Guest Post: My Fantastical African Inspiration – Yurika Kotzé

imgres-2 Yurika Kotzé is a fantasy author and wildlife researcher. She loves history and combines the inspiration she gleans from living in Africa with medieval swords and water nymphs – because, well, why not? Her first novel, The Unsheathed Key is now available as an ebook from Barnes&Noble, Kobo and others. Check out her website for info; or to read an excerpt.

 ————————————————————————————————————-     So there we were, sitting next to the fire on our farm, right on the border of Zimbabwe. We were happily nibbling away at our chops and tossing the bones into the fire, when another sound suddenly rose above the rushing waters of the river. A deep sawing noise.

Steady and rhythmic, it grew in volume and started to move around our campfire, just out of sight. If there had been any doubt, the sour feline smell confirmed it: we were being stalked by a leopard.

Nervously, we jumped up and put our backs to each other. My husband, his friend and I formed a little tripod of comfort as we steadily made our way to the car, eyes peeled for movement. The leopard sawed and barked and growled as it circled us, completely focussed on its prey. My hand finally found the car door’s handle, but it was locked. Laughing nervously, my husband fumbled for the keys as our friend loaded the .375 rifle.

At last, I managed to unlock the car with my shaky hands and the three of us piled into the front seat. We hastily shut the door and finally caught a glimpse of the leopard as he made his way back into the bush. We burst out laughing.

I am proudly South African. Moments like these make me fall in love with this beautiful country. Growing up just outside of the Kruger National Park and later living on an elephant farm, I have had my share of encounters.

images-1Being exposed to raw, unbridled Africa changes you. There is an atmosphere here that can only be understood by those who have experienced it.  It’s the perfect place for any fantasy author to become inspired.

South Africa is the birth-place of Tolkien and his Middle Earth, and there is nothing like hiking the Hogsback Mountains and seeing the world through his eyes. It’s also the perfect place to read The Hobbit. Except when your dog comes running out at you out of nowhere while your head is filled with orcs… I have never screamed so loud.

As a writer, I need to draw upon my surroundings, write what I know; and I am spoiled for choice. ‘Upside-down trees’ (baobabs), magnificent animals, folklore, and mighty rivers… I have been stalked, chased and burnt to shreds by the African sun enough for me to have writing material for years to come.

imgres-1I love this continent.

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Yurika Kotzé is the author of The Unsheathed Key. Check out her website for more information or to read an excerpt.

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Gotta Love Terry Brooks

Just two weeks ago, I whined in Elves, Dwarves and Political Activists about being embarrassed that I write about elves, that people won’t take me seriously when I say I want to influence the values of the next generation, something I wrote about when I first started along this path back in 2011.

It’s nice to know that I am not alone in having to justify why I love to write about elves and dwarves. Terry Brooks, one of the greatest epic fantasy authors, has been facing these questions for over 30 years. You would think, given that he is a bestselling author, that people would cut him some slack.

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But Mr. Brooks is the ideal person to deal with this, because he is…well he is…simply a mensch as I mentioned only a few months ago.

Grab yourself a cup of joe and sit back. Here in 15 minutes, he provides his answer, with a smile, a joke, and the confidence of one who is a master of his craft. Best of all, he does it with such humility and modesty.

 Gotta love Terry Brooks!

Enjoy the Solstice, everyone. From tomorrow we can now greet each other with Winter is Coming!

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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 the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

The Fatherly Figure in Fantasy

As a warm up for reading this blog, please  say the following five times as quickly as possible: The Fatherly Figure in Fantasy.

I shared some thoughts on Left Coast Voices regarding Father’s Day this Sunday. But it occurred to me that the father figures in epic fantasy gets a tough time. Here is a brief overview of a few of our beloved characters and their fathers (I acknowledge that I am encompassing a wide definition of the genre for this post. Purists – please excuse me this once).

WARNING: There might be spoilers here, so I am giving the name of the character first and won’t be offended if you skip that part.

1. Luke Skywalker:

I know this is sci-fi and not fantasy, but we have all hung there with Luke as his father, who had just chopped off his arm, now looms over him with a lightsaber. What a time to discover your father! As if it is not enough that your uncle and aunt who brought you up were murdered, now you discover your father is a metallic mass-murderer.

Suggestion: Do not buy Dad a lightsaber. It is the first step to the Dark Side and he already has plenty of power tools he never uses.

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2. Tyrion Lannister:

So your father abused you and openly hated and insulted you. As if you don’t have enough to contend with two older, beautiful siblings, who are bonking, or the fact that you were born stunted and are accused of killing your mother as she gave birth to you. Not hard to understand why A Lannister Always Pays His Debts!

Suggestion: Don’t give your father a ‘quarrel’ even if he deserves it.

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 3. Eragon:

Also grew up never knowing his true father and then, like Luke Skywalker, finds his uncle, who was like a father to him, is murdered in his stead. Of course, no sooner does he discover who his father really is, than he has to bury him, and take considerable blame for brave father’s death.

Suggestion: Giving your old man your dragon/porche just before he dies is classy, but do check your insurance policy first.

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4. Drizzt Do’Urden:

Gotta give the dark elf considerable credit. He grew up in the Drow city of Menzoberranzan. where all males were merely fighters and concubines. Of course his mother and sisters abused him and tried to kill him, and by the time he discovered who his father really was, well…I don’t think he even got to bury him.

Suggestion: a bit stumped here. When your father gave you a genetic sense of justice, enough to turn you against your mother and sisters, what can you really reciprocate with? 

