Pro-logue or Against -logue

This week, I entered Wycaan Master/At the Walls of Galbrieth, the first of my Alliance series, into the San Francisco Writer’s Conference Indie Awards. In three weeks, I will submit it to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

Both competitions require the first 5,000 words of the novel and abruptly I find myself needing to make a critical decision. I have written a prologue, a short but hopefully eloquent setting of the scene.

Prologues are not always acceptable. When I presented the prologue to my writer’s group, the jury was out and, though I was not hung, neither was I acquitted.

It seems that prologues are more acceptable in the fantasy genre than others. Critiques have suggested that a prologue is there to mask a slow beginning or a lack of a hook.

One ring to bind them all… opened the master and we were duly bound for three long volumes, cartoon series, and epic movies. Now the epic fantasy world waits with bated breath for The Hobbit movie, even though we all know what happens.

Since my novel is directed at the YA audience I made sure to begin the novel at a fast pace. I can imagine many teens skimming the prologue, though I hope they will value it in later years when they ritually return to the series as I, and many of you, return to read LOTR every few years.

So, a couple of weeks before decision time, I wish to ask:

How do you feel about a prologue for an epic fantasy novel? Does the reader want it, the agent accept it and the publisher allow it?

Your comments and advice are gratefully received. Wishing you all a happy and healthy new year.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

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Epic Fantasy’s Hall of Fame

Being new to the wonderful world of fantasy, I am published in political and transformation fiction, I am greatly in debt to Castle Fiction for a list of past and present masters. The comments after the names are mainly from the Castle Fiction, but I would love to hear which you have read and how you felt about them.

Past Major Fantasy Authors:

William Morris I admit that I have never heard of William Morris and understand that this is a hole in my education. I consider Tolkien to be the father of modern-day epic fantasy but apparently this is incorrect. “It all started with the publication in 1892 of the William Morris novel The Well at the World’s End. This is an outstanding piece of Epic Fantasy and it is considered to be the first epic fantasy work of the modern era. The same applies for another Morris novel titled “The Wood Beyond the World.”

Edith Nesbitt A prolific author at the end of the 19th century she created a genre of children’s fantasy literature. It often had normal contemporary children who engaged in magical adventures and discovered magical objects. She set the genre for many contemporary writers including J.K. Rowling. Some of her notable books are Five Children and It and The Story of the Amulet.

J.R.R. Tolkien A master of the craft that created the complete world of Middle Earth which included maps, languages and much more. Most notable works is the Lord of the Rings Series.

Tolkien - Middle Earth Master

Edgar Rice Burroughs Early twentieth century writer that created memorable characters and explored different worlds. His most memorable character is Tarzan. And his most popular series of books include the Barsoom series which takes place on Mars. The Venus series and the Pellucidar series which takes place within the hollow earth.

Robert E. Howard Mid 20th century writer who was a heavy contributor to the pulp fiction magazines. He is generally credited with creating the swords & sorcery genre. His most notable character is Conan.

T.H. White Mid 20th century writer who penned several books in the King Arthur tradition. The most notable of which is The Sword in the Stone which ushered in the modern Arthurian novel. Of note was a posthumous publication of his novel The Book of Merlyn

E.R.R. Eddison Considered to be the father of High Fantasy he wrote several books that influenced authors to come such as Lewis and Tolkien. Of his highly imaginative worlds The Worm Ouroboros is one of the most famous.

C.S. Lewis He was a scholar of medieval literature and mythology penning many works in a variety of genres including fiction, religious fiction and science fiction. His most notable works are the epic fantasy Chronicles of Narnia.


Present Major Authors:

Terry Brooks In the late 70’s Brooks published the novel The Sword of Shannara. It climbed to the top of best seller lists and stood there for years. Heavily drawing on Tolkien this book reintroduced the epic fantasy to the general public. Brooks continued the Shannara series with several more books. He has gone on to pen even more series.

Scene from Sword of Shannara

Terry Goodkind Writer of the Sword of Truth series which began with Wizards First Rule This is a solid series that takes a more serious approach to epic fantasy. The books explore philosophical questions. The series became a TV series – Legend of the Seeker – which lasted for two seasons.

Robert Jordan Is the writer of the enormously successful Wheel of Time series which is currently eleven volumes. He has also written many works based on the Robert E. Howard Conan character.

