A Middle Earth Thanksgiving

During the later days of Middle Earth …

King Aragorn was fascinated. One of his emissaries had just returned from a land far, far away, where they celebrated a festival which commemorated a group arriving to a new world and being welcomed by the indigenous people who offered them food and grain. To show their gratitude, the explorers promptly conquered the indigenous people, crowded them into reservations, and reciprocated their generosity by giving them all kinds of diseases for which the indigenous people  had no immune response, along with almost sole rights to gambling establishment.

Who couldn’t resist making a holiday out of this? King Aragorn marshaled his army…of caterers and executive assistants.

Two weeks later, the king entered his great hall and a smile crossed his face. His beautiful wife, Arwen, sat at one end of the table, with three handsome longhaired, blond elves with narrow, distinct features, and jeweled headbands, sitting erect and aloof to her right (family was a big part of this festival, Aragorn had been told), and three thick-shouldered dwarves to her left. The dwarves were already drinking, though the food had not been touched. He would forgive them their transgression. It was Thanksgiving after all.

Next to his end of the table sat four, diminutive hobbits, small creatures who, Aragorn knew, had big hearts. Just seeing them made him…well, thankful. Hey, he was really getting the hang of this festival!

On the other side sat Gandalf, his huge mane of hair as white as his flowing robes, his long-stemmed pipe in his mouth, though recent city ordinances meant he could no longer smoke indoors. Aragorn frowned. Gandalf had asked to bring a friend, but really, Gollum?

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All rose when they saw the King of Middle Earth enter and he magnanimously beckoned them to sit.

“My friends,” he began and then as he glanced at Gollum, he forgot his next words. “My friends…um…thank you for joining me. Welcome to the first ever Thanksgiving dinner in Middle Earth.”

A huge cheer went up from the hired, union card-carrying and adoring crowd, packed into the corner and given generous barrels of beer and non-alcoholic refined sugar (for the designated cart drivers) – another discovery from the land of Thanksgiving.

“I have taken the liberty of adapting the traditions to suit us. For example, they eat a bird that has so been tampered with, it is no longer able to fly. I decided to genetically modify a dragon, which is both an excellent source of lean protein, and a low imprint and sustainable dish, since it can heat itself.”

“Cooked?” Gollum said. “Yuck!”

“Is there a gluten-free option?” Elrond asked, sending just the right message of disdain at the idea of meat.

“Avocado,” Queen Arwen snapped, wondering why you were expected to invite relatives to this new festival.

“I use that on my skin,” Legolas said, “as you can all see.” As one, they all glared at him.

The king knew he had to move on. “Thank you to Samwise for providing us with this beautifully colored corn. Such a decorative centerpiece.”

“Oops,” said a dwarf, his mouth full.

“Bloody dwarves,” a voice said and intended only for pointed ears.

“Excuse me?” An axe was quickly brandished.

images-2“Splendid idea,” King Aragorn said quickly. “Perhaps you would do me the great honor and carve the dragon?”

The axe came down hard and everyone spend the next ten minutes, wiping the fat and grease from their hair, beards, and fine garments.

At least, this festival will please the dry cleaners, the queen thought.

Legolas leaned forward. “You might not have noticed but the dragon was already dead.”

Gimli slammed his tankard down, sloshing beer onto the silk tablecloth. He leaned forward brandishing a yam. “Perhaps we should check if this is soft enough to eat. We could stick it up your tight–”

“Gimli!” Gandalf shouted and the table rattled with fear. “Sit down!”

“I am sitting down!” Gimli shot back.

“Oh. Of course. Sorry.”

“I believe,” the king said, “that those who made up this festival, would go round the table and share what each of us are thankful for. I will start. I am thankful for being a king and having everyone do everything I say.”

He glanced over at the hired cheerers, who raised their glasses and cheered.

“Don’t they love me,” Aragorn mumbled to himself. He then turned to the hobbits. “Who will go next?”

Samwise raised his glass. “I be thankful that me old gaffer has a beautiful garden full of blooming roses. Oh an’ I’m thankful for me beautiful Rosie of course.”

“I am thankful for my stunning good looks, my modesty,” Legolas offered, “and the hair gel that keeps me so manicured even during the battle of Helms Deep. By the way, I did kill twice as many orcs as you, Gimli.”

“How about you, Gimli?” the king asked quickly as the dwarf glared across the table.

“Gold,” Gimli said, “and more gold,”

And off the dwarves went with their favorite song: “Gold, Gold, Gold.” But they soon got confused with the lyrics.

“What about you, Gandalf?”

