That Magical Time of Year – Better Than ‘Real’ Fantasy

Once a year, my family goes away camping in the mountains of Northern California or Oregon. All day we fish, hike, swim, explore and then after dinner sit around the campfire or snuggle up in my tent. This is the fourth year that I then open up a folder and read to my boys the completed first draft of the next book in the Wycaan Master series.

My boys listen, interrupt with question, comments and sometimes criticism. The latter is becoming increasingly sophisticated as they not only spot spelling or grammar errors, but when a character goes out of voice, or the plot is inconsistent.

During the day, while out on another activity, one of them might turn around and offer an idea or feedback. My youngest (10 years old) may well tell me what he guesses might happen next. I have told him that he is not allowed to share anything in an unpublished novel with his friends – many of whom are reading the series. He is to arch an eyebrow (Spock would be proud – if he ever felt emotions) and say Maybe. When he offers his predictions, I turn to him and smile, as evilly as I can muster: Maybe.

imgres

It elevates an already wonderful family vacation into the realms of magical and I feel truly blessed that we are building these communal memories together and hope they will stay with us as my boys grow up and walk their own paths.

Together with this is the excitement building for the book launch of Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3. Pages have been added at alonshalev.com and here on the elfwriter blog.

It is turning into an amazing year with The First Decree and Ashbar being published, and, of course winning the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA. I am truly gratified that along the way I am making many new friends through twitter and the blog, and even some face-to-face networking (yes – it really happens!).

In this brave new publishing world, an author can only succeed with ‘a little help from his friends’ something Joe Cocker was preaching long before any of us knew that a chat room was a place you could hang out in pajamas or that we would love a tablet that is too large to swallow.

imgres-2

I appreciate all the retweets, the recommendations and the reviews. My mentor is telling me that I am not accruing enough reviews. Please, if you have read either At The Walls Of Galbrieth or The First Decree, take a few minutes to leave a review. If you are in a Google+ group, a Goodreads group, or on a thread of epic fantasy book aficionados, please make a recommendation to begin the series. I am following a thread on Amazon called Life after Game of Thrones and checking out the authors they suggest.

I really believe that, even in the rich online world, word-of-mouth remains the most effective marketing tool. On Thursday, a friend enthused about this new author he has discovered. I came home, checked him out, and his first book is on my wish list.

To those of you who already advocate for my novels and my path as an author – thank you. My relationship with my boys and the support you give me are what makes my epic fantasy truly magical.

—————————————————————————————————–

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.

Advertisements

Guest Post from Elwin Cotman – exciting young author.

Elwin read his previous collection, The Jack Daniels Sessions to our writers group. His new book – Hard Times – is out and his book launch is at Pegasus bookstore in Berkeley later this week. Elwin has a uniques way of writing, but his voice when reading is amazing. Well worth an evening.

Me3

Back to Reality

1To the bearer of the sandbag: slide back two steps for every one you gain, because the levee does not give ground easily.

2Leper steps, needles pricking his calves and thighs.

3His life measured in steps of ten, one after the other, then again.

4Behind the rifle aimed at his cheek: a hairy face plastered with three stripes of black hair and his

5Eyes like the heads of rusted nails, lips drawn back from broken teeth.

6The deputy kept as close to him as a brother, his curses swallowed by the storm.

7Or maybe he had lost his voice and moved his mouth in hateful habit.

finalcoverhardtimesblues1           

The above excerpt is from “The Revelation of John,” a story in my new collection Hard Times Blues. It deals with the Flood of ’27, when terrible storms devastated the Mississippi delta. Blacks along the Mississippi lost their crops, their livelihoods. They also lost their freedom: black men, like my protagonist, were forced to work the levee in a vain attempt to stop its breaking. Equally as terrifying was the aftermath, when the Army Corps of Engineers abused the blacks who survived. It is a tragic event in US history, and most people I’ve met have never heard of it.

But it is a part of our history. And my genre of choice—fantasy—is the perfect way to explore it.

I write fantasy because it is fun. The inclusion of dragons and elves automatically makes a story more engaging for me. However, my subject matter is often not fun. Even in entertainment, the tragedy of the black experience is inescapable. Nor should it be escaped. It should be dealt with head on so that the world does not forget. The events of Hurricane Katrina becomes especially egregious when people know the same thing happened almost 100 years ago. Past and present are one.