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Artist – Noche

5. Frodo Baggins:

I admit, I had to look this up and cannot guarantee my sources. Frodo’s father was Drogo and we don’t know much about him other than he went and drowned in a boating accident. Hobbits should know not to participate in such dangerous and adventurous pastimes as boating. At least, Frodo had a nice secure upbringing with his first cousin once removed (and not his uncle as even dear Bilbo often referred to himself). It was not as though Bilbo passed on any artifact that was incredibly dangerous and held the fate of the entire Middle Earth!

Suggestion: Stay away from the jewelry!!!

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In epic fantasy we gravitate to protagonists who are the underdogs, who overcome adversary, and make great personal sacrifice. But we also seem to be sending out a message to our young readers that the absent/weak/villain father is the norm.

It must not be so. Every young man deserves a father who is a role model, imperfect and flawed as we may be, but a father who will teach him to fish, nock an arrow, believe in a just society, and to be a good human being…or elf…dwarf etc.

I’m sure if we were to meet Luke, Eragon, Tyrion, Drizzt or Frodo in a pub, they would all agree that they wished they had fathers they could truly appreciate and learn from.

Perhaps being the best father you can is the greatest quest any of us can embark on. It may not save Middle Earth or Menzoberranzan, but it will make our world a better place to live in.

Happy Father’s Day.

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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 the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

Two Birthday Wishes

Left Coast Voices

Today is my 49th birthday and what better way to spend it than blogging! Okay, I have other plans, so I have lifted from a post I wrote a couple of years ago. Forgive me.

I have two requests for you to consider on this auspicious day – one self-serving and the other philanthropic:

1) If you have read any of my novels, please pop over to Amazon.com (or Amazon.co.uk if you reside over the pond) and leave a review. I am less than 100 days from the release of my next epic fantasy novel so any review for Books 1 or 2, or my social justice novels, would help lay a great foundation for my next launch.

The First Decree-hi resolution

2) Consider a small investment at KIVA, a micro-loan non-profit that empowers the most impoverished to climb out of the poverty spiral in a sustainable and successful way. It truly is a remarkable agency. Below is…

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Elves, Dwarves and Political Activists

“You can’t be serious!” she exclaimed, wrinkling her nose as though I had just made a pass at her, or uttered a politically incorrect sentiment. “You write about elves and dwarves running from one end of the world to another killing each other and making long speeches? I thought you were a serious writer.”

In honesty, she had not seen me for a few years, and even then, knew me in the context of my more political work environment. To her credit, she recovered and apologized, and I was able to refrain from pouring my drink into her lap. It was, after all, a good scotch.

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Friend or not, intentional or not, it still hurt. I thought I had past this stage, smoothly presenting myself as ‘an author who writes in two genres’. I have practiced my opening line and it is now delivered with confidence.

I am involved in social justice causes. Even in my short eight years living in the US, I have built a fair resume of involvement. I have taken students almost every year to New Orleans, not only to help rebuild a community, physically and emotionally, but to bear witness so that the millennials will not make the mistakes we have. I have been involved in various campaigns here and abroad.  I know my local food bank well. Hey, you never had a black President before I came to the US! 

But yes, I love to lose myself in Middle Earth, Alaegasia, Westeros and, dare I add it to the list: Odessiya. It’s a nice break from the intensive campus environment to deal with stubborn dwarves and idealistic elves. While closeted in an urban concrete jungle, it is relaxing to ride a horse through ancient forests, over great ice plains, and to quaff an ale or puff a pipe (without the health risks) with good friends, all from a computer screen or ebook reader.

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 The San Francisco Bay Area is intensely populated by variety of the human species often identified by salt-and-pepper haired, wrinkled, colorful attire, and provocative bumper stickers. These aging ideologues have rich resumes of demonstrating against wars, civil rights. Watergate, and more recently, more wars, gay rights, and gun control.

While there are many who have fallen by the wayside, succumbing to burnout, those who have maintained their energy to keep demonstrating and fighting for what is right, all seem to have a secret place they go to recharge, relax, and to return energized to make the world a better place to live in. It might be literature, meditation, family, friends, food, nature … it doesn’t matter. As a friend once said: Fixing the world is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Yeah, I write about elves and dwarves doing brave acts and striving for justice and honor. Sure I write about battles and loves, about friendships and magic, about the power of nature and good fighting evil.

It energizes me, often provides clarity and vision. And if I do occasionally wonder what Seanchai or Shayth might do about gun control or why some people are denied the rights and opportunities their neighbors have, well that’s because fantasy is not quite as far-fetched and detached from reality as my shocked friend might think.

God created the world in six day and on the seventh s/he rested…and may well have deservedly read Lord of the Rings.

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Here’s to whatever it takes for each of us to continue the journey we’ve chosen!

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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 the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

 

Corina Vacco – Social Activist and YA Award Winning Novelist

My friend, Corina Vacco has her first YA novel coming out this week. It would be considered dystopian if not for the horryfying fact that it is really happening … in our backyards.

Left Coast Voices

I write because I believe fiction can be a vehicle for social change. I believe when the reader becomes emotionally engaged with a character, they too are moved to action. I met Corina Vacco when she joined the Berkeley Writer’s Group, and laughed at what I first thought, was a cool but whimsical YA novel with outrageous characters and wickedly sharp dialogue.

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But Vacco uses her humor and excellent writing to fight for something she passionately believes in: our children deserve to grow up in a clean world as a foundation to each realizing his/her own potential. I can think of nothing more inspiring than empowering the next generation to action – and to do it reading and laughing is a powerful combination.

MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN, an award winning YA novel will be released by Random House, on June 11 and has been called THE OUTSIDERS of our generation. Vacco…

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