“I’m thankful for Peter Jackson, who managed to make as many movies out of the thin Hobbit novel as he did from three thick tomes of Lord of the Rings. Very considerate of him.”

“Gold. Gold. Gold.

“Arwen, dear?”

“I’m just happy that I have the opportunity to host such events. Tell me dear, how many of these Thanksgivings are there each year?”

“Just one, my Evening Star.”

“Thank goodness,” she mumbled into her napkin.

Aragorn felt a tug on his sleeve. “Yes Gollum?”

“Whatssss issss Gollum thankful for, you asssssk?”

“Yes, yes, I do. Please go on.”

“Thessse,” he said brandishing a long tube, wrapped in shiny red paper. “Itsss called a cracker. Pull with me pleasssse.”

Aragorn indulged him and they both tugged. There was a pop and a flash. Then a single shimmering gold piece flew into the air and Gollum deftly caught it.

“Look. A sssuprise,” Gollum said. “A ring. My precciou­–“

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He put it on and promptly disappeared.

“Oh bugger,” said Frodo.

“Well,” Aragorn said, signaling his aide to call up the entire army. “Let’s partake of this Thanksgiving feast before we march on Mount Doom. By the way, the next festival we will celebrate is the birth of a pacifist, who stood by his principles, got betrayed by his friends, and crucified by his rulers. They made so many wars in his name, I hear. I’m sure it will be a lot of fun. Tuck in everyone.”

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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 DecreeAshbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, and Sacrificial Flame (Wycaan Master Book 4) 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).

To The Long Suffering Writer’s Spouse

I was rather surprised at the well of support for Mrs. Elfwriter in reaction to my recent blog post – The Addiction of Novel Writers. I would have thought that most of my loyal readers and followers would be, well, loyal. I assumed that those who follow the Wycaan Master series would appreciate the committed and fast output of the possessed writer, and that the writers who follow this blog would identify with me (the writer!).

However, this is not the case. It appears that the vast majority of followers are women and the gender bond transcends any of the above expectations. Ironically, this post was viewed over the aforementioned spouse’s birthday, so here in the interest of clarity is my appreciation of the long- suffering Writer’s Spouse.

My own spouse first objected to being referred to as Mrs. Elfwriter. This summer, she proudly received her Psy.D. She should be duly addressed as Dr. Elfwriter!

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I have yet to meet anyone who admits when they married their author-spouse, they truly understood what they were taking on. This suggests a number of options. Either they didn’t know that their beloved was a writer, thought they would not remain a writer (an author is a writer who never gave up), or were simply blinded by love.

Let me declare myself a romantic and vouch for the last. Truth is, none of us see it coming. I am consistently shocked at how consumed I become in the story, how concerned with the characters, how…

I digress. This is about the spouse, not the author.

Not only do they not sign on for this, but they often find themselves on the frontiers of our idiosyncrasies, that is having to explain our strange behaviors to everyone else. After driving 10 hours to our in-laws and being utterly exhausted, I would hug my relatives and then disappear to occupy my dear mother-in-law’s study that she generously relinquished to me during our stay. Why couldn’t I wait until the next day and relax? I had just spent 10 hours on the road thinking of new scenes and characters. My wife somehow explains this to her parents, though I doubt she would do so well with the California Highway Patrol, if I whipped out my laptop to make notes while driving! “What if I name a character after you, Officer?

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So how can we repay our loyal partners? Sometimes, we have to just stand up and say Thank You.  I hope I got it right in the dedication I wrote in Sacrificial Flame – Wycaan Master Book 4. I meant every word.

 

DEDICATION

The storyteller’s path can be lonely for those who become consumed, who stand with one foot in another world, who hold responsibility for characters and their destiny.

But the path is just as demanding for those who support the storyteller’s journey, those who walk side-by-side with the writer even when he is called to another world, those who are left behind in this world, those who ensure that reality continues.

They make the excuses for the writer when he is late, bridge the gap when he is distant, bring balance when another world consumes.

To Ariela, my life partner and soul mate, who gives me the freedom to soar above the land of Odessiya

and who acts as my lodestar, my compass that always leads me home.

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Have a great week and happy belated birthday, Dr. Elfwriter!
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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+

The Addiction of Novel Writing

I annoyed Mrs. Elfwriter this past Labor Day weekend. You see, I had promised not to do it, to exercise some self-control, to be a team player, a family man. She ended up exasperated, calling me ‘possessed,’ which I will accept as a compliment though I suspect this was not her intention.

You see, I was ahead of my goals. Sacrificial Flame was released in July, the sequel (we will call it Book 5) is written in what Anne Lamott delightfully called the “shitty first draft” and has successfully passed first inspection from my severest critics – my sons in our annual family ritual.