As a kid, I spent my days and nights in Prydain, Narnia, Redwall Abbey, and Krynn. I always felt left out because there were hardly any black characters in these stories. It was when I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved that I saw how fantasy could tell my American story. Here was a horror story, with all the dread and uncertainty that makes good horror. The horror itself stemmed from slavery. The ghost of the dead daughter served to make the story more realistic; a key to learning the degradation of black people.

In my work, I explore historical injustice, police brutality, gentrification. They stem from of a desire to bring these issues to light, but also because they reflect my experience. My world is a multicultural one, and my writing is my truth . . . filtered through dragons and zombies. I once asked Charles de Lint, who some consider the father of urban fantasy, if he ever ran into resistance from publishers for writing black and indigenous characters. His reply was that any publisher who had those reservations wasn’t worth his time.

De Lint is a wonderful fantasist, with stories of fairies and bards that would enchant you. More important, his work is compassionate, addressing the lives of the indigenous, the homeless, the survivors. His writing brings you back to reality.

That’s what fantasy does for me: it brings light to the real world. It also offers the perfect platform for tales of heroism. The Afro-American experience holds numerous stories of rebellion against overwhelming odds. Thanks to fantasy, I have the language to honor this history and heroism.

 ———————————————————————————————————————————————

Elwin  Michael Cotman is a writer of urban and folkloric fantasy. He blogs at www.lookmanoagent.blogspot.com. Hard Times Blues can be ordered on Amazon,com here.

Porn Website For Teens?

Love to hear your thoughts after last week’s post.

Left Coast Voices

My teenage son wants to watch the Game of Thrones series with me over the summer ­– a father/son bonding opportunity? I rarely pass up one of these increasingly rare opportunities. But I baulked at this.

It was not the questionable morals and values of many of the main characters in a series where even the heroes are rarely portrayed as gallant. Neither was it the violence that can be quite graphic. I baulked at the sex, not because I don’t want my son seeing explicit sexual scenes, but because I felt these were not healthy examples of sex.

The sex scenes in Game of Thrones are often about men using their power over women, or women using sex to manipulate men. There are many instances where the man unceremoniously mounts the woman from behind, enjoys a couple of grunting thrusts and climaxes (we assume). He then ties up his…

View original post 392 more words

YA Epic Fantasy Readers and The Ebook Revolution

Last week’s post, Sex and Swords, generated a lot of great comments and a sound discussion. In the post, I wondered whether the author I was comparing myself to was selling more books than me because his audience are adults. Given that both of us sell more ebooks than tree books, am I likely to sell less books because young adults do not have the access to ebook readers that adults enjoy? Wait a moment  I need to tell my sons to get off screens and go play…

I wrote a post on another blog a couple of years ago and have taken material from there for this. There are a number of authors who have become bestsellers riding the ebook revolution. Amanda HockingJ.A. Konrath, and my own marketing guru, John Locke. But none of these fine people write for young adults (10-18 year old) – my primary market for the Wycaan Master series.

teenelectronic_396Laura Hazard Owen recently wrote: “The children’s and young adult e-book market faces special challenges not shared by the adult market, new research shows. And teens are slow to adopt ebooks, in part because they do not see ebooks as a social technology and they think there are too many restrictions on sharing digital titles.”

She reached her conclusion based on two online surveys commissioned by PubTrack Consumer towards the end of last year who surveyed 1,000 teenagers and 1,000 parents of pre-teens. The details of the survey can be found here – Children’s Publishing Goes Digital.   There are some interesting theories and statistics here. Firstly, youngsters are extremely social and want to share their books with friends and e-book technology is perceived as too restrictive. This is changing now and Amazon has been quick to identify this need. I thought that perhaps the teens did not have access to comfortable ebook readers. The majority has cell phones, but I am not including this. 60% of those surveyed receive technology from their parents as the latter upgrade.

images-7Ms. Hazard Owen makes another excellent point It is not just young adults propelling YA books like the Hunger Games trilogy onto ebook bestseller lists:

– 30-44-year-olds constitute 28 % of YA print book sales and 32 % of YA ebook sales.

-18-29-year-olds buy the most YA books, purchasing 31% of YA print sales and 35% of YA ebook sales.

