Churning Out Novels

I thought I wrote fast. I tell people I can write a 100,000 word novel – a first draft – in four months, writing for an hour before work, an hour or two later in the day, and a few solid hours on the weekend. I only thought this was fast because people told me so. Other writers spent a year, two or more, to get similar output.

So I was a little surprised when I started to follow a podcast by three authors, all in the sci-fi and fantasy world. These three, along with the different guests they interview each week, publish 4-6 books a year, often keeping different series’ and even different genres going.

So I did some digging. There are many writers out there who are churning out a 50-80K novel each month … and I mean from Chapter 1 through The End and into editing (I assume), book cover design, and placements.

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Wow!

I am emotionally exhausted when I finish a novel and only once (between Books 5 and 6) did I have any desire to continue straight into writing the next of the series. Editing, sure. Marketing, okay. But the idea of churning out another 100K?

I am trying to work out what it takes to do this and, as I listened more to these authors, and even got to question a couple, I think I get it.

1. Outsourcing – these people do nothing for the production process. Everything is outsourced and they do not play a part in the process. This makes total sense except when there is no investment in the process, when the author really doesn’t care about the end product. As one author said: “My book covers are more or less the same. Only the title and book number changes. The cover artist knows what to do.”

2. Editing – when my editor returns a manuscript, there are changes suggested in almost every paragraph. I am expected to go through these comments and decide what to do. True, I accept 95% of the suggestions, but sometimes the editor writes that a scene is not clear, a conversation does not make sense, or a description is repetitive. In this case, I need to rewrite. Sometimes, the editor suggests I delete something. If I am attached to what is written, I might rewrite it much shorter or insert elsewhere (oops – don’t tell my editor!).

images-63. Strict genre adherence – in order that some writers can keep pace with production, they keep the plot tight and similar – the same highs and lows. The protagonist acts as he (usually a he) is expected, the bad guy too, and often the women are…well, behaving in what is expected of women in that genre. Now there is nothing wrong here. If it ain’t broke, why fix? Who needs a bad guy you sympathize with, a woman who kicks the crap out of someone or simply  falls in love with the bad guy and not the hero? Real life is already too complicated. There are no twists in the plot and I expect that somewhere there is a story arc written that is faithfully adhered to. No time to spend experimenting. Take no risks with the loyal readership.

4. Investment in the characters – this is something I find hard to understand. I have never understood how people can write a stand-alone novel, and walk away. I feel so close to all my characters – I worry about them, fear for them, get angry when they screw up (and especially when they have the audacity to blame me). Long after the novel is finished, I think about them, and yes, I mourn the ones I kill off.

Now there is nothing wrong with any of this. There are people who write for the art and people who write for the royalty check and that is just fine. Most of us are somewhere in between. If the quality of the book is enough for the reader to enjoy, to read effortlessly and then crave the author’s next book, then what’s wrong with that? If the genre is popular just the way it is, then this is what the reader wants. And if it sells and so do the rest of the author’s work, then that is a clear sign that what they do is right and recognized by the most important views – the readership.

But sometimes it is tough to accept. In seeking the highest standard of writing, I agonize over a scene, word choice, how a character develops. Sure I can write a first draft in four months, but it takes longer to edit, rewrite, consider feedback, and feel once the book is published, that I have done my absolute best.

I’m trying not to be critical, but the book churn must have its limitations. And, in the end, a book exists forever. If the market is swamped by mediocrity, how will the special books get noticed? Will a generation get turned off novels because they just aren’t as gripping as a video game, a You Tube clip, or an on-demand TV binge?

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And I can’t help but wonder: what does George R.R. Martin think about this?

EXCITING NEWS: Tourmaline Books are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of March though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship. 

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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 authors and world-builders of our time overlook such a special occasion? Was Valentine’s Day not celebrated in Middle Earth? Shannara? 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. Perhaps the characters need to take a bit of responsibility. How would they have gone about it?

Elves: the sophisticated romantics. On this 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 sparkling waterfall, with a noble white heron keeping watch from a rock nearby. Butterflies of every color 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 that were calorie-light. 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 dwarf 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 sharp! images-6

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 coders 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. 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 wielding gleaming axes or thick clubs. 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 him skinning the buffalo and cleaning out the hearth, a rare feat for such mighty warriors. They are also expected to provide her with breakfast in bed, the Venti Mocha half-caf still steaming.

