeavor. I, for one, look for meaning in every story, but here the story seems to take a back seat to whatever meaning the author is trying to convey. Given the subject matter, it’s a shame he couldn’t have been more focused. He only hints at the axis victory and how it played out, and we learn just as little about the bomb dropped on Washington or the global genocides perpetuated by the Third Reich. Dick does, however, give considerable detail regarding the manufacture and selling of antiques.

As I neared the final pages, I anticipated some great reveal, something akin to Life of Pi. In a meta-fictional twist, The Man in the High Castle involves a fictional account of the allies winning the war. A lot of mystery surrounds this book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, and its author, but the payoff just left me confused and wanting more.

I have a need to understand how the very worst of things can happen, and whether they can ever truly happen here in America. So I picked up Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, wherein a Nazi ascends to the White House. Look for that review soon!