Making a decision to invest in the YA fantasy ebook market doesn’t look as attractive as genres aimed at adults, but this is going to change as more young people receive the necessary devices. Also, the realization that the YA market goes not from 12-18, but 12-44 year olds make for a more encouraging prospect.

images-1A final interesting point is that this age group is more likely to buy a book because of a recommendation on a social network. Perhaps this prompted Amazon to make the investment to purchase Goodreads.

Now, please excuse me, this 49-year-old is going to read The Hunger Games, recommended to me by my 14-year-old son.

—————————————————————————————————–

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 @elfwriterFor more about the author, check out his website.

       

Sex or Swords?

I recently finished reading an epic fantasy novel by an author who is perhaps a year ahead of me. He is a couple of novels deeper into his series and seems to have a similar, but not bigger, social platform. 

But his books are selling impressively and I enjoyed reading his work, but there was nothing in the quality of the plot, writing, etc. that suggested why he is outselling me.

There are a lot of things in common between our novels. They are both character driven and, though there is a clear plot arc, you really stay engaged because you are rooting for the characters. There is plenty of action and moral dilemmas. If and when I write a review, and I definitely will because this is so important to the author (hinting here!), I realize that it would be similar to many of the reviews I have received for At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The First Decree.

imgres 

But there are two fundamental differences, perhaps three.

1) His novels are meant only for adults.

2) There is a fair amount of sex.

There is also considerable swearing, but I don’t think someone buys a book because of the swearing. It might deter a few people, but not act as motivator.

These differences lead me to wonder about whether young adults are reading ebooks – which remains the most popular with all struggling authors – and I will examine this next week.

But for now, I want to focus on sex. Let me be honest. I’m very fond of sex and I enjoy reading and writing about it. In my non-fantasy novels, there are probably two graphic sex scenes in each. I believe that the way my characters deal with sex, before, during and after, reveals far more than any long description can ever hope to achieve.

All three books ­– A Gardener’s Tale, The Accidental Activist, and Unwanted Heroes – have garnered criticism from a few reviewers who were upset or disturbed by what they read, but there are many others who mention it positively. There was nothing 50 Shades, or anything violent or forced in these scenes and, in truth, I remain proud of them, even when I know my mother and mother-in-law have read them!

A Gardener's Tale  - new cover

However, what is the place of sex in epic fantasy? The book in question has two sex scenes and neither are particularly graphic or explicit. Throughout the novel there are sexual references but little more than men’s comments or a woman’s thoughts. Both scenes were written well and felt part of the story. Both added to the richness of the characters.

 I have wondered about Game of Thrones, in particular because my 14-year-old is interested in reading and watching the series. I have no doubt that George R.R. Martin wrote what he understood to be sexual mores of that period and I agree that it probably happened as he described, but the sex was clearly not a turn on for me (neither was it for most of Martin’s characters come to think of it).

Much of the sex were men exploiting their power over women and a few scenes are of women who manipulate men to get something they want through sexual favors or binding the men’s lusts to them. All good stuff, perhaps, but not something I want to share with my teenage son.

imgres-6

I want him to know about sex as something romantic, a bonding act between two people who love each other. I want him to know that anything that is not two consenting adults pleasuring themselves and each other, is deviant. It might not necessarily be wrong, but that is for him to decide according to his values.

In the Wycaan Master series, I touch on many values and morals. I challenge the young adults who read my books to make choices about race, violence, friendships, loyalty, and enjoy it when I hear my son or his friends comment that they are proud/disappointed/upset/ happy about the actions of a character. I like that they feel guilty, understanding and maybe partly rooting for the bad guys. Nothing is ever black or white.

images-1

But what about sex? There are certain hints in my novels that some things are going on, but it is easily missed if a young adult is not thinking about such topics. To write about sex, even in a tasteful youth-orientated way, would strip my novels of being YA (young adult). I would lose the initial motivation of writing to influence a new generation. 

Is it possible to write in sexual scenes in a YA novel? Most parents do not vet a book, trusting that if it has received recognition as YA then it will not include certain things such as swearing, graphic violence, or sex.

I do not want to step away from the target audience that so intrigues me and I am not sure I am ready to abandon them. However, I am frustrated that there are strict boundaries, frustrated that I could convey so much to my target audience through my young characters having or thinking of sexual encounters. I could convey healthy values associated with sex, values that I want to share with my own sons.

So my question is: Can sex be handled within a YA context? Your thoughts?

—————————————————————————————————–

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.