Aenya Newsletter 12/7/18

“But why is she naked?”

This is the most annoying question I get about Ages of Aenya, whenever I post a picture of the Ilmar on social media. While the vast majority of comments are positive, I will inevitably get roasted for lack of realism, on Facebook fantasy groups that allow for artistic nudity. On these same forums loin-clothed monks punch dragons without anyone raising an eyebrow, but remove that loincloth and suddenly we’re in a world too far removed from reality. “She can’t go naked!” gets thrown at me time and again. It’s like they’ve never heard of the Ancient Greeks, or the Celts (who even fought naked), or Amazon tribes, or your everyday, modern American nudist. Oddly enough, nobody will admit to being offended by the human body, as nobody wants to sound like a prude, yet they’ll justify their discomfort by saying things like, “What does she do about mosquitos?” and “What about branches?” Again, these same people have no problem with barbarians covering their crotches in thin strips of goatskin, because, I suppose, bugs can only bite you in the ass. This is amusing to me, because while I have never personally fought a dragon, I can say that I have hiked naked in the hills of Greece, and in swampy Florida, mosquito capital of the world, and never once did I get killed by bugs, or had my penis shorn by a tree. We can blame the Puritans for this aversion to nudity, and the absurd belief that humans can’t go anywhere without clothes. But among readers of Sci-Fi and fantasy, you might expect a greater level of open mindedness. Think of it this way—not only can we mere Earthlings never survive in the buff, but neither can any human-like creature on any planet in the multiverse! Faster than light travel? No problem. No pants no shoes? Impossible!

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BOOBZ!

There’s one thing my detractors and I can agree on: Americans find casual nudity weird. Sure, the human body is acceptable when surrounded by a dozen or so erect penises, but put a girl in a tree with a bow and arrow and we’re in crazy town. Even my supporters can be disparaging, when they ignore everything in the picture to focus exclusively on the ten or so pixels making up a boob. Are we really just a bunch of dumb, sex-starved monkeys? The guy who left me this actual comment, and I quote, “kewl boobz!” will probably be disappointed by the absence of sex in Ages of Aenya, or lack of any juicy passages describing genitalia. In the good ol’ US of A, it’s gotta be PornHub or Disney, and there can be no middle ground, which is why I am finding it necessary to shift my attention to other parts of Aenya. Much as I adore my innocently naked heroes, bringing them into the mainstream may not be plausible in our hyper-demographics focused society, which is why I have spent the past several years working on other stories.

 

Writing Woes

As I have said to my troll friends time and again, if I am a failed writer, it is only because I have set the bar so high for myself. I know many authors who would be content with where I am, but my goal is nothing short of a million copies sold.

While it may sound egotistical, I really don’t know how else to put it: I have read hundreds of books, and nothing I’ve come across has convinced me that I cannot do what these other famous authors have done. Maybe I can’t write characters as engaging as J.K. Rowling, or build as convincing a world as Tolkien, or be as prolific as George R.R. Martin, but I persist in the belief that Aenya belongs on the shelf with their books. It’s like watching an Olympic athlete win gold, and knowing with confidence you could have at least taken the bronze. From the time I was in college, professors, classmates and readers of fantasy have said to me, “Why aren’t you published yet?” I’ve even been told, by fans (who I don’t know personally) that they preferred reading about Aenya to other well-known fantasy novels they enjoy.

Right now, the book market is saturated. There are just too many talented people vying for attention in this “attention economy,” and with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix and a plethora of video game systems, people’s entertainment options are near infinite. Even the most talented among us get lost in the shuffle. I have met amazingly gifted people who have thrown in the towel because, despite a strong following, they simply cannot make money doing what they love.

I have despaired over this many a night, but the solution is pretty straightforward: you have to be exceptional, truly stand-out exceptional, to get noticed. It’s no longer sufficient to write as good as those on the shelves, you’ve got to be better, A LOT BETTER, and to this I say: challenge accepted. 

The Princess of Aenya is my best work, and I believe it has what it takes to make a splash in the literary world. Unlike my first novel, it has greater market appeal, without those implausibly naked people in it, but, most importantly, I think the story will be harder to ignore. My plan is to reach out to individuals with far greater status. Should Stephen King give his stamp of approval, doors will open.

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The Compass Tower, from The Princess of Aenya

 

The Silmarillion and Strange Inspiration

Strangely enough, I find encouragement in the most unlikely of places. Few people can imagine the father of fantasy world-building, J.R.R. Tolkien, as anything but a master of his craft, well-beloved by all, but like most who have suffered from the writer’s disease, he also struggled immensely. Tolkien spent a lifetime feeling misunderstood, often being rejected by his publisher, who did not understand what it is he was trying to accomplish.

