Big Characters Without Big Boobs

Last week I asked in my blog post, 10 Questions For J.R.R Tolkien, what questions people would like to ask the Professor if they had the opportunity. The answers were great, but one stood out for me.

A person with the twitter username @oneyearnovel (happy to enter your name and website) wrote: “I would ask if he ever considered a woman character who was not beautiful?”

 images-1

This got me wondering. When I began looking around for a book cover artist and shared my concept of Mhari, an elfe (the politically correct term for a female elf) and Seanchai’s teacher, I was offered sketches of buxom women with cleavage-revealing armor, muscled (bare) legs etc. You get the picture. I talk about this in an earlier post – Big Boobs and Book Covers. While these images might have sold more copies of At The Walls Of Galbrieth, the pensive, wise face that adorns the cover truly represents the wise, yet world-weary mentor for my protagonist, Seanchai.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front Cover

I don’t in truth know if @oneyearnovel is correct that Tolkien’s females in his books are all beautiful, or if this is Peter Jackson pandering to what he believes his Hollywood audience wants. I have not read Lord of the Rings in years and can’t even recall a female in the Hobbit.

Tolkien students: please enlighten us on this in the comments.

imgres

There are three main female characters who each leave an indelible mark on the first four books of the Wycaan Master series. Sellia is dark, exotic and beautiful, but she is also an excellent warrior and probably fits the stereotype. While I never talk about her breasts, hips etc. (this is YA), she intimidates the younger male elves and has them stuttering. She makes a game of eliciting a blush from Rhoddan or Seanchai.

Ilana is tough, an ideologue, constantly seeking a peaceful solution and offering Seanchai her unwavering support. As a romance blossoms she is viewed for her beauty, but it is seen through the eyes of one who is falling in love with her. Don’t we doting men all think our wives/partners are the most beautiful women in the world? Of course mine really is!

But Ilana is possibly the most popular character among readers, certainly female readers. It is not anything physical about her that binds the reader to her, but her deep principles, cutting sense of humor, and well just about everything else concerning her.

Maugwen is a human, short and pudgy. She is a weak character at first and I never meant to give her a long run. But she grows, matures and becomes a wise friend and strong individual. Readers have told me that she intrigues them and, just between us, she intrigues me.

We don’t make all our male characters handsome and ripped, so why our females? I think @oneyearnovel has a great point. Society expects us to bind ourselves to a pretty woman, and in truth, this goes for good or bad characters, but fiction has a responsibility to not only change with the times, but to be present at the tipping edge of that change.

It is very popular to write a coming-of-age novel. Perhaps it is time for our genre to come of age.

imgres-2

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all 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 at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Advertisements

10 Questions For J.R.R. Tolkien

This blog post was inspired by a Time interview with Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf, the wizard who… if you are following this blog, you already know. It is a fascinating interview given that  J.R.R Tolkien was Catholic and McKellen is gay.

imgresThe interview is:

Timely: the difference between the making of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings is that Peter Jackson now wears shoes.

Funny:  “No one ever ablutes in Middle Earth.” and…

Poignant: When he visits a public school in England

One of the questions asked of McKellen is what would he ask Tolkien if he could meet him. This got me thinking: I have already shared that I think a lot of Tolkien and Oxford, and The Inklings Club.

So, if you are up there in Writer’s Heaven, quaffing on an ale or puffing your pipe, there is a student down on earth trying to emulate your literary work with a few questions.

1. Did you ever get embarrassed or try to hide your fantasy writing from your academic peers?

2. Did World War 1 provide you with the imaginary and emotional background for Lord of the Rings?

3. Why Hobbits? Who is your favorite character in either The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings?

4. If you were writing either LOTR or The Hobbit today, would you change anything? Different ending?

5. What do you think of the movies?

6. Is Peter Jackson out-of-line to make such radical changes to The Hobbit as including a character who is not from the book?

7. Who is your favorite fantasy author?

8. I know the story of how the first line of The Hobbit came to you (the blank academic paper you were grading), but how did you really come to write a fantasy series?

9. Mac or PC?

10. My critique group has room for one more. Would you consider…

imgres-7The reality is that if I ever found myself in front of the Professor, I would probably stammer and blush, and make a complete fool of myself. So help me out, just in case one day…

What questions would you ask the greatest epic fantasy writer of all time?

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth,  the sequel The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, all 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 at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

T is one tough 7th Grader – Tim O’Mara

Elfwriter’s Introduction:

Tim O’Mara is a hero. He is a public school teacher and a man (rare to have male role models in our schools). Like most of these dedicated, hard-working, under-rewarded, and under-recognized teachers, he cares about his students. I am very inspired by him and very grateful as a father and a citizen to all public school teachers.