 

If, by chance, 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 my lance…

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Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

BREAKING NEWS: Tourmaline Books have announced they are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of February though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship. 

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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).

Doing It For The Kids

Since the US elections, living in the People’s Republic of Berkeley and working for a Human Rights organization, life feels very intense. Conversations are heavy and the TV follows Rachel Maddow and her colleagues. This is not lost on my teenager kids and their friends.

It has been a tough political coming-of-age as my sons avidly watched the primaries, election and inauguration, seeing the emergence of a political entity that is the opposite of the values we have shared with them. They have friends who are people of color, female, and LGBT.

I told a friend that I am considering leaving the epic fantasy world and returning to social justice-themed novels such as The Accidental Activist and Unwanted Heroes, which I wrote a decade ago. One is about the abuse perpetrated by multinational corporations and the other about war veterans and their struggle. I have another completed draft that is gathering dust about gay rights. Her response surprised me.

She said that young people deserve the escape route that my books offer, that I sending powerful messages about the value of friendship, the abuse and responsibility of leadership, and about racism and tolerance.

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I am driven to share my values and beliefs with my children and their friends. Working with millennials for almost a decade, I felt privileged to have the opportunity to be a role model and challenge students to questions their values and those around them. For years after Hurricane Katrina, I took students to New Orleans, not just to help rebuild, but to bear witness to the stories of those who were racially discriminated against.

But my children, and many young readers of the Wycaan Master series, deserve an opportunity to grow up and enjoy their childhood, teenage and college years. I am not suggesting they should be oblivious to, or shielded from, what is happening. But they need outlets to balance this.

Opening a book, getting invested in a series, can be memorable and powerful experience. It offers readers of all ages, a chance to soar to a different land, to make friends and cheer on characters who take risks and face great challenges, a chance to dream.

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It is not just the children and young adults. I should not feel bad that I spend a portion of my time watching sport and reading fiction myself. We all need to become involved and aware – this is the greatest lesson from this election cycle and an imperative going forward – but we all need to seek balance in our lives.

So, as you look at your schedule for the coming week, why not reserve time for a hot bath, a glass of wine, and a good novel?

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).

Stuck Between A Forest and a Big Corporation.

Tourmaline Books has agreed to upload the ebook versions of the Wycaan Master series to Smashwords making it available for all tablets and ebook platforms. Up until now, you could only buy the electronic version of the novels through Amazon and read them on a Kindle app.

This decision was made as a concession to me rather than based upon any viable business strategy. Amazon offers a wonderful deal for the publisher and author to go exclusive with them – higher royalties, opportunities for exposure through various marketing campaigns, and, of course, the name of the biggest book store in the world. Varying sources have Amazon dominating over 70% of the book market.

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There is a love/hate relationship between Amazon and the publishing world and there are plenty of articles covering this. Balancing this, as mentioned, Amazon has offered a business model that helps smaller publishers and independent author. One of my fellow writers once said – If you succeed with Amazon then you will think they are great. If you are not succeeding, well, it is nice to have someone to blame.

I have written extensively about my passion for ebooks. It is easier to read for those of us who have acquiesced to reading glasses, easy to carry a library around when traveling, and being instantly able to buy the next book in the series. It also helps those who cannot pay $25 for a hardcover.

But more than this, it is a decision about humanity’s future on this planet. Hopefully, you believe in climate change, but even those who don’t usually acknowledge that we need lots of trees in order to … well breathe.

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I am not dissing the tree book. I collect signed hardcovers of my favorite authors and these books adorn every corner of our house. For a guy who suffers from dust allergies, this is quite a compromise and I love having them there.

Amazon has been nothing but good for me. It has highlighted my books on several occasions, twice leading to a huge surge in sales. However, I am wary of any monopoly. Having lived for two decades respectively in two small countries, I enjoy that there is plenty of competition in the US, that companies are forced to offer high levels of product and customer service, and that the consumer always has a choice.

I do worry that Amazon has considerable power when you are part of the exclusive program, though I do not subscribe to the many stories that circulate. One of my friends, a member of the California Writer’s Club (CWC) and a successful Amazon author, once said that Amazon has rules, and everyone who signs on, agrees to them. In her opinion, those who break the rules and are discovered are the ones who are bitter, as it is difficult to make your case. I’m not sure if this is different from any other business transaction.