This unexpected revelation came to me upon delving deep into Tolkien lore, having picked up the more recent titles released by his son, Christopher, which include Beren and Luthien, The Children of Hurin, and The Fall of Gondolin, all of which appeared previously in The Silmarillion, a prequel, of sorts, to the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But while The Silmarillion was published toward the end of Tolkien’s life, Christopher writes that his father had conceived of the epic long before the tiny people with furry feet. Scraps of notes regarding Beren, Turin and Tuor, Christopher tells us, originated early in his father’s life, a few of which were composed in the trenches of the first World War. After The Hobbit gained worldwide attention, Tolkien was eager to share his lifelong labor of love, The Silmarillion, but neither his agent or publisher could make heads or tails of it. They told him, instead, to write more about hobbits, and The Lord of the Rings came as a result.

The Silmarillion is a HARD read, and I really would not recommend it to anyone but the most devoted of Middle Earth fans, or, perhaps, to readers of history, because that is what the book essentially is, not so much a novel but a pseudo-history, remarkably rich in detail, with more places and people than I could keep track of. Imagine the entire seven book Game of Thrones series (properly Song of Ice and Fire) condensed into 300 pages. That being said, interspersed between dense passages of Middle Earth lore, you come across genuinely wonderful storytelling, and I find it a shame that Tolkien did not publish these separately, as I think that just about anyone can enjoy them, but that few probably have, finding the historical sections connected to their original release impenetrable. All the more reason I applaud Christopher’s decision to turn these tales into standalone novels, particularly Beren and Luthien, a fairytale romance on par with Tolkien’s best, if not his most moving tale. If Hollywood is starving to milk the Middle Earth cash cow, they need look no further than Beren and Luthien. Hopefully, the upcoming Amazon series—which is slated to become the most expensive show ever—will explore content from The Silmarillion, and not just rehash Peter Jackson’s epic.

Tolkien’s struggle encourages me, and drives me to build my own massive storytelling cathedral, because the Aenya that exists in my mind is far grander than any reader has yet imagined, perhaps not on the level of The Silmarillion, but a true epic in its own right. It may simply be that, like Tolkien, I must persevere, and march to the sound of my own drummer, perhaps until my death, or start the reading masses off with a more palatable story. The Silmarillion would have, no doubt, been lost to obscurity without The Hobbit. Perhaps The Princess of Aenya will be the key to bringing Ages of Aenya into the light. Maybe once I am established, nobody will pester me with questions regarding the implausibility of naked heroes. When you have a name for yourself, and earned the public trust, the people follow.

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If you’re curious about The Silmarillion, I highly suggest a visit to the bookstore to take a look. It is truly unlike any fantasy story you’ll ever read, equal parts history, myth, romance, tragedy and adventure, and I found it all the more compelling in that it was so different, but then again, I am a history major with a love for myth. And while it may seem a challenge to get through, you may be glad that you did.

As for the Aenya-verse, The Princess of Aenya is in the editing process, the cover is almost complete, and it should be ready to order from http://www.nickalimonos.com early 2019!

 

Exposing the Scammers 2: URLinkPublishing.com

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I was in the midst of editing a chapter when I hear my wife on the phone saying, “He’s working on his book.” She handed me the receiver, and I was immediately intrigued. People never call me at my house about writing. The guy on the other end started telling me how interested he was in Ages of Aenya, and how “book scouts” had given the book an 8.5 out of 10. Anything over 5, he said, and his company, URLinkPublishing.com, takes interest. We talked about the business for a good thirty minutes. He extolled the virtues of marketing, to help get the book into the hands of readers, and the best way to do that, he said, is book reviewers. He name dropped Kirkus, which I’d seen on the jackets of top-selling novels, and overall he sounded knowledgeable and sincere. To assuage my skepticism, he urged me to “do the research” before making any decisions. Surely, if this was all a scam, he wouldn’t be telling me to do research, would he? But here’s the thing: my heart rate did not change a beat. Five years ago, I might have been jumping with excitement, but like a jaded lover, I’d been burned too many times before.

When I got off the phone with URLinkpublishing.com, I went simply back to my chapter. Only later in the day, when I got bored at work, did I whip out my phone to check the site. After no more than five minutes I determined that the man on the phone was a liar. Here was a company promising to help me increase book sales, but their book/client list had about ten books, most with amateurish covers, and their “featured author” had, and I kid you not, ONE review on Amazon! Couldn’t they get a few of their office workers to help out? Christ, I have TEN reviews already and I find that pathetic. What’s more, their “featured author” is in the 3 millionths in sales. And to join the ranks of their esteemed laureates, I had only to get a professional review, for the recommended low low price of $3000.00!