But Tim is not just an  NYC public middle-school teacher. He is an author. He wrote an adult mystery series about a public schoolteacher who used to be a cop. O’Mara never was a cop, but his brother is. Raymond Donne Book 1, Sacrifice Fly (2012 Minotaur Books), was nominated by Deadly Pleasures Magazine for the 2013 Best First Novel Barry Award.

O’Mara teaches math and special education in a tony area of Manhattan now, but started his career in 1987 in a disadvantaged section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the setting for the series. The dichotomy of these two worlds is highlighted in Raymond Donne Book 2, Crooked Numbers, released this past week. More at www.timomara.net and on Facebook (TimOMaraAuthor) and Twitter (@TimOMaraAuthor).

Support a teacher – and read a good mystery book.

mail.google

Tim’s Post:

You know the type: hard to reach, easy to annoy, always knows more than the teacher. In this case, me. The kid’s got a wall around him that would make the Chinese envious. But on those rare occasions when he lets me glimpse over that wall, the view is astounding. He can be funny, insightful and a joy to teach.

He mentioned to me last week that he knew I’d written a book, Crooked Numbers. I had given a copy to a friend of his—another of my tougher students—to celebrate a successful session at camp and the birth of his foster mom’s first child. That was pretty much all T said. He knew I wrote a book.

For most of last year, there was a bit of a buzz around school that Mr. O’Mara had published a book and that it was in bookstores and it was even available online and their parents had bought it and liked it. Some kids actually brought copies to school to have me sign, and even though I wrote it with an adult audience in mind, it seemed to strike a chord with many of my middle school students.

If T was impressed, he kept it to himself.

Just last week, T stepped into it again. He earned himself a one-day suspension for creative use of a belt and ended up spending the day in the principal’s office. Shortly after school ended that day, my boss came to me in the Teacher Center. It turns out that during a conversation with the principal, it came out that T was somewhat impressed with my accomplishment and he was even thinking about going to the reading and signing event for my second book this week.

“Maybe you can work with that,” my boss suggested.

Maybe.

The next day, I brought in a personally inscribed copy of the book. I referenced a conversation I had had with him the day of his suspension:

To T,

This story has a lot to do with the choices people make—including the author.

I gave him the book immediately after a particularly positive period with him of one-on-one guidance through a quiz on integers. (Yes, pun intended.) He looked at the inscription and nodded. He didn’t say anything. I said, “You’re welcome,” and went off to do lunch duty.

When I go back to school tomorrow, it will be the first encounter with T since I gave him the book. My fantasy is that he stayed up all weekend reading the book, relating to the characters, and realizing the error of his ways. The reality is the gift of a book—my book—will more than likely not change much of anything. It has taken T thirteen years to build that wall and one present from a teacher is not going to tear it down.

What I’m hoping for is just one little crack.

mail.google-1

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book3, all 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 at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Cute Tolkien Story

I am indebted for the story in this post to the author, Peter Smalley so I want to first give him a shout-out. “Peter A. Smalley was not so much born as he was the object of a suitably ominous origin story.” If you want to know more, click on the link above or check out his latest book – Emerald City Blues

Remember This Guy?

“I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things.” This is friendship!

 So here is the (true) story.

In March 1956, J.R.R. Tolkien was surprised to receive a letter from a man named Sam Gamgee from Tooting, London. Mr. Gamgee, who had not read Lord of the Rings, was surprised to hear that his name had been used in the story. The Professor responded in a letter of his own.

“Dear Mr. Gamgee,

It was very kind of you to write. You can imagine my astonishment when I saw your signature! I can only say, for your comfort, I hope, that the ‘Sam Gamgee’ of my story is a most heroic character, now widely beloved by many readers, even though his origins are rustic. So that perhaps you will not be displeased at the coincidence of the name of this imaginary character of supposedly many centuries ago being the same as yours.”

– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: Letter 184

dsc04663-e1378821253884
Being the gentleman he was, Tolkien also sent him a signed copy of all three volumes of the book. This incident did, however, worry the professor who wrote in his journal:

“For some time I lived in fear of receiving a letter signed ‘S. Gollum’. That would have been more difficult to deal with.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

Oh well, need to fill the void for the next 1,464 hours (at the time of writing) until the second Hobbit movie!

imgres 

Finally, thank you to everyone who bought Ashbar – Wycaan Master Bk. 3, which celebrates its 10th day in publication!

 ——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and the sequel The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 is the third in the series, released in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

The Journey Just Gets Better

It has been quite a week with the release of Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3. I am feeling slightly stunned by the closure of the first trilogy. Like At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The First Decree, Ashbar is a self contained story as well as the third in a series.

Ashbar front cover

There is a lot of closure, though not enough to stop the next trilogy from beginning, and I feel a certain sense of forlorn, perhaps as a parent feels when their children leave the nest.  I know the remedy to this – plunge into writing the next book. As the wise saying goes: “One trilogy closes, another opens.

