A Private Letter to George R.R. Martin

Dear Mr. Martin,

Let me begin by saying that I am a big fan. I have just finished Book 4 and, if that isn’t proof enough, I am preparing to read Book 5. I have sung your praises on my humble elfwriter blog and keep your photo under my pillow (I don’t – but I wanted to make sure I still had your attention).

It’s like this, sir. One day I want to be a bestselling epic fantasy author like you. My third book comes out in the fall and I have probably sold as many books as you’ve killed noble characters (actually I might be being a bit optimistic there).

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I spend a lot of time hanging out with other writers: online and (I know this is rare) actually in person. Everyone tells me to “observe the rules,” “don’t break the conventions,” and, my favorite, “Tolkien was one-of-a-kind. You wouldn’t get away with that.”

But you, sir, have broken the rules. You have tippexed (anyone?) over the conventions. One friend suggested that you only get away with it because you are already famous, already have a huge following, and probably don’t care anymore what anyone outside of the Seven Kingdoms thinks.

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So here is my list of 10 things you have done wrong:

1. Your books are too long. I keep getting told that 90K is way beyond the commitment that most readers are willing to invest today. But then why do I enjoy them (and Christopher Paolini, and J.K Rowling, and some unknown ancient language, Oxford professor) and feel a sense of loss when they are finished? 

2. Your books are too slow. People want action, action, action. Instant gratification …debate in 140 characters or less. Have a car chase or blow up a bridge – well, you get my point.

3. Your books are too detailed. You mean I need to think? Concentrate? Invest? I hear you keep flow charts in your office – can we peek? How about a deal with Cliff Notes or an app that you can enter a character, your book and page number and get an update. Dude – I totally expect a commission on the app idea.

4. Your characters are too flawed (especially the good ones). If I’m not seeing Ryan Gosling or Kristen Stewart then it simply won’t do. If I want real people, I would put my book down and hit the pub.

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5. Your characters are too dead. I actually wrote a blog post about this (I Need A Hero), keeping the book and you anonymous so as not to spoil it. Guess what? Everyone knew who I was talking about.

6. You drop some characters for hundreds of pages – are you tempting me to skip pages, sir? Just so as not to spoil this for any readers on Books 1-4, you know what I mean when I connect this to Book 4//5.

7. You miss out key scenes – battles in particular – and subtly let us know they have happened. I know it is incredibly difficult to write battles and only the best can pull it off, but well sir, you are one of the best.

8. You have too many minor characters. I hope you are keeping track of them because, to be honest, I am developing a habit of scratching my head whenever someone resurfaces 1-2,000 pages later.

9. You care more for the old gods and the new than the critics.

10. Your books are too addictive. I can’t stop…

You broke all the rules, sir. Congratulations! Now where is my copy of Book Five?

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

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Finding Mythical Places Everywhere

A while ago, I wrote a post about meeting elves in coffee shops. The point was that…well you can read the point for yourself, but there is more along these lines.

I grew up in England with real castles, stately homes, wattle and daub cottages, and signs of a more ancient, Pagan culture everywhere. I was not writing fantasy back then but imagine I would find a lot of inspiration there. Two weeks sitting in a castle in Wales writing – is that a business expense?

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My eldest at Conway Castle, Wales, several years ago. He sat there for hours, transfixed in a world of his own.

But we actually don’t have to travel too far. I attended a conference in the heart of Washington ‘DC Chinatown. I stepped outside the meeting room on the 7th floor  for some fresh air and stared at this:

Ruins by Hillel SIC

Today, I was at the Ferry Building in San Francisco and noticed Old Glory flying at half-mast in respect of the victims of the Boston Marathon attack. The sky was a rich blue and the flag and tower looked glorious. I could imagine Seanchai and friends arriving on a boat (do you pay the toll riding over the Bay Bridge on horseback? Do three horses and riders make a posse or qualify for the casual car pool?).

Interestingly, I crossed the Embarcadero between the Ferry Building and Bay Bridge and saw a restaurant with gargoyles and (what looked to me) a sign that could have been written in Medieval lettering. It could have been a tavern or pub for thirsty travelers before they put five Peet’s Coffee and nine Starbucks in the mile-square Financial District.

My point is that writing fantasy is as much a state of mind. When I am actually writing a story (as opposed to editing or marketing), which is about 4-5 months of the year, I notice these things as though they are only around for this time of the year.

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Picnic at our local park. Younger son discovered this tunnel. We sat in here and discussed how to use it in the book I was writing at the time.

It is why I see elves in coffee shops and get invited underground by hospitable dwarves. It enriches the already beautiful vistas, forests and rivers of Northern California where I explore. It is what makes my kids and I respond when we see a beautiful natural scene by exclaiming: Alagaesia! (You can blame Christopher Paolini for this. I hope he’s touched).

It is why Terry Brooks claims that ‘Sometimes The Magic Works.

Have a mystical weekend.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Stand Up Fantasy Readers

I came out of the literature closet when I made the decision to find a way to have my Wycaan Master series published. My ego prevented me from using a pseudonym and I knew it was time to let the world know.