It disgusts me to know that companies like this exist. But we are living in world of school shooters and rapist politicians, so there are worse things, I suppose. Still, when someone tries to deceive you personally, to take advantage of all your hard work and heartache, it just burns me up inside, and this is why I’m writing this post, because scammers like these need to be exposed for what they are.

My most popular article to date remains Olympia Publishers and the Art of the Soft Scam. Dozens of hopeful writers have thanked me for steering them clear of that pitfall, and now I am hoping to do the same for anyone about to get duped by URLinkPublishing.com. No doubt, they will go by a different name, or someone else will come up with a new way to fuck over people, so here’s some basic tips for not getting scammed:


1)  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

2)  Be sure to ask, up front, if there’s money involved. Don’t be too shy to be blunt. You can say, “What do you get out of this?”

3)  It’s OK to get your hopes up, but DO YOUR RESEARCH! Look up the company’s website, find blogs (like this one) discussing the company, and e-mail old clients.

4)  Be clear as to what the company is offering, and if what they are offering is something they have successfully provided to others in the past. If they have an author/client list, look up the author on Amazon, and check out that author’s sales rank! The author need not be a bestseller, but they should be ranked in the thousandths or tens-of-thousandths in their prospective genre, at the very least.


 

I should probably note here that, after turning hundreds (maybe thousands?) away from Olympia Publishers, I managed to get the attention of Olympia Publishers. They sent me a few e-mails to curry my favor (in hilarious ways) to get me to remove my piece, but I refused, despite their excuses, and assertion that they’ve changed. You can read our e-mail exchange below, and decide for yourself whether Olympia is worth a second shot:


 

Dear Nick,

Firstly, my name is Chantelle, I am the PR manager for Olympia Publishers. I recently came across your article written on your website. And I have to say I was rather disappointed. Opinions are of course welcomed, but falsities are a little disheartening. We are in no way a scam. ‘Scam’ is defined in the Cambridge English dictionary as “an illegal plan for making money, especially one that involves tricking people”- That we are not.

We’re transparent about our different types of contracts, to quote our website: “Should we be unable to offer a traditional contract, but I feel the work has potential an alternative offer may be made. This offer is known as a ‘partnership contract’ and is based on a contribution, to be paid by the author, to cover initial production and printing of the work”.

Taking on un-known authors is a risk, we’re the first to admit that. But we felt that was a huge gap in the market where first time authors without an agent had no chance. The bigger publishing houses who only publish traditional contracts very rarely publish first time or unknown authors, especially those that do not have a literary agent. To get ones work to the meet the approval of the large publishing houses, they have to spend thousands on literary agents who often take cuts of the royalties of your work when published, paying professional illustrators to take on  their covers and inside artwork and paying proof readers to look at their work before they can even submit. We wanted to give those authors a chance. We are more than happy to take on first time authors or un-known authors, do not have a charge to look at work, and if we do not take on the work we offer free advice in where to go and what could help.

Publishers cannot guarantee success, no matter which publishing house you are. From the smallest to the biggest. If a book doesn’t sell it doesn’t make that publishing company a scam. It’s not a trick, as we said, we’re open about being a hybrid publishing house, many of our authors have not paid and some have had contribution contracts.

I see writers as one of the most respected careers one can choose. I have a huge amount of respect for authors, knowing that a book can change someone’s life, bring someone out of a very dark time in their lives, offer help and guidance, or for some, having a place to escape and feel at home.

I’m are genuinely glad you have not quit and of course wish you the best of luck in publishing, I’m sure you’re well aware of how difficult it is to break into the market as a published author, so please see both sides, we try and give our authors the best platform and all the help we can.

On a more personal note, as a fellow enthusiast of D&D, it’s good to see another avid player, and we also sympathise and totally agree on your stance with trump. We found ourselves in a bar in Soho when we heard the dreaded news and a dark cloud just loomed over us and has since not budged.

Also, it’s very refreshing to see someone smart enough on the internet that understands the earth is indeed round, not flat. Great choice with the Zelda shirt as well, we certainly approve of that. Like Zelda, it’s dangerous to go alone – in publishing.

Many authors are happy with the way that we operate, hence why we have a large number of returning authors, some of whom have published 5 or more books with us. This would not be the case if we were any kind of scam.

I’m are more than happy to accept criticism for our practises, and I understand that many authors are firmly against paying to publish, but this is not the problem here. The problem is that you are accusing us of being a scam, with no actual evidence to back up this claim. If you could please remove this falsity that would be very much appreciated.