Thank you to everyone who bought Ashbar over the weekend and enabled it to pick up a credible ranking. Please let me know what you thought of it, once read, and leave a review on Amazon. I am surprised at how important these reviews are in terms of trackable purchasing actions and sales ranks. If you have not yet bought it, please invest the $2.99 this week, to help move it to a higher ranking.

I just want to take a moment and thank the incredible support team behind me.

Monica Buntin is my editor. I send her a jumble of about 100,000 words and she makes sense of them. I once had the audacity to tell her that I was sending a pretty clean manuscript. She had the good manners not to respond to that comment, but that didn’t deter her from cutting about 10% of the book and offering (correct) critique on every page.

Oh well. I learned my lesson. Editors are an eclectic breed and I have written about them before. They need authors or they will have nothing to edit and yet have to, I am sure, tolerate an awful lot of ego. When an author finds a good editor and one who clicks with them, they have a rare asset and would do well to keep them.

William J. Kenny, a fantasy author in his own right, designed the covers for all three of the Wycaan Master books. One day, I would like him to reveal the creative process in depth. For now, I am content to consider it magical. I send him a couple of paragraphs with my ideas and he sends me a crude image. He takes my response and produces such a complete picture. I am really in awe of him. If I could draw anything better than deformed stick people, I would love to give the process a go.

Then there is Jeny Reulo from FastFingers Book Formatting Services,  who designs and formats the interior of the books. Her willingness to make changes and attention to detail is amazing. The interior design of a book, if done well, does not garner any attention, but it is a crucial element in the reader’s experience. The interior designers are often the unsung heroes of the expedition into producing a book.

Finally, a big appreciation for my wife Ariela. I am sure she releases a big sigh of relief on the day that I finish writing a manuscript and probably an even bigger sigh of exasperation when, the following week, I begin writing the next book! My absences, both physical and mental, create a void she needs to fill, and she does it with grace and understanding.

This series began as a fun, family project, deep in a redwood forest. My sons were a part of this strange journey, from the prologue in Chapter 1 of At The Walls Of Galbrieth, to the final climax in Ashbar. Earlier this summer I read them a rough first draft of Book 4, and, four years on, it remains an integral part of what I hope and believe is a powerful journey we will share in our memories forever.

This is how it all began - deep in a redwood forest.

Where it all began – deep in a redwood forest.

It really doesn’t get any better than that. Once again, thank you to all who buy, read and review the Wycaan Master series. Your time is precious, the options of good books to read vast, and I am honored that you choose to open and read my books.

Thank you for sharing in the journey of the Wycaan Masters.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and the sequel The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 is the third in the series, released in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

A Prime Read!

“Hey Dad. Do we have Amazon Prime?”

“Sure son,” I reply.

“Great. We can get your ebooks for free .” He pauses for a few moments, perhaps pondering his own statement. “Err Dad. Do many people have Amazon Prime?”

“I believe it’s growing in popularity,” I say, invoking my fatherly privilege to all knowledge.

Actually, Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy published a report in March 2013 that claimed Amazon Prime membership had more than 10 million at the time of writing. Shame I didn’t have the use of Google during our discussion.

“So for all our hard work, and the fact that At The Walls Of Galbrieth won a fancy award, anyone can now get it for free? That sucks.”

“It’s like a library,” I say, not sure whether I want to convince him or myself. “People can now borrow the ebook and it will help fantasy readers to learn about my writing and the Wycaan Master series.”

“But they get it for free?” He has a certain skeptical frown that develops during adolescence, when teenagers begin to discover their fathers are generally making up fatherhood as we go.

“They do,” I gulp a glass of water. “But this is good for my market penetration.”

Big mistake. Remember: talking to teenager.

“Look son. You know how you are always complaining that you don’t have money to buy books?”

“You mean video games and a Harley, right?”

“Well think how many teenagers won’t have to deal with that problem now. They can borrow my book for a month on Amazon.”

“It’s still free, right?” Major teenage frown now.

“If you have Amazon Prime,” I add.

“Where did you get this idea?”

“From a marketing  book that focused on Amazon.”

“How much did you pay for this smart book, Dad?”

“I didn’t,” I reply. “I borrowed it for free from Amazon Prime.”

 imgres-1

It has taken me a while to understand the concept of Amazon’s Lending Library, but the idea that I can get my book out there quickly is very tempting. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can indeed now borrow the ebook.

While there is no necessity, if you do so, please leave a review and help me convince my son and his father.

At The Walls Of Galbrieth will be in Amazon’s KDP program until the end of 2013. Enjoy, catch up. Book 3 should be out any day soon.

UPDATE: Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 was released today in paperback. Here is the link. The ebook should be available next week.

Ashbar front cover

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and the sequel The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 is the third in the series, released in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).