Can I Have Your Autograph, Dead Author?

You probably know the story: Robert Jordan wrote 12 amazing epic fantasy books – Wheel of Time series – and outlined three more that he was unable to complete before he passed away in 2007 (for those of you purists counting, I have included New Spring as one of the series, though it was written out-of-sequence). His wife persuaded Brandon Sanderson, already a respected novelist in his own right, to finish the series for her husband.

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I learned about this from an interview with Mr. Sanderson, which was both compelling and offered with wonderful humility – if you can find the interview, please leave the link in the comments. The whole idea of writing someone else’s book is stunning to me – no disrespect meant to ghost writers – I think this is different.

So A Memory of Light comes out in 2013 to great aplomb. It is the end of an era, a wonderful legacy by a rising hero to a master etc. etc. We fantasy readers get very emotional when the great stories actually transcend the page.

I’m sure you can imagine my joy when I pick up a book in a used bookstore and discover not only Mr. Sanderson’s autograph but also Mr. Jordan’s. I instagramed, showed my kids and began writing this blog post. How exciting to imagine both men sat together at this historical moment in epic fantasy history and autographed the very book I now possess.

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Here’s the problem: Only as I began to compose this post did I realize that Robert Jordan had been dead for five years when he autographed my copy. It is a strange feeling that his ghost would go to such trouble, and that he could even hold the pen, though personally I still get a kick when a reader asks me to sign their copy of one one of my books – though whether this feeling would follow me into the great writing retreats beyond, who knows?

So how should I feel? It felt such a privilege to own this book and now I’m not sure want to think? Still, I will be better prepared next time I ask a dead author to sign my book.

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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. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flame, the fourth in the series.

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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

 

 

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Writers Hate Writing. Really?

I guess it used to be hard to write a novel, scribbling across the parchment with your quill, fretting every time you make a mistake, blotting the ink… Even a young 50-year-old like me wonders how he ever typed college papers … remember Tippex anyone (I believe it was called White Out here in the colonies)?

So now everyone’s a writer. I get it. But what I don’t understand is the complaining about writing. I opened a Writer’s Digest this weekend, an old one from the end of 2012, and it was full of articles on Writer’s Block, discipline, and how we need to force ourselves to write.

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In the space of 24 hours, I was interviewed by a high school student who kept asking about writer’s block, discipline, and how I maintain my focus; then I was invited to speak at a workshop on Writer’s Block.

In the aforementioned issue of Writer’s Digest, there are articles and a hilarious graph (way to go Zachery Petit) on doing everything but writing. One article is about overcoming writer’s block without willpower, another has you spending an hour or so writing and the rest of the day doing all kinds of wonderful “author” things like visiting bookstores and doing field research. There is an article about extreme measures authors took to keep their “butt in the seat,” including Frank Burrows who would chain himself to a chair and drink lots of Tab (a soda that is pretty torturous in itself) so that his bladder was bursting, I assume.

William Styron is quoted as saying: “I certainly don’t enjoy writing. I get a fine warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it: Writing is hell.”

The author of the article continues: “I get it. I get why writers hate writing.”

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I don’t! I really don’t! If you don’t enjoy writing don’t do it. There are things we all have to do: taxes, flossing, cleaning the bathroom, but not writing. Sure there are hard times: when the plot doesn’t work, or when your heroine does something out-of-character, but to hate writing?

I LOVE writing. I can’t wait to fire up my laptop and pound the keys. When I am not writing, I become frustrated and (according to my family) pretty darn annoying. I LOVE the thrill of the unknown plot twist. I CRAVE the company of my characters, and I RIDE the adrenaline rush of the scenes unfolding under my fingertips.

When a beloved character fails or dies, I cry. When battle is joined, I apparently mumble and wince out loud as people are wounded or killed. I have never learned how to type properly (touch typing?), but my fingers fly across the keyboard as I get increasingly excited. Sure there are many squiggly red and green lines, but I can worry about that later.

When I finish a novel, the first thing I want to do is celebrate. The second thing is to start the next book. In my own fantasy world, I would just write the novels. Others would edit, market and do all the other ‘stuff’ that authors need to do these days. I just wanna write.

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I don’t mean nothing else. I love my day job and feel I am, as Steve Jobs expressed: ‘helping to put a dent in the world.’ I love my family and am truly blessed to have a soul mate who tolerates me with all my quirks. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

The high school student asked at the end of our interview:” “When do you know you are a writer?” I answered that it’s when you never leave the story, even when you are doing something else. It’s when you crave returning to the computer and when you take immense pride in the story unfolding.

That is my answer. Every author probably has something different to offer and I am sure they are all right. But I hate writing just doesn’t make any sense.

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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. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flame, the fourth in the series.