I look forward to your reply.
Kind regards,
Chantelle Wadsworth


 

Chantelle,

I never said Olympia was a scam, or that it was doing anything illegal, hence the title of my article, “The Art of the Soft Scam,” emphasis on the word “soft.” Here are my exact words, from the piece I wrote,

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)!

You need to realize that you are crushing the hopes and dreams of many struggling authors, by creating a false sense of hope. I have sold more copies of Ages of Aenya through my own website than most of your “published” authors have, and for one tenth the price, so what exactly are you offering writers for their $5000?

If you don’t want people to be turned away from your services, I suggest you change the way you do business. Be upfront with your authors. Tell them in advance that they will have to pay you. Admit the kind of publishing services you provide, that you are more Xlibris or CreateSpace than Bantam, then I’ll drop the soft scam label.


 

Dear Nick,

Thank you very much for your reply.

I have worked here for three years now, and even in these three years, I have noticed a huge change in our company. We’re being completely honest about out publishing process, we’re just about to launch our Author Hub (which by the way I’d love to share with you to see your own comments and how we can maybe improve before it goes live) which is a website for author advice – this is not biased to us, we actually recommend other types of publishing if it suites the writer/author and we’ve invested time and resources in creating helpful videos and articles. It’s not to promote us and our company or to sell books – it is purely a helpful resource.  We’ve also taken to charities and so on with our new website, writing blog posts dedicated to them and donating what we can to various hospitals, libraries and animal and environmental charities.

Also, on our about us section right in the centre of our website, we make it very clear that we offer both free and paid contracts. We even say to authors that submit to us to please put a comment in the additional notes if they are only interested in a free contract,  then a free contract will be the only contract that is offered.

We have expanded our publicity and promotions team so each author has a publicity coordinator to work with on a daily basis, since this we have been able to expand to the US and India. Some of our recent books have sold over ten thousand copies, which is a huge step up for us. Our contract prices have also significantly lowered. So overall we are really trying our hardest to be as upfront as possible with our publishing!

If you have a look on our forums (not by us by other reviewers) you will notice a huge turn around in the comments. The last two or three years there have been little or no negative comments.

At the end of the day. We appreciate your article, its those like you that help publishing shape themselves and improve. But as I’ve said, we have really up’ed our game, we focus all of our attention on our authors and are including many charities and projects in a lot of our works. Which is why I email to kindly ask you to perhaps remove the review, or even give us an updated review if you would rather?

That is fantastic that you have had success! And there’s no doubt more will come for you too.

Have a great day!

 

“The Nudist Writer”

underwood_nude_1910sIt should come as no surprise by now that I choose to live my life sans clothing. Naked is my default state. I long for the day when I can be free from the branding of Polo and Ralph Lauren. I only feel myself when I am wearing nothing.

But far more important to me is writing. I eat, drink and breathe storytelling. On many occasions I have gotten out of bed with a plot in my head. From the time I was six, I have been coming up with adventures, and that was thirty-seven years ago. Story matters. As Ursula K LeGuin put it, “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel … is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”

While Mark Twain famously advised to “write what you know,” LeGuin said, in response, that she writes about dragons because what she knows is dragons. Fantasy storytellers draw from personal experience while adding from the fruits of their imagination. Herman Melville tapped into his experiences on a whaling ship to create Moby Dick. In the same way, I know what it’s like to leave my clothes behind to explore the woods, to search rocky shorelines without a stitch to my name, to socialize without body taboos. I have also experienced the sense of shame imposed upon me by those who would judge my lifestyle as perverse or just plain weird, as have my naked heroes, Xandr and Thelana.

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Nudism informs my writing, even when my characters don’t think the way I do. Shame is a universal trait, and I would be a poor writer to neglect it. But what we wear, or don’t, is a big part of who we are. It is entrenched in our history and religion, and reflects strongly upon our values. A society’s attitude toward the human body speaks volumes about that society. Do they consider themselves a part of the animal hierarchy or apart from it? Do they shun the physical world, and the senses associated with it, or seek a more spiritual reality? Answering these questions provides a fictional world of greater richness and realism.

Having a unique perspective, we are told, is a good thing. But unlike atheism, LGBTQ+ or even, if Fifty Shades is any indication, bondage porn, I increasingly get the sense that nudism is just too different. Time and again, agents have rejected Ages of Aenya on the grounds that the concept isn’t “trending.” When I attempted to advertise my novel via social media, both Facebook and Twitter called the book, with its innocent cover of Thelana, “sex services.” Even Barnes & Nobles shied away from my offer to host a signing event, despite the many racier covers adorning their shelves. It would seem nudity is OK, but only in a sexual context.

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Sex services. Obviously.