Stephen Donaldson Creator of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series of books which now number seven volumes and is most notable for its use of the anti-hero in which the main character maintains a reluctance to actually take on the mantle of the hero. He has written several other series in the genre.

Marion Zimmer Bradley Editor of the famous sword and sorcery series Bradley is also a prolific writer. Most notable among her writings is the Arthurian Avalon series which begun with The Mists of Avalon.

David Eddings Writer of sword & sorcery and epic fantasy series he is most famous for the Belgariad and the Mallorean series.

Raymond Feist Many of his works are set in the connected worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan. This is called the Riftwar series and the novels range over various geographic locations and span centuries. He began his writing with the first novel in the Riftwar series called Magician: Apprentice. Another series of note is the Krondor series.

Robin Hobb Is the author of several popular trilogies including The Farseer Trilogy, The Liveship Traders Trilogy and The Tawny Man Trilogy

Stephen King Although considered to be the master of horror King has published an enormous body of work in the fantasy genre. He crosses genre at will and breaks all the rules but notable is his Dark Tower Trilogy and The Eyes of the Dragon which is classic fantasy.

L.E. Modesitt Author of several series most notable are The Corean Chronicles
Set on the world of Corus (or Acorus), where strange and dangerous beasts roam and people with magical Talent can commit astonishing feats. Also is The Spellsong Cycle and The Timegod’s World which draws heavily on Norse legend.

George R.R. Martin Most notable for his Song of Ice and Fire series which was begun with A Game of Thrones in 1996.

Tad Williams Writer of several fantasy series the most notable of which Memory, Sorrow, & Thorn which was begun with The Dragonbone Chair

J.K. Rowling Creator of the enormously popular Harry Potter series which began with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. These books have also been transformed into successful movies.

David Farlane – The Author of the Acclaimed Runelords series. The fifth book has just been published and the first book is being made into a major motion picture.

What are your favorite authors of High or Epic Fantasy? Do you agree with the comments added above?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#elfwriter).

Going for the Writer’s Lottery

It is true that you can become a millionaire from winning the lottery and that there are lottery winners every week. But for the aspiring author, winning the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) is akin to that precious and elusive lottery ticket.

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In today’s economic climate, it is a brave publisher who invests in an unknown author. Yes there will always be the J.K. Rowling out there, but they are as rare as, well, a winning lottery ticket. Assuming you are not a celebrity or have a good friend in the industry, it is almost impossible to pick up a literary agent. Then it helps that the agent stays in the business and find a publisher, and then the publisher needs to stay in the business and … well you get the gist.

But once a year, optimism pervades among us writers. ABNA is the mother of all writing competitions. They accept only 10,000 entries (already better odds than the lottery) which then go through a series of rounds until two talented individuals stand alone. Or more significantly stand with the publishing folks at Penguin Group (USA), Amazon.com, and CreateSpace. There is a $15,000 advance along with the publishing contract.

It is an exciting process. As midnight approaches on January 23rd, thousands of optimistic writers will sit poised by our computers, all necessary documents ready to upload. A month later we will all anxiously await the first cut. We look first for our own names and then those of our friends who have also entered.

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For the last two years I have reached the last 250 entries, the Quarter Finals, with The Accidental Activist and Unwanted Heroes, both political fiction. Like any good lottery player, I was already dreaming of my shining literary future. Alas, I went no further and my dreams were put aside in favor of actively seeking an agent and publisher. I did succeed, with The Accidental Activist coming out last year and Unwanted Heroes expected this coming spring.

But this is the first time that I am entering the YA contest with a fantasy manuscript. In the next month I will share my preparations and would appreciate any feedback that can help me hone the best possible entry.

And once again I will be watching the clock tick away to midnight on that fateful day and begin the dream all over again.

I will keep you posted – to the bitter end – but until then, allow me to dream.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#elfwriter).

When is an Elf not an Elf? And why do we care?

Yes, my novel is compelling, special, well-written etc. just like the 499 other epic fantasy manuscripts sitting in the slush piles of every publishing house that offers YA epic fantasy.

I am working with an agent who is asking the challenging and insightful questions that will help my manuscript stand out from the rest. It is tough and I am feeling very possessive. Last week I shared his prompting to seek a Higher Concept.