At first I kind of tagged a mumbled line into my elevator pitch: I write social justice-themed novels and also dabble in some fantasmmmm (imagine a hand rising in front of my mouth).

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I was mortified when my boss’s wife turned to me one day and said her husband had told her I’m really into epic fantasy. I focused all my superhero strength on the ground opening up and swallowing me. Thankfully such talents are woefully non-existent because boss’s wife revealed with pride how she totally loves the genre and began reeling off her favorite authors and series. Then boss’s super-cool wife promptly sat on the stairs with my then 12-year-old son and talked for a half hour of their shared genre. He was beaming when I asked him how their conversation went.

I discovered that, as I assumed more confidence in sharing that I write in two genres, people began to share their love for epic fantasy. I found that there were plenty of fantasy nerds (Big Bang Theory, anyone?) but there are also many very cool people.

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As I begin to frequent the forums, I discover people who are deep-thinkers, who follow and critically analyze plots, world building, and character development. In fact, having participated in a fair share of workshops, read how-to writing books, and listened to countless authors, I have found these threads to be as profound and educational as any.

Fantasy readers are connoisseurs in the true sense of the word – a person who is especially competent to pass critical judgments in an art, particularly one of the fine arts, or in matters of taste (dictionary.com).

Last week I quoted from a comment on a long You Tube thread (I was listening to the Hobbit soundtrack) full of comments, disagreements, and debate. The author is RobbieBjork17: “Holy Crap that was one_ of the most educated conversations I’ve ever read on youtube…. shoulda known it was going to be Tolkien Fans ;).”

He (or she) knew something I didn’t. But then what can you expect from a genre led by two British Oxford professors!

Now I wear my genre on the side of my car and when I pick up commuters every morning at the casual car pool and they ask me about the car magnet, I reply: “I am an author. I write in two genres: social justice themed novels and YA epic fantasy.”

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And I say the last part without mumbling.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Everyone Wants To Be An Elf

How many times have you uploaded an article or song on the Internet and then got lost surfing through hundreds of comments underneath? Whether discussing politics, sports, or comparing the lead singers of Nightwish, it gets ugly very quickly. If you need to stock your insult arsenal, You Tube comments is the place to go – but a shot of JW or an anger management course might be more effective, long term…just saying, calm down.

Earlier this week, I played a Gothic music play list (that I can’t find now) while I wrote a new chapter for Book 4 of the Wycaan Master series. I made the mistake of perusing the comments and they were eye opening.

Tens of people (and I did not check all 2,000+ comments) wrote why they would love to be an elf. Just for the record, I believe people were imagining Legalos and not Will Ferrell or any of his fine companions.

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But there they were: some frivolous, but many, well, I believe laced with a genuine desire. They seemed to resonate with something deep inside, something lost.

Some spoke of the physical attributes – tall and thin, healthy (have you ever seen an elf sneeze? – they even die beautifully – yes I’m talking about you, Haldir, at Helm’s Deep, I’m sure you remember), long living, nimble, coordinated… 

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Others mentioned emotional attributes – decisive, confident, calm, intelligent, loyal mates (I plan to research this – I did a quick search for the Rivendale Daily Enquirer but they only distribute in the Western Isles).

And there was also an interesting assortment of comments such as: they could trust their leaders; they were in touch with nature… 

When I began writing the Wycaan Master series, it was clear to my sons and me that we didn’t want to make the elves (most of our protagonists) perfect. They get angry, make wrong decisions, feel abashed at that first kiss, and seem more…well human (ouch!).

In fact, one of the comments that surfaced as I read At The Walls Of Galbrieth to my writer’s group wass that I failed to distinguish them as elves. I struggled to do this without stepping into the familiar stereotypes. As I write Book 4, things have become somewhat darker, with the protagonists facing greater personal challenges. I continue to find it difficult to strike a cord between making my elves special without them losing their genuine, vulnerable side.

Finally, as I write this, I am listening to The Hobbit soundtrack. There is a long thread of comments, disagreements, and debate. But this is the comment that caught my eye:

RobbieBjork17 wrote: “Holy Crap that was one_ of the most educated conversations I’ve ever read on youtube…. shoulda known it was going to be Tolkien Fans ;).”

It made me absurdly proud to feel a part of the Epic Fantasy nation.

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Amazon and Goodreads

Left Coast Voices

The book world (whoever that is these days) was rocked last week when Amazon announced it had acquired Goodreads. Chances are, if you own a credit card, you know who the first is, but you need to be a book lover to know the second.

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Goodreadsis no small start-up. It boasts 16 million members who have added more than 530 million books to their ‘shelves’ and generated more than 23 million reviews. Basically, Goodreads has emerged as the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. There are more than 30,000 book clubs within Goodreads. Founded in 2007, Goodreads is also a place where more than 68,000 authors connect with readers. It is huge. Oh, and it was created and based in San Francisco – not relevant, but I feel a need to boast, though none of the credit is mine.

“Books – and the stories and ideas captured inside them…

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