Having said all this, I do love Smashwords. Its founder, Mark Coker, is a Bay Area legend and visionary in the book community, and unselfishly offers himself to speak at book clubs, conferences, writers groups, and CWC events. The link above takes you to articles he has written for The Huffington Post).

The technology is simple (for the low tech individual like me I mean, not the engineers who designed it, I’m sure) – the author/publisher submits a ‘clean’ manuscript, which is put through their “meat grinder” which produces ebooks compatible with all the industry ebook platforms. Given that Smashwords is from the Bay Area, I am sure it produces only gluten-free editions!

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Whether the decision to work with Smashwords will make Tourmaline Books more money or not remains to be seen, but I appreciate their flexibility to allow me to continue to expand my ebook market and make an environmental decision that supports diversity within the market. I deeply appreciate they respect my values.

The future is bright for ebooks. It needs to be. As far as we know, Earth is the only planet with literature.

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For those of you interested in my books and read with eReaders other than Kindle, the Wycaan Master series can be downloaded by clicking on the relevant book title:

At The Walls Of Galbrieth – winner of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award,

The First Decree

Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3

Sacrificial Flame

From Ashes They Rose

Calhei No More.

However you read the Wycaan Master series, I thank you for your readership and fellowship.

Happy 2017,

Alon

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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. Calhei No More is the final novel in the series and was released in November 2016.

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

Return of the Writer

It has been over three months since my accident and over three months since I can finally sit at my desk, my leg at an angle that is relatively comfortable. Many people assumed that the time away from work was probably an excellent opportunity to write. It never happened: the drugs, the pain, and the depression, meant I was unable to create. Sure I could tweet and blog, and ensure that we kept the launch of Calhei No More to the rearranged schedule, but I discovered writing apparently needs a certain energy.

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Apparently? You would think that after nine novels (and a couple of others unpublished) I would know that by now, but I don’t. Writing (the creative aspect of penning new material) has always come easy for me and I find time early in the morning, late at night, on the plane, etc. I have always claimed that I can write anywhere and under almost any conditions. Once I am in a rhythm, I can produce 100,000 words in a hundred days – to quote Anne Lamott as a “shitty first draft” – and I will write most of it at my desk, which is in the kitchen shared with three other humans and a dog. I swivel my chair around and, voila, I am at the dinner table, ready to play father/husband/slave to said canine.

I was excited last weekend to sit, for the first time since the accident, without the brace on my leg at my desk. I fondly cleared the accumulated detritus and wiped down the grimy keyboard. Then I sat down and wrote a chapter in about 90 minutes – old style.

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I can’t speak for the quality of the chapter, but even if it all gets cut, the exhilaration of that time was worth it: kind of how one feels after a good gym workout, delivering a great speech or presentation, reaching the top of a summit, or any task that requires muscle or memory retention, constant practice, and focus.

There are no excuses for not writing if you want to become an author and remain relevant. I have always been skeptical of people who need their writing hut in the middle of the forest, smudged for good energy, and the moon in a specific phase, but when I sat at my desk for the first time in three months, it felt good.

Old muses flowed, writing muscles flexed and I became so happy. I cannot yet work out, walk my dog, or play tennis with my boys. That will come with patience and disciplined attention to the physical therapist. But the author in me is an integral part of who I am.

And the author is back!

Happy MLK 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 Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. Calhei No More is the final novel in the series and was released in November 2016.

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

Happy Birthday, Professor Tolkien.

Today is the old professor’s birthday. He wrote novels that inspired a generation and more to pick up a book and get lost in its tale. He encouraged young people to read in general and learn to love fantasy.

But his work went beyond the pages of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. One of his greatest achievements was to create an entire language, and I have it on good authority, that the elves in particular, really appreciate this. We have seen over the years that people have learned it to a level of writing poetry and …

I’ve never been a big weather fan but Tamati Coffey receives my Weather Forecaster of the Week. I think you’ll understand why.

Mr. Coffey – I believe Professor Tolkien would be proud.

And how can we end this blog without wishing the professor a happy birthday … in elvish. Thank you to Petri Tikka for this rendition. After checking who is in hearing range, please feel free to sing along.

 

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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. Calhei No More is the final novel in the series and was released in November 2016.

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