One of the aspects that he wants me to consider is changing my elves, who make up many of the main characters and cultural references. He suggests that I consider changing the elves for a new, mythical race that will set me apart from the rest.

Let me state from the outset that I have no doubt this man knows far more than I about the publishing world, has considerable experience and understands the current state of the publishing world.

But my elves? Our elves? Those of us who grew up on Tolkein, Paolini, Brooks and others, have standards, images, friends. Legolas and Anwen, Arya and Blodgarm, and many others have created a rich and familiar texture. We welcome them surfacing as we settle into a thick novel. We embrace them because there are common threads that pass between authors. We call it a culture, those who don’t read fantasy roll their eyes.

                               Nobel Haldir – we owe him for Helm’s Deep, no?

Terry Brooks’ children know that he is not all there, he tells us as much when he opens his book Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life. More on this book in a later blog.

But Brooks in not dissimilar to the rest of us, just considerably more talented! We pass through a gate in our imagination and reacquaint in a world that exists in a shared consciousness.

Here the elves are tall, thin, light-footed and beautiful. They are fast and posses stealth and discipline. They are in touch with the energy of the earth, the forest, the animal kingdom. They excel in archery, crafts and healing. Perhaps they are aloof, elitist, and closed to the other races, but this comes from their ancient and rich heritage. We know and love them.

We rejoiced to learn that Peter Jackson is bringing Legalos into a prominent role in the hobbit. Well, a few raised eyebrows, since Legalos was not even referred to by name in The Hobbit when he appeared flanking his father, the King of Mirkwood.

We accept, even with a bit of jealousy that he can fight at Helms Deep for five days, or run non stop for three and still not need to brush his immaculate hair. Nor do we care that his quiver seems to replenish itself, an occupational hazard of any archer who fights battles every other day.

We don’t mind because elves epitomize something that we identify with. We all want to be beautiful, brilliant, in excellent physical condition and, of course, environmentalists. When R.A. Salvatore created Drizzt Do’Urden and the dark elves of Menzoberranzan, a giant underground drow city-state he broke new ground.

Many of us were repelled and had it not been created in the hands of a master of fantasy, we would have rebelled. It was daring, it worked and by Book Three, we were rewarded with the typical elf one finds above ground.

It is tough to turn away from the basic tenets of epic fantasy: the teacher and student, the quest, the fight against a powerful evil, dwarves, elves, dragons, a rich natural world. There is something that has entered our collective consciousness and taken root.

It is why we read and reread the masters…and it is why we will return to read those who take over the role of entertaining us in a way that only epic fantasy does.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#elfwriter).

Seeking The Higher Concept

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings set the bar. Everything since has been compared to this masterpiece. I have heard interviews with Terry Brooks and Christopher Paolini where each has had to deal with the comparisons.

Neither seemed particularly happy with the need to defend or compare their works. Each agree that Lord of the Rings (LOTR) stands on the pinnacle of fantasy and will for many years,

This leaves the rest of us wannabe fantasy authors with a dilemma. While my own Alliance series has its own specific aspects, it is inevitably compared to LOTHR. When I introduced my elves to my writer’s group, it is Legalos who comes to mind.

I've never survived a mighty battle with every hair still in place.

It is not only Tolkien of course. My antagonist is the Emperor and immediately someone compared him to Star Wars’ Palpatine, and his right hand man to Darth Vader (even without the mask and asthma).

I recently began to meet with an agent who is coaching me to prepare the first Alliance book to market. When I offered my pitch, he immediately asked what is my higher concept? He knows of Tolkien, Brooks, Salvatore and Paolini: what differentiates Shalev from these masters?

I admit to being stuck. I am reading John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in 5 Months book and he admits it is much harder to change a book already written to hook your target audience than to begin a novel with the specific demands of your target audience in mind. This is doubly hard for me as I have already written two books in the series and have the third mapped out.

Every time I, or anyone helping me, have an idea, I feel resistant. I have created my world, my characters, my conflict…but I cannot explain its unique or higher concept.  Reluctant hero must learn his magic from a master and overcome the all-powerful evil dude. Sound familiar? There are many ways to make an omelet, many variations of vegetables, spices and cheeses, but all omelets involve eggs.

Need to crack a few eggs!

When someone has already used organic, cage-free, grade A eggs, how do you change the recipe? How do you find a higher concept? Any ideas?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#elfwriter).