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Our annual family camping trip, where for five years I have read the latest Wycaan Master manuscript to my boys.

Book 5 has been put aside for a couple of months to allow some fermentation before undergoing initial homemade perusal as prep for the open heart surgery in the hands of my fearless editor, and I had promised a break from writing – no new book or editing crusade for the rest of the summer. With a new, exciting job, boys starting school, and an untrained four-legged addition to our family, there is plenty happening in the Elfwriter Household.

So it was probably not the smartest move when, full wine glass by my side, my new man’s best friend curled up at my feet, the warm Californian evening breeze ruffling … You get the picture.

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In my humble defense, I planned only to make a few notes, to list a couple of loose ends that need to be addressed in Book 6, jot down a character I am excited to introduce. It is the 25k words that poured out that led my usually understanding good lady to call me ‘possessed’.

A couple of weeks ago, a fellow writer complained that, having just ridden the adrenaline rush of finishing a book and taking it throughout the publishing process, she was emotionally exhausted and couldn’t face her trusty keyboard, even though she had an idea simmering for her next book.

I returned to my seat — we were about to begin our critique group — and jotted down the following words on a scrap of paper I found last night:

“I live for the exhilaration of the unfolding story.

I seek the adrenaline rush of the unanticipated plot twist.

I crave the company of my characters.”

Possessed? Me? Guilty as charged! But it’s a life sentence I can endure.

Good Writing,

Elfwriter

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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+

I Met My Protagonist At Starbucks

Okay, he wasn’t exactly Seanchai (his ears were predictably round, and he wielded a briefcase and pen, rather than elegant Win Dow swords and a blood-wood bow and magical arrows), and in truth, it wasn’t Starbucks, but a locally-owned independent coffee shop with a lot of attitude.

But in my humble defense, I met a young man who totally encapsulated everything I imagined in Seanchai, my Wycaan Master and protagonist of the same-named series. He had a distinct look about him that suggested you could trust him with your innermost secrets while knowing he possessed the ability to take you down without breaking a sweat.

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When he spoke, his voice was soft but carried authority. He operated as the calm in the storm while others flurried around him, achieving much less and having nowhere near as much responsibility as him.

As others joined us, they tensed their assertiveness, told funny jokes, and claimed great victories. He listened magnanimously, happy to back up any exaggerated story. And though, over exquisitely crafted lattes and frappes, each took center stage, still he remained the fulcrum for all.

I was fascinated. Surely this young man could effortlessly vanquish evil Emperors, emancipate a race, and inspire a society to join together with his unique magic. Failing that, I would settle for eradicating hunger, declaring world peace, and inspiring my soccer team to win the English Premier League.

And this got me thinking. Am I yet to meet Sellia, Ilana, Mhari, Rhoddan or Shayth in the Financial District of San Francisco? The truth is, I realized, I have taken traits from many of my friends and acquaintances. There is one with naturally spiky hair who runs his hand through it like Shayth, especially when agitated, causing it to stand even more erect. I have a friend who is constantly trying to placate others and encourage them to do the right moral thing, often teaching (or preaching – depends who you ask), just as Ilana does, drawing all the time strength from her life-partner. But I don’t think I ever met Seanchai … until Starbucks.

It begs the question: are there also people wandering out there in the non-fantasy world, muggles some might call them, who are the real version of our fantasy characters? I believe that the magic of J.K Rowlings’ Harry Potter series, for example, was that we all knew a Harry, a Hermione, and Draco.

There is a soccer player in my beloved Arsenal, who looks exactly the opposite from Legalos, short and dark-haired, yet shares the impressive trait that his hair remains perfectly coiffured throughout a physically demanding soccer match.

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Have you ever met someone who reminded you of a character from a famous fantasy book or one you have just read? Have you met a Seanchai, Ilana, or Shayth? How about Bilbo Baggins or Frodo, Gandalf or Legalos?

And no, you cannot compare everyone in the Senate to Gollum or Emperor Palpatine. Behave yourself!

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 But here is a fun exercise. Which famous person reminds you of an epic fantasy character? Answers in the comments, please.

While I have already given you homework, I do have another request: If you have read one, two or four of my epic fantasy novels (and it can’t only have been my mother who bought all those books), please take a few minutes and leave an honest review on Amazon. It is really important to me.

Have a great week.

Alon – Elfwriter.

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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).