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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

 

Sir Terry Pratchett RIP – a woefully inadequate tribute

Sir Terry Pratchett died this week. I have struggled to find something to write – funny but not irreverent. In the end I wrote this short and rather inadequate tribute to a genius who has given me and so many such pleasure for decades. One of my best friends even found his future wife on a Discworld Convention organizing committee.

Christopher Priest, from the Guardian, describes one of Sir Terry’s characters – Death: “Death has a booming, unamused voice (always in capitals, never in quotation marks), and is the permanent straight man in the comic chaos around him. He goes about his morbid business on a horse called Binky, whose hooves throw up sparks on every street cobble. Death is a skeleton, with eyes like two tiny blue stars set deep within the sockets. He wears a black cloak, carries a scythe and, at the end of a day’s work, loves to murder a curry.”

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I called up DEATH last night. “Did you have to take him so soon? He had more to live, more to write.”

I DO NOT MAKE THE CHOICES he replied, his tone powerful and metallic, even on Skype.

“He was a great man, a wonderful author,” I said. “He gave me years of pleasure.”

THROUGH HIS STORIES?

“Yes,” I said. “He made me laugh. At the end of a long day or week, to curl up on the couch and be able to laugh, was…was magical.”

THESE STORIES ARE IN HIS BOOKS, NO?

“Yes,” I reply, annoyed that he is not relating to my grief. It’s not like DEATH never sees it in his line of work.

THEN THEY ARE STILL WILL YOU AND WILL ALWAYS BE AS LONG AS YOU HAVE TREES AND INTERNETS

“You use the Internet?”

DEATH stared at me and frowned. WHERE I LIVE THERE ARE NOT MANY SERVERS. ONLY ALBERT.

“But the world needs writers like Terry.”

 I REMEMBER WHEN ALL THIS WILL BE AGAIN.” 

“He was a knight,” I said.

Again, DEATH frowned. WHERE I COME FROM THE NIGHT HAS NO STARS.

I smiled. “I bet he was chuffed to see you.”

HE SAID I GAVE HIM QUITE A START.

“Yes? Then you ‘gave him quite a stop.”

HEY. THOSE ARE STILL MY LINES.

I rubbed my chin. “What happens to the characters of a series when the author dies?”

A STORY LIVES AS LONG AS IT IS BEING READ. MAKE SURE YOUR SONS READ DISCWORLD AND THE CHARACTERS REMAIN ALIVE.

“He was a special man.”

THE ONLY ONE TO GIVE ME A REFERENCE.

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I guess this is my way to say Thank You to a maverick genius, who wrote the jokes without caring if people would laugh; who wrote about controversy without preaching; and who taught us to strive for a better life without ever teaching.

Thanks for the laughs, the tears, and the wings that swept a generation up with your imagination. Thanks for being such an undemanding companion for much of my life.

Rest In Peace, Sir Terry Pratchett. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decreeand Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flame, the fourth in the series.

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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

The Magic of Story

The man brought a smile to my face. He wore a gray suit; a red power tie, shiny black shoes and he made his way through the streets of San Francisco’s Financial District this early Thursday morning. I really should not have followed him, but I needed the walk before starting my day… and I needed to know what captivated him.

 

Not quite as cool as this guy, but you get the idea!

Not quite as cool as this guy, but you get the idea!

You see, the man was oblivious to where he was walking, who he passed, or who sat in the plethora of breakfast venues, already deep in crucial meetings. He was in a world of his own.

Well not exactly his own, I discovered. To be exact, he was in a world that Stephen King had created. The man, dressed ready for another day where millions of dollars might pass from one pocket to another, destined by the scribble of his signature or click of his mouse, could not tear himself away from the grip of the novel he read as he walked.

And that, my friends is the magic. That is why we write: not just to tell the story that must be told, but also to transfer our readers to a world we created. Most writers, I believe, know the adrenaline rush of being sucked into their own story.

When I wrote the climatic chapters of Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, I wrote 10,000 words almost without a break. My long-suffering better half recalls how my lips moved and scattered, broken sentences leaving my mouth. I remember nothing but the urge to pound the keyboard. It could have been smoking as armies clashed, heroes died, and evil was vanquished (or not – read the book J).

I love watching my sons read my novels, but I have never yet seen an adult totally absorbed as the businessman was this morning. I have a fond memory of a mother telling me that she can’t pry her son from Sacrificial Flame and, while cute, he is not doing his homework.

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I apologized as sincerely as I could muster. I’ve no doubt she saw through my pathetically concealed smug expression. I once saw a woman reading another of my books, The Accidental Activist, on the train – that was thrilling.

But I want to see a person, walking the streets, trying to wrench him/herself from the clutches of one of my novels, to apologetically insert the bookmark, close the book, and count down the hours until the commute home and the opportunity to return to Seanchai and the land of Odessiya.

I want to be Stephen King, even if just for a morning walk in the Financial District. I want to see one of my novels cast its magic on some unsuspecting reader.

Then I will be a Craft Master like Stephen King.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).