The Stars and Stripes Freeway

Not quite on topic, but part of my journey I’d like to share. Have a great weekend, everyone.

Left Coast Voices

Yesterday was a landmark moment in my life. I stood before Old Glory and took the Oath of Allegiance. I am now an American citizenship.  This is a culmination of an arduous process full of bureaucracy more than anything spectacular. But what began as essentially a pragmatic step transformed into a meaningful process.

There is a lot wrong with the United States of America. The team here at Left Coast Voices has highlighted so much that needs to change if we are to truly reflect the vision and values of this country. But there is something incredibly inspiring about this country. Maybe you need to be an outsider to see it.  


Leaving the citizenship ceremony, I was overwhelmed with the desire to do something…American. We settled for hamburger and fries – the burger, of course, wild salmon or Zen-practicing fowl (I am still from Berkeley), and the fries would be…

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Valentine’s Day – Epic Fantasy Style

What made the great world-builders of our time overlook such a special occasion? Was Valentine’s Day not celebrated in Middle Earth? Shanara? Odessiya?  Where does Terry Brooks,  R. A. Salvatore, Christopher Paolini, Robert Jordan and others stand on this?

Perhaps it is not a question of the author’s epic battles for love. Sometimes you have to look to the characters to take a bit of responsibility. How would they have gone about it?

Elves: the sophisticated romantics. On the special day, elves would often take their beloved on a romantic walk, deep into the ancient forests. Alone, they would visit a favorite pool, fed by a steady waterfall, with a noble white heron keeping watch from a rock nearby. Butterflies would hover over the water.

Each elf would produce a small flute and serenade each other. Then one would draw his (or her) intricately carved bow and shoot into a nearby tree. A shower of fragrant petals would fall around them, settling in their perfectly coiffured hair. The other would produce a carefully wrapped, gluten-free, artisan pizza, magically still warm and with crispy crusts.  They would recite poetry to each other, eat, and then bathe in the pool, coincidently illuminated by a full moon on a cloudless night.

Oh, to be an elf!


Dwarves: The romantic dwarf is meticulous in her (or his) preparation for Valentine’s Day. The previous day is spent washing, conditioning, and combing their beards. Oh, those curly locks challenge even the most finely made comb.

A dwarven Valentine’s Day is all about the rocks. A conscientious romantic will travel deep into the mines to find the perfect gem and then forge a unique ring and necklace set, never seen before … since last Valentine’s Day.

The morning of Valentine’s Day, one often awakes to see their axe newly sharpened and oiled, the hilt freshly bound with clean leather or copper wire, the shaft gleaming. That night around a roaring fire, with an ox dripping grease into the flames, the dwarves consume tankards of ale and sing deep into the night. The songs, however, are not of mighty battles and bountiful treasures as they are every other night, sung as one mighty chorus. This night the dwarves sing only to their beloved, and the songs are of mighty battles, bountiful treasures, and furtive kisses for the hero (or heroine). The next morning, all you remember through the hangover is hazy and askew. But you still have the ring and necklace, and oh your axe is gleaming and so sharp!


Humans: As Valentine’s Day approaches, the scribes of the mighty House of Hallmark are almost out of scrolls, quills, and ink, their arms limp from Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. They don’t complain, few have health coverage, but they have made their money. They bless the Great Goddess of Consumerism, though they will never quite appreciate the theology until the revelation of the Coming of the Internet. For now, electricity seems fantastical and visions of deluded priests, court jesters, and entrepreneurs.

The gardeners have been preparing all year. Every self-respecting knight requires a bouquet of at least 10 long-stemmed reds to fit over the tip of their lance, which they will offer to a sweet virgin in the admiring crowd. If she accepts the roses, then she replaces them with her silk ’kerchief, piercing it gently over the young knight’s lance tip. Many a young man has, at this point, fallen from his horse in anticipation. And the definition of virgin, it should be noted, is pretty relaxed in the world of fantasy.

After the obligatory jousting and archery competitions, the virgins retire to their rooms and surreptitiously peer over their balconies. After slaying dragons and defeating barbarian hordes on the battlefield, the young knights return, and once bathed, shaved and smelling of Old Spice, serenade the young virgins. They toss a twisted vine with grappling hook up to her balcony (many a venture capitalist squire made his fortune investing in the grappling hook industry). The virgin slides down, having practiced for hours how to keep her flowing dress from either ripping, getting dirty, or ending up awkwardly around her head. She lands sidesaddle on the knight’s noble steed. 