It isn’t as though our sense of touch is entirely alien. Who doesn’t enjoy sunshine on their bare skin? A hot shower? Cool bedsheets after a session of lovemaking? Advertisers, all the while, continually use words like “nude” and “naked” to suggest their products are honest and all-natural. Clearly, nakedness is a good thing, and on some deep level we all know this.

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The nude archetype persists in our subconscious. We all wish for the same confidence, strength and beauty embodied by the heroic nude. It is an expression that has been with us since the Ancient Greeks, and continues to this day in the form of the superhero, who is all but nude but for the coloring of the skin, and in ESPN’s celebration of athletes.

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The heroic nude in modern times

We are simultaneously repulsed and attracted by the human form. This dichotomy, I believe, stems from an overemphasis on demographics. Fiction must be placed either in the Children, Adult, or YA sections, and nudity can never fall into any category but porn, because in our modern world nudity = porn. And it should be noted here, that DC’s recent adult comic, Batman: Damned, showcasing Bruce’s penis for the first time, is far from a nudist portrayal, as his genitals are made the emphasis of the panel, existing for no other purpose but to shock.

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Enlightened heroines are expected to wear full plate armor, without so much as hinting at the female shape beneath. This is considered progress, an improvement over the hyper sexualized covers of the 60s and 70s, and likely the reason Thelana isn’t trending. But it is progress leading to a more sterilized world, where neither sex is recognized. Equality could just as well have been achieved by giving the female hero agency, and stripping the male of equal parts clothing. Gone are the gods and heroes of church ceilings and museum walls, the renderings of mankind so proudly and masterfully born of the hands of Leonardo and Michelangelo, and this to me is a tragedy, because in censoring how we portray others, we turn every person into a potential object, a thing to satisfy our most basic urges.

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The modern heroine

This isn’t to say women in chainmail bikinis are preferable. On the contrary, Brienne of Tarth, and Netflix’ She-Ra, is a welcome change. What I am saying, rather, is that a woman need not be objectified, regardless of what she is or isn’t wearing, and that we need not choose between our sexuality and our humanity. In our current MeToo generation, we pretend to have matured beyond smut, while creating secret identities to wallow in the worst of PornHub. Instead of learning to express our desires in meaningful, honest and healthy ways, or reaching out to better understand the opposite sex, we have chosen to don the facade of robots devoid of passion. This societal schism, this partitioning of people into categories, cannot lead to a better world. More than anything, we need the heroic nude, our David and Heracles, our Mowgli and Tarzan and John Carter and, dare I say, our Xandr. We must embrace role models that embody the full gamut of what it means to be human, sexuality and all.

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Fantasy covers of the 70s

I am a nudist and a writer, and my fear is that I will be pigeonholed, that my work will be confined to an esoteric niche group. After all, we don’t typically call people gay writers, or Catholic writers, or Japanese writers—or by any other aspects of their identity—unless that identity becomes a focal point of their work, “feminist writer,” for example. Still, nudism is far from a fetish. It addresses a much broader spectrum that includes feminism and environmentalism, and it speaks to our most revered cultural values. While you may not see Sam Harris or Jordan Peterson debating the merits of nudism any time soon, it should be noted that they both conform closely to societal norms, of not simply wearing clothes, but wearing very specific types of clothing. Whether it’s President Trump or Barack Obama, Ken Ham or Neil deGrasse Tyson, ties and jackets are mandatory if one is to take your arguments seriously. This only goes to show how entrenched body taboos have become in our world. But while my upcoming second and third novels will have no naked heroes in it, to shy away from calling myself a nudist would betray everything I am, and rob the literary landscape from a rarely heard voice. Like Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman and Robert Heinlein, all of whom shared nudist proclivities, I stand outside of convention, and challenge the status-quo. I am Xandr standing at the gates of Hedonia, calling out against hypocrisy, searching for the lost innocence of Ilmarinen.

Aenya Newsletter 12/20/2017

Whoo-Boy. A lot’s been going on, so let’s get to it.

 

Ages of Aenya

As you probably know, Ages of Aenya finally became available last month, and sales have been brisk. It’s great knowing people from as far as Europe and the UK have read the story and have had nothing but good things to say about it. I do have, unfortunately, my pet troll to deal with. Like any loyal pet, he was the first to go barking on Amazon, giving the book a 1-star review. Funny thing is, he knew it was out before I did! I am still amazed by this, that some people have nothing better to do than to watch you like a hawk, ready to pounce at the slightest opportunity. Oh well. What Mr. Troll doesn’t seem to understand is that I don’t care about critiques from people who haven’t actually read the book, and I know he hasn’t, as his “review” came minutes after it was posted to Amazon. Even if Mr. Troll were to have dished out the money to give an honest opinion, I still wouldn’t care, because a troll’s viewpoint is worthless, in that it is inherently biased. Either way, art is subjective. There are always going to be readers who think what I write is garbage, and others who feel the opposite. Just look at the love/hate situation for the recent Star Wars! The fact that a majority appears to love what I do means I’ve succeeded as a writer. My only goal now is to keep writing and to find more readers. That means learning something about marketing. At the moment, I am planning book signings, reaching out to fiction bloggers, and networking with other writers, like Michael Sullivan.

 

The End of An Era / A Bold New Direction

This blog is approaching its seventh year, and I am beginning to feel that much of what I have wanted to say has been said. In 2010, my head was bursting at the seams with ideas that had been bugging me since high school. I wanted to play Devil’s advocate with regards to cliches, melodrama, and ‘to say’ verbs. I wanted to throw in my two cents about popular fiction, like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and a A Game of Thrones, and to contrast these works with the lesser known classics that I love, like The Last Unicorn and The Never Ending Story, in an effort to understand what makes good storytelling, and how literary conventions change over time. I also longed to express my more unusual beliefs, for nudism in particular, but about religion also. The Writer’s Disease has been a great platform to share my life story, and to showcase my earlier work. Telling stories has been the most important thing in my life, and I needed to make certain that the world knew that, that nobody would mistake me for a guy who wakes up one day, in a mid-life crisis, deciding to be a novelist. At the very least, I feel that I’ve earned the respect that comes from three decades of dedication. Having a blog like this has helped keep my mind sharp, for when I was too busy with work and kids to labor over a novel. But now that much of what I have wanted to say has been said, with one teenager in the family and my other business largely self-sufficient, I am finally able to commit to my true passion. Despite how hectic my life has been, I am ashamed to admit that, since Aenya’s inception c. 1999, I have only managed to produce three full-length novels, with one of those, The Dark Age of Enya, mostly redone. I need to devote myself to Aenya, not just to maps and biographies, but to honest-to-goodness books. Hopefully, I should be shelling out a new Aenya book every two to three years, from now until I hit the grave. This doesn’t mean I am quitting this blog; only that you’ll be seeing less of me here, and more of me in my books.

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Book Review: C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew

I started reviewing novels as a means to learn from them. In college, we studied the classics, Shakespeare and Melville and Hawthorne, and while I have always been a fan of long-dead authors, modern-day readers seem to prefer people from *this* century. In essence, I have had to unlearn what I learned in college, to abstain from the flowery, poetic language with which I was so accustomed, and so adored (see?). This is part of the reason I ended up rewriting The Dark Age of Enya, to appeal to a modern audience. Some of Xandr’s dialogue still retains elements of Homer. In 2010, The Lord of the Rings was on everybody’s mind, thanks to Peter Jackson, and so every new author was accused of being a Tolkien-wannabe. I was accused of this myself, which was particularly infuriating. Bookstores are saturated by imitators, R.A. Salvatore chief among them, and even George R.R. Martin has been influenced by the Anglo-European myths that informed Tolkien. But I have never felt the need to explore tales of elves, dwarves or dragons. The Aenya series, for better or worse, is rooted in Greek mythology, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Howard, and the 80’s cartoon show, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. All writers borrow, but the great ones borrow from a much greater pool. Inspiration can be found anywhere, and from anyone, which is why I aim to become familiar with every fantasist out there, from Adams to Zelazny.

This leads me to C.S. Lewis. I picked up The Magician’s Nephew from a small bookstore in London. Being a literary nerd, I was excited by the prospect of reading an English novel in its original, un-Americanized form, but if there were any differences in dialects, I didn’t notice them.

The Magician’s Nephew is a simple adventure story, about two children, Digory and Polly, who are given magic rings (again, rings) that enable them to travel to other worlds. One of these worlds has been destroyed by an evil-witch, Queen Jadis. Eventually, they end up in empty space, in what becomes Narnia.

Anyone familiar with C.S. Lewis knows of his outspoken religiosity, and of the Christian-apologetic he penned, Mere Christianity. His faith heavily influenced his fantasy, and it shows, even in The Lord of the Rings, as Lewis and Tolkien often critiqued one another’s work. Tolkien rejected allegorical interpretations of his story, but it’s hard to ignore similarities between the Lady Galadriel and the Catholic Mary, the elves of Middle Earth and Biblical angels, Sauron (Melkor, specifically) and the Fallen Angel, Lucifer. Lewis’ faith, however, is much more pronounced, not quite beat-you-over-the-head blatant, ala A Wrinkle in Time, but apparent, nonetheless. Digory and Polly witness the creation of Narnia, as Aslan, the Lion, sings it into being. He creates the land, the mountains, the rivers, and the animals. Why use a lion to represent God, and not some other creature? Lewis doesn’t really say. I suppose he just really liked lions. Tolkien seems to have borrowed this idea when he described his own deity, Eru Illuvatar, singing not only Middle Earth into being (properly Arda), but Time itself, in The Silmarillion. Shortly after Narnia is born, the story ends, having established the setting and the villain, Jadis, for future books in the series.

The Magician’s Nephew is a well-written and a (bit too) straightforward tale, mostly for children. Through the Narnia series, Lewis helped introduce young people to aspects of his faith, much in the way I hope to introduce Aenya-readers to naturism, but in doing so, I am hard pressed to imagine him not finding the cracks in his beliefs, as his own story seems to fix many of the narrative issues found in the Bible. For instance, Aslan does not create Narnia’s Devil, Jadis, but rather, she invades and corrupts his creation from beyond, having come from another dimension. This makes a lot more sense than having an all-knowing, all-powerful entity bring Lucifer into being, whom YHWH must have known would turn against him. Put another way, if your own, made-up story makes more sense than what you believe actually, literally happened, I think you’d start to question your beliefs.

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Dammit. Just when I thought I was done talking about Star Wars, Episode VIII comes along to stir up more controversy. YouTubers are calling The Last Jedi the best since or better than Empire, while others are just as passionately arguing to remove the movie from canon. As someone who studies storytelling for a living, I am continually fascinated by divergent reactions to books and movies. I want/need to know why fans love or hate things, because I work hard to entertain them. Try as I may, however, I know I will always garner haters, because art is subjective. And yet people cannot seem to accept this. Armchair critics will argue endlessly in defense of, or in opposition to, some viewpoint, as if their arguments could be proven. It reminds me of the gold/blue dress debacle. People were incensed that others could look at the same thing and not see what they did. The Last Jedi is a lot like that.

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I am one of the few on the planet who actually adored the Prequel films. And it has been hard for me to witness, from every corner of the web, the hatred spewed at something I so greatly enjoyed. When Episode VII was released, I was equally perplexed. Most people loved it. But Star Wars, for me, has always been about imagination, originality, and inspiration. The Force Awakens, while entertaining, felt like a retread of things familiar, a way to cash-in on nostalgia. It offered nothing new. Worse still, it seemed to retcon everything we loved about Return of the Jedi. Turns out, the Empire wasn’t destroyed with the second Death Star, nor when Palpatine was thrown down a reactor shaft by Darth Vader. It simply became the First Order. Palpatine was replaced by Snoke, Vader by Kylo Ren, and a brand new third Death Star was built. Luke is still the only Jedi in the galaxy and Han still works as a money-hungry smuggler. It forces one to wonder, what the hell was the point of Episode VI? Was anything accomplished?

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[SPOILERS AHEAD]

When Rian took the reins from JJ, I think he recognized these flaws, and did his damndest to rectify them. He immediately did away with Kylo’s Vaderesque helmet, turning Ren into a much more interesting character, and he killed off the Palpatine-wannabe, Snoke, preventing JJ from copying VI with IX. More importantly, Rian gave us a *new* story, and much like Lucas with his sequels and prequels, offered something new with regards to the Jedi and the Force, giving Luke, Rey and even Leia powers we’ve never seen before. This is what, for me, a good sequel needs to do. It needs to expand on what we know about a story we love.

So what’s my verdict? I liked it. It still lacks Lucas’ visual flair. There were few moments when my jaw dropped in awe. In this regard, George is an unparalleled director. But Rian gives us plenty of genuine surprises, and he does it the old-fashioned way, via storytelling. Mark Hamill gives his best performance as an old, crotchety, and conflicted Luke Skywalker, and I have never been such a fan of the character.

The previous film killed my excitement for Star Wars, but with Rian at the helm, the old spark is coming back. I am eager to watch the movie again, and can only pray that JJ (why him?) manages to conjure some originality with his next outing.

Ages of Aenya Launch Day!

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

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

Welcome to the world of Aenya!

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GET IT NOW!

Aenya Newsletter 10/25/2017

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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

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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.

 

 

 

Devil’s Advocate #4: You *Can* Judge a Book by its Cover

The old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” is somewhat inaccurate, IMO. A better saying would be, “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.” Either way, people will judge things by appearances, at least at first. We do it all the time, though most people are ashamed to admit it, so as not to seem shallow. The guy covered in tattoos and piercings may turn out to be a caring father, while the clean cut choir boy often ends up a serial killer. You really can’t know the value of something until you spend some time with it. Unfortunately, time is becoming an increasingly precious commodity. If you’re in the business of entertainment, you are constantly battling for eyeballs. One problem in my life (albeit minor) is deciding what to do. What TV show should I watch? What game should I play? What book should I read? Between cable, Netflix, HBO NOW, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc., the choices might as well be infinite. And that’s just television. What about the web? Which of the million+ YouTube videos will be earning your attention tonight? For that matter, why are you even reading this post? Don’t you have better things to do? Walking into Barnes & Nobles is no better. There are literally over a million books in print. Sometimes, I just walk out of the store in a daze, having purchased nothing. On the other hand, if Ancient Athens had a B&N, you can be certain everyone who knew to read would have copies of The Iliad and The Odyssey, whether fans of fantasy or not.

This is why we end up judging books by their covers. What choice do we have? I could pick novels at random, or look at titles, the synopses on jackets or the praise from reviewers, but these are all still part of the cover, and are no more indicative of great storytelling than the picture. When I chose Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, because the title moved me, I was pleasantly surprised by the power of his story. With other books, like The Maze Runner and A Wrinkle in Time, I was not so fortunate. This is not to say that you might not have the opposite experience. My younger self would probably find Ishiguro a snooze-fest. Now, you might purchase an early edition of A Game of Thrones because you’ve seen the TV show and could care less about the clip art wolf on the front. This is where not judging a book by its cover makes sense. But for those of us without TV shows, struggling to make it in the literary world, we do not have such a luxury.

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Seriously, is this clip art?

 

This brings me to the e-book wasteland. Typically, I can immediately tell when a book is self-published, and admit it, you can too. If you’re a newbie writer, and your undiscovered masterpiece is lurking behind a Photoshopped image of your backyard, don’t expect me to be reading it. To the author whose name isn’t a marketing draw, the cover is everything. A good cover communicates many things about your work: a cartoon drawing is usually kids’ fare, a dragon indicates fantasy, a spaceship Sci-Fi, and a brooding, hooded rogue means big-name publishers have no imagination. But more than anything else, a good cover conveys professionalism. If you cannot be bothered to waste time or money on a cover, it’s doubtful you’ve spent enough time on the writing.

For the past three years, I have labored over The Princess of Aenya. The book represents hundreds of hours of writing, editing and rewriting, not to mention a lifetime of practice. For me, every character has to be engaging, every chapter intriguing, and every line has to sing. If the reader is not moved in some way by the last page, I know I’ve failed my job. Why should the face of the book, the very thing that might encourage someone to discover your story, be of any less concern?

The image below is a proof-of-concept. While some of the elements are copyrighted, I was lucky enough to attain the rights to this portrait, by Selene Regener, originally titled “Awakening.” Now this might make for a decent cover as is, but I will be using it primarily to give direction to my artists. If I am the one to do it, and not some big name publisher (who’ll likely put a hooded rogue on the front), I might come up with a better idea. Who knows? Either way, the art should reflect the writing, and vice versa, because, like it or not, everyone judges a book first by its cover, and second by its contents.

PoAcover

 

The Princess of Aenya Query Letter #1

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Dear Editor,

The Princess of Aenya is a fantasy adventure reminiscent of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn and Michael Ende’s The Never Ending Story, with a little bit of Song of Ice and Fire injected for good measure. It stands roughly at 125,000 words.

What’s the story? 

She is known for her arresting beauty and mismatched eyes. One is turquoise, like the greater moon, the other is violet, like the lesser. But at fifteen years, the heir of Tyrnael is innocent to life’s cruelties. After her father’s death, her quixotic outlook clashes with that of her step-brother, Zaibos, upon which he seizes the throne and she is forced to flee for her life. Her only protector is a stranger from a fallen empire, Demacharon, a soldier tormented by visions of the afterlife, by those he has lost and those he has wronged. And yet, unbeknownst even to herself, Radia carries an awesome secret. For she is far more than an innocent girl, and if she were to die, so too would the world itself. 

Why invest in me?

You will never meet anyone more passionate about storytelling, and I am prepared to do what is necessary to market and promote my work. This is an opportunity to invest not only in the Aenya series, but in a great writer as well.

My Life

At age six, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and that was to engage people with my fiction. By age nine, I had the temerity to solicit my superhero series to DC Comics Headquarters in New York City. At fourteen, I queried my first novel to publishers. I later attended the University of South Florida, where I earned my BA in English, tutored students, and worked as a freelance editor. I continue to write essays, reviews and short fiction at writersdisease.net.

My world . . .

For book excerpts, artwork, poetry and short fiction; or to learn about the characters, geography and history of Aenya, please be sure to visit Aenya.net!

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Nick Alimonos
alimonosbooks@gmail.com