July 4th – Wycaan Master Style

In the land of Odessiya, Independence Day is as significant today as it was fifteen years ago when humans, elves and dwarves danced in the streets celebrating their newfound freedom. A powerful emperor taxed the people without giving them representation. There are subtle differences today as many quaff microbrewery beer and smoke organic, shade-grown pipe tobacco that strengthens the immune system.

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Less people travel to the huge statue in Shindellia Harbor of the Wycaan Master, brandishing his Win Dow swords in the air, calling to the poor and downtrodden to come to his kingdom. The founding fathers and mothers: Prince Shayth, Rhoddan the elf warrior, brave Ilana, and fearsome Sellia, are still revered and people still study the Declaration of Independence that imbued the vision of Masters Oxynei, Mhari, and many others, as written in their bestselling scroll: We the Humans, Dwarfs, Elves, and Others.

Food is an important part of the tradition with people cooking hot dogs and root vegetables outside. Nowadays, new regulations enforce only gluten-free buns and outlawed the slaughter of dogs.

Finally, at the end of the day, the wizards and Wycaans’ unleash different colored fire sticks that explode in the sky for a cacophony of climatic celebration. It is surely such a unique celebration.

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Out July 2014

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decreeand 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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

 

Exclusive Interview With An Elven Protagonist

The Odessiyan Times recently caught up with Seanchai, Wycaan Master, shortly after the battle of Cliftean Pass, and he graciously agreed to the following interview, to be published shortly before the release of Sacrificial Flame – Wycaan Master Book 4.

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Reporter: There are some who say that only a few short years ago, you were a lost child running from your village. Now you’ve brought down the army that tried to conscript you. Is that how it feels?

Seanchai: I was never a lost child, but a scared calhei who had fled his parent’s village in search of an uncle he had never met.

Reporter: When did you first understand that you might be special, more than just the average elf?

Seanchai: When strangers seemed to believe in me to the point that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for me.

Reporter: That must have made you feel important.

Seanchai: No! It made me furious and guilty. No one should give their life like that. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of widows and orphans, because their parents chose to believe in me.

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Reporter: But at least they are free. Mhari was your first teacher. Was she the greatest influence on your early life?

Seanchai: No, though she was and remains very important to me. But the greatest influence was Ilana and Rhoddan. They saw my potential but were never blinded by it. Perhaps because they saw my glaring faults as well. But they loved me, each in their own way, and I could never have done what I did without them.

Reporter: Some say your loyalty to your friends was your biggest weakness.

Seanchai: Your friends are never your weakness and neither is your family. I regret no time that I risked my life for one of them and they risked their lives for me. Their support is what makes it all so real. It gives you the determination to carry on.

Reporter: It was your friends who motivated you to take action?

Seanchai: No. It was destiny: Seeing the racism and injustice. No one, man, elf, dwarf, pictorian – no one should be a slave or denied the right to live free of fear or shame.  

Reporter: Was it easy to become a Wycaan?

Seanchai: No. It is a lot of internal practice and discipline. It is allowing yourself to connect with powers purer and stronger than you. But perhaps it is easier to become a Wycaan than to stay one?

Reporter: What do you mean?

Seanchai: Once you are a Wycaan, everyone follows your orders even if you don’t know what you are doing, even though it might go wrong and sentence thousands to an early grave. You are sought to bless babies, cure the sick, and make judicial decisions. The worse part is that they never blame you when you fail.

Reporter: How did it feel to know that your story won a national book award?

Seanchai: I do not put as much emphasis on ego, such as shall we say, authors. But I guess if he hadn’t have written the story, I wouldn’t exist.

Reporter: You don’t like your author?

Seanchai: He killed off many of the people closest to me. Who does he think he is – George R.R. Martin? How could he? I mean: look what he did in Book 4.

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Reporter: What did he do?

Seanchai: Oh, I can’t tell you. The book, Sacrificial Flame, is not out yet.

Reporter: Still if you told me, I could leak it and we would make the front pages.

Seanchai: You would truly make a terrible Wycaan. But you only need to wait for two more weeks or so. And if you want to find out more about the new release, click here LINK, even though we don’t have computers in the land of Odessiya.

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Reporter: Well that’s all we have time for, unless you wanna turn into a bear for the camera…Hey! I thought Wycaans don’t get angry. Help!!!

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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. 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+

Writing at the Speed of Sound

Most people would be daunted at two sixteen-hour flights in the space of two weeks, wondering if they will sleep, whether they have seen all the movies, or what the food will be like. But I have found the perfect solution.

It involves a tablet, a charging station, and already being in the flow of writing your novel. The result was over 10,000 words each way. I never watched a movie, barely touched the food, and only dared the coffee once each trip.