The rest of the evening: a dinner, movie, and long walk along the moonlit battlefield, gazing together upon the vultures and ravens picking the entrails of the vanquished, have passed from tradition into our everyday rituals.


Pictorians: The pictorians (read Wycaan Master series for background, but not while on Valentine’s Day date) are very secretive about their romantic rituals. Court anthropologists believe the couple sneak off after the pictorye are asleep, both with gleaming weapons. Working in perfect synchronicity and without need for verbal communication, they bring down a wild buffalo bull, ripping its flesh with their bare hands and teeth, while feeding each other in a raw, bloody passion. The horns of the bull are carved out and used to toast the night with a dark beer imported from the mythical land of the Four-leafed Clover. 

The female pictorian then beats her mate unconscious with the two bull horns, drags him back to their ice homes, and has her way with him, which often includes skinning the buffalo and cleaning out the hearth, done but once a year by such mighty warriors. They are also expected to provide her with breakfast in bed, the Venti Mocha still steaming.

If you are still reading this post, you probably have a pretty good idea why our literary greats chose not to dwell on such rituals as Valentine’s Day. I would elucidate further, but my mate awaits with expectations high, and I have her axe to sharpen, parchment to gather, and, where did I put that vine…


Happy Valentine’s Day to all.


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 and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

When Authors Reach For Immortality

Recently, I listened to an interview with the famous Israeli author, Amos Oz, a literary icon I grew up admiring. Now, well into his 70’s, he is as vibrant and inspirational as ever. There was something he said in the interview that resonated with me. He claimed to have made up a number of words that he used throughout his books. He was stoked one day when, while in conversation with a cab driver who did not recognize his passenger, the man used one of Amos Oz’s words. Oz suggested that his modest contribution to the Israeli language was his own brush with immortality.


If this is so, I am quite proud of my own. When reading the manuscript of my first YA epic fantasy novel, At The Walls of Galbrieth, which won the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA, to the Berkeley Writer’s Group, the female members of the group took exception to the term she-elf to delineate my female elves from males.

And so, after much discussion and debate, she-elves asserted themselves as elfes, and even saw the former term as an insult throughout the Wycaan Master series. Fast forward three years, and a newer member of the group while presenting his YA epic fantasy novel, used the same word, believing it part of the genre. I was, and remain, chuffed every time he uses the word.

images-6A friend from your writer’s group, is certainly a far cry from a random taxi driver (though no Israeli cabbie is ever random – you have to take a cab in Israel to appreciate them) of course. But I am hardly comparable to Amos Oz, an author widely expected to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

And so I offer elfe to the epic fantasy world, along with calhei (elf children) and ahdahr (elf father). Last week, I mentioned that, while I have sent the manuscript of Book 4 to the editor, I am struggling with a title. The protagonist is a female, so I guess at least I have one word worked out!


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 and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+


They Grow Up So Fast

One day they are suckling at the nipple of your opening chapters and then, before you know it, your little manuscript is all grown up and running out the door, into the critical embrace of the editor. 

It was the same for your eldest, Book 1, and also for Book 2 and Book 3, but you are never as prepared for this moment as you think. You smile to yourself through welling tears, remembering its first word: Prologue.

You relish the memory, but must return to the present. What do you say, what wisdom can you impart as they turn to face you one more time? Look upon it well. It will never return the same. The time you never think will happen is upon you.

images-3“Go,” you say, your voice cracking. “Be careful. Stay true to your plot, to the storyline I passed on to you. Look after your characters for they are your family now. Oh, and always track changes. And don’t forget to save every few minutes. Always back up at the end of the day and floss before you go to sleep.”

For a fleeting moment the young manuscript stares up at you, revealing its understanding of the gravity of this sacred moment. Wordlessly, it asks if this is the right time.

You stroke its spine, muss its pages and sigh. “She’s a good editor. She cares about you and she will make you a better manuscript. You will feel lighter, tighter, and ready to face the readers who will pore over your every word.”


And the manuscript gulps and nods, not because it believes you, but because it trusts you. You brought it into the world, typed its first words, worried over its development and story arc. When it was sick or faltered, you were beside it, cutting and pasting, making the necessary changes so that it could one day fulfill its destiny.

And then it turns to go, now only an attachment. You type in the editor’s email address and click the button you always dreaded: Send.

Now you sit and stare at the blank screen, swallow hard and wonder what to do with your time. You have no choice. Be strong. This is a circle of life thing. Your fingers hover over the keyboard. The computer holds its breath. And then you type:

Book Five: Prologue


Dedicated to my editor, Monica Buntin, and all who are brave enough to edit author’s books and lives!


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 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 and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+