A good pair of headphones helps. Apparently there was a baby in the vicinity and, according to my neighbor’s exasperations, the little tyke was definitely not writing. I’m sure his embattled parents offered a pacifier, milk, and other distractions, but maybe they should have got him on a writing regime before traveling.

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The flight attendants seemed to give me a wide berth because I seemed to miss the drinks all the time. One asked if I was on a work deadline – I think we were the only two awake on the plane at that point – well, I hope the pilots were too – and I was too engrossed to answer any more than a nod. Still, from that point on, she kindly supplied me with water every time she passed.

What was particularly exciting was that I allowed myself to just flow. Usually, I write three chapters from one character and then switch to another. It sets the book in a rhythm and allows me to switch dialogue or action without losing a balance (too much action or dialogue or intensity).

But for this trip, I just wrote from one character’s point-of-view until I had nothing else to write about them for now. Only then did I switch to another thread of the story. And I didn’t stop.

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True, back on US soil, I stared at a mass of squiggly red and green lines on my computer screen. There were spelling errors that even I couldn’t identify, and in two places I had to completely rewrite indecipherable paragraphs.

But, at the end of the day and the trip, I was over 20,000 words nearer the end of Wycaan Master Book 5. I got the strangest looks when the pilot announced we were landing and I looked up and wondered aloud: “Already?”

In other news, Thursday was my 50th birthday and waiting in my inbox was Sacrificial Flame – Wycaan Master Book 4, back from the formatters. Only a few weeks to go…

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Now, when is my next trip?

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth (ebook currently at 99 cents), The First Decreeand 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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Last Week I Disappeared

It wasn’t my fault, any storyteller will understand. The problem is the 99% of the population (the readers and, in particular, those who have to live with the writer) when s/he becomes possessed.

You see there was a great battle, insurmountable odds, a powerful foe – not my fault that it happened on a weekend.

My emerging protagonist faced a terrible choice, needed to test her principles and ­– yes, I know it is a big religious festival, one of the most important days of the year for our family.

How would he cope with her death? How would he face the future without her and how would that change him? – Ah, grandparents, an aunt and cousin. Did you just arrive? Three hours ago…oops.

Writing the 1st novel - a family effort!

“Hey Dad – this is a FAMILY vacation!”

Usually the wife understands and can ground herself with a self-indulgent, if thoroughly deserving roll of the eyes. The kids think it is perfectly normal, or blatantly funny neither of which stops them from making fun of me.

I once sat engrossed at my desk (my back is to the front door), turned around and there were five kids, only one was mine, standing staring at me. The play date was at our house and five parents had dropped their kids off safe in the knowledge that a responsible parent was watching over them…yes, my wife was in the house. However, I think I learned how an exotic animal in the zoo feels, the children gawking and pointing. I’m surprised no one offered to feed me a peanut…probably worried about allergies.

At height of a battle, I once wrote five thousand words in one day. Apparently, I managed to snap at each member of my family who had the audacity to disturb me by asking for such trivial things as food, help with homework, to drive a child to a play date I had previously agreed to do. 

The scary part is that I have absolutely no knowledge of those interactions. Why would I? I was in the middle of a battle and you can’t just step out to make scrambled eggs. Imagine Eragon in the middle of a great fight needing a time out to dragonpool a group of offspring to soccer practice. I guess now we know why so few fantasy heroes have kids…and why so many parents write about fantasy heroes!

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What preceded the carpool?

Apparently, I don’t even have to be writing to disappear. It happens on road trips (I wish to thank the other driver’s consideration in avoiding me, by the way – I am not sure this can happen in the city). It happens on a coffee date with Mrs. Elfwriter and inevitably on a hike into the redwoods.

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Before I began writing At The Walls Of Galbrieth and the Wycaan Master series, I wrote a Pagan novel (A Gardener’s Tale) and two social justice-themed books (The Accidental Activist and Unwanted Heroes). While I became thoroughly invested in all my characters and the challenges they faced, I don’t recall that I disappeared. Still, I’m not sure how much I do remember when this sort of thing happens.

Still, I am relieved to know that I am not alone. Terry Brooks admits he is not all hereDad’s gone away again…although he admits that most of those close to him think he is weird.

I do suspect this is easier to explain when you are an A-list author like Terry Brooks. I think he is most likely to be fondly considered eccentric. For the rest of us, unfortunately, we are the ones people think are truly weird.

It’s a good thing that we are totally unaware when they stare and snigger. It’s a good thing we disappear…

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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).

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!

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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!

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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.

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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…

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Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

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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. 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+

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.”

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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

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